The summer of 2004 was the happiest summer of my life. I had an internship at Intel, in Folsom, California. I was going to school in Boston at the time, and was not organized enough to arrange housing before heading out west. I arrived in Folsom with a suitcase full of clothes and a rolled-up air mattress. I called up the cheapest listing I could find on Craigslist, and promptly moved in. It was one room in a 2-bedroom apartment for $400 a month. My roommate was a fellow named Danny. He seemed nice.
I started my job and bought a motorcycle. I was happy. Danny turned out to be an alcoholic, but I was too young to understand that. He couldn’t drive anywhere after repeated DUIs and spent most of his days on the couch. Sometimes he had loud parties. Sometimes he had prostitutes. Sometimes I came home in the evening to find strangers sleeping on my air mattress. I tried to be a good sport about it. We all have our demons. I was only paying $400 a month for rent, I reasoned.
Not much later, my apartment was burglarized. Well, only my room was burglarized. It happened while I was at work. They took my laptop and camera and everything except for my clothes and air mattress. I called the Folsom police. They took a report and left. Police don’t usually worry too much about burglaries in the ghetto.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my checkbook had also been stolen in the burglary. I didn’t realize this until several large checks had been drawn from my account. The bank said there was nothing they could do because the checks had already cleared. I walked out of my cubicle, into the parking lot, curled up next to my bike and cried.
My bank account was frozen. I had no access to money except for my student credit card with a $500 credit limit. I couldn’t pay my rent, but Danny was too wasted to care. Nobody had paid the utility bill for months, so power was cut off. I took cold showers in the dark. The apartment manager posted an eviction notice on our door. We ignored it. Nobody really gets evicted from the ghetto.
Otherwise, life was good. I liked working at Intel. I had no TV, no internet, no cell phone. I subsisted on a 6-pound sack of pretzels that I got for $3.99. I came home in the evenings and drew pictures and wrote stories by moonlight. I wrote long letters to friends. I dated a dreamy coworker. I did not think about what I did not have, because that was too vast a concept to fathom. I focused on what I did have, and that was everything.
Years later, I would be working at Intel again, in another office at a different site. I would be listening in on a coworker’s phone conversation a few cubicles away. A large scratch had appeared on this coworker’s new BMW 550i over the course of a weekend, and he spent most of an afternoon discussing this important matter with his insurance agent. He sounded aggravated. I wondered why someone with a scratched $60,000 car was so unhappy. He still had a car worth at least 50 grand. And I remembered that the summer of 2004 was the happiest summer of my life.