After my junior year at Chicago’s Burnham Day school, I moved out of my parent’s manor on Astor Place. My backpack accommodated my MacBook; a geode; chillum and dime bag; a change of clothes; and as counsel, “The I Ching,” with yarrow sticks (more accurate than coins, I had found.) That summer afternoon, I became a man. Better yet, I became my own man.
Before I hit the sidewalk, my father, who had promoted the plan, called my name, “Kent!”
“Dad” was an old-money entrepreneur and patent lawyer who rarely spoke to me, my distracted mother, or it seemed anyone else. As a free man, I deliberated before turning around in case he wished to end our sorry relationship with what he deemed “civility.” It clawed my heart to submit, but since my manhood had already become official, I chose to bow. A wanderer on the threshold, I magnanimously offered him this gesture of gratitude.
“Kent!” He was carrying a big brown paper bag. “Take this and good luck.” Breathing heavily, he thrust the bag at me and left, I hoped, forever.
Around the corner, I peeked inside. I was sixteen years old and worked at Pizza Hut. My friend Gus, an older, former school-mate, had found us a squat above a restaurant. And what had my angry, perpetually absent progenitor bequeathed me? A six-pack of Heinkens.
My man Gus, whose parents made mine seem like coddlers, had dropped out of school and worked in a warehouse. He sold recreational drugs as a sideline. That night we hung with his associates, all in their twenties and glad, when asked, to acknowledge my adulthood. The next morning I woke alone on the vacant floor, wadded clothing under my head. The stand-alone sink didn’t work so I’d wash later.
I had a girlfriend, Ashley, whose parents tolerated me spending a very occasional night as long as we were unobtrusive. Her reaction insulted me. “Your own man, Kent? How stupid can you get?”
Within days, we were through.
Gus branched out into cocaine. His new dealer friends brandished weaponry. Uneasy, I cast the yarrow sticks. My Fêng hexagram promised abundance: “Be like the sun at midday.” So I relaxed. Ten weeks of summer stretch out like ten carefree years when you’re sixteen.
Come Labor Day, however, a new Pizza Hut manager fired me. “The I Ching” addressed this via the “Holding Together” hexagram. Its Judgment advised me to consult the oracle again but declared “no blame.”
In September I didn’t anticipate how snow blowing through the empty windows would derange me far beyond mere discomfort. Or how frozen pipes, hunger, and drop-by strangers that long, sub-zero winter would induce constant panic.
And yet, even that first afternoon, back from Ashley’s I had climbed onto the roof’s edge and experienced a realization requiring no oracular confirmation. Being my own man essentially meant: from here on out—no more net.