‘This may seem like a silly question,’ I recently asked [GT editor] Darren, ‘but how do I email you my column?’
It wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as my previous queries. Chiefly, standing on a crowded sidewalk in the Bronx, looking confused, holding an iPhone and asking random strangers how to make a phone call. People stared at me like I was from another planet.
Assuming everyone just knew these things, Ernie, my roommate, had gone to work and left me alone in the apartment. I had no clue how to turn on the computer or answer the constantly vibrating cell phone sitting on the table. Every time it buzzed and I attempted to answer, I’d inadvertently hang up on the caller. Out of prison one day and already I felt locked away again, isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world.
Hunting desperately for one of the few remaining pay phones on the streets of NYC, I experienced the first of many strange paradoxes.
I didn’t have a quarter to make a phone call to ask a friend how I could make a phone call.
I needed to support myself and find work, but I was unable to search for a job because I was spending all my time being interviewed by the media about what kind of job I would be searching for.
Even crazier: The media, which had been following my case since the beginning, was now publishing articles about me, questioning whether or not the media should be publishing articles about me.
I had so many people to see and talk to, that I couldn’t actually see or talk to anyone. Afraid I’d forget or miss out on some golden opportunity, I was having panic and anxiety attacks. My brother David called to calm me down and offer advice. ‘Take a deep breath,’ he soothed. ‘Why don’t you make a list of all the things you feel you have no time to do?’
‘I wish I could,’ I responded, more stressed than ever. ‘But I don’t have time to make a list of things I don’t have time to do!’
Social media wasn’t helping. Between Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Tango, Instagram and Tumblr, I’d never been in contact with more friends in my life. But the exponentially increasing number of connections – friend requests, emails and tweets – had me feeling so discombobulated, I had no capacity for exchanging any thoughts or feelings
Deeper than an emoticon or an occasional ‘OMG’.
Doing everyday, simple things proved to be anything but. In order to begin receiving medical benefits, Medicaid sent a letter asking me to bring in some kind of proof of residency, ‘a utility bill or letter from a government agency with my name and address on it.’
‘Well, you just sent me this,’ I said to the social worker at the Medicaid office, handing her the envelope they’d just mailed me. ‘Isn’t this proof of my address?’
It wasn’t. Apparently, a letter from a government agency, asking me to bring in a letter from a government agency in order to prove residency, was not enough to show proof of residency.
If it sounds like I’m complaining, trust me, I’m not. The world has changed a lot in the 17 years I’ve been away. Things are louder and harder and faster and sexier and more intense, and I’m loving every second of the meticulous confusion. There are now 22 kinds of Pringles! Websites devoted to people obsessed with inflatable rafts! Who wouldn’t love such a giddy, insane place?
I know how to send emails to my editor now. I’ve opened an online checking account, learned how to tweet and use PayPal. I can even text an image, on occasion, to its intended recipient and not have to worry about exposing my nether region – or worse. Who knows, before long I may even figure out what this Grindr thing is. It’s something to do with pulverising pepper corns over a plate of broiled salmon, right?