Journey to Nomadland

Arlo Hennings

The Reluctant Expat

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I woke up in jail with the jackboot of a SWAT team officer pressed down on my back. Choking from tear gas, grabbed by my hair, handcuffed, and thrown into the back of a paddy wagon. This was not a dream or an anti-vax demonstration flashback. I was under arrest for joining a homelessness rally. After all, America was great again. I worked as a business development executive and my employer bankrupt.

Left a small 401k and Social Security pension, which was a few years away before I was eligible to collect on them. All I had to do was figure out how I was going to survive until I could get the benefits.

56 years old and considered to be too old for the livable wage job market. Regardless of the bleak picture, I took a deep gulp and the job loss shock with tentative confidence.

The unexpected side effects of looking at tall buildings.

I tried polishing my resume with help from coaches. I tried launching social media job search accounts. I rehearsed and honed my interview skills into a tape recorder, video selfie, and died my hair. I also tried customizing my wardrobe what I thought matched the salary level of the potential job (tie or no tie).

I applied for 715 jobs over two and a half years. Then the rejection came back with too much of something.  Too experienced. Earned too much money. Too old.

Baby Boomer extinction

There were no sustainable living wage jobs in my skill set or was the rejection for other reasons? What were my options past 55 years old? Go back to school and become a nurse? I already had two vocational certificates and two college degrees. How many ways must one reinvent themselves in a lifetime? Call it luck? I knew people with high-paying jobs in IT. Manual laborers with no post-high school education.

I didn’t need a college degree for most of these jobs. The need for a college degree is a sham like the American Dream hoax. The person who designed this Blog platform has no college degree. I call the college degree the high water weed out. What I thought was my ticket to the middle class put me in debt for life.

One thing that improved in the job application process. I no longer had to give my birth date, religion, gender, and my hobby. The days of the “help wanted” sign in business windows were gone and now a search spider determined if I’m the right fit.

The right place at the right time?

I missed the self-employed recession-proof job. I failed to buy Apple stock for $1.00. I didn’t see the SEO boom. I was unaware of Blogging for money. I was now on the Tuba player backup list. The question wasn’t why but what melody should I play.

Survival looked grim.

Telemarketing. Food shelves. Thrift Stores and various public means programs didn’t add up. Like I had done when I was a struggling rock star, wasn’t going to be enough money. Sad to admit but I had no fans and even my yesteryear rock star client tossed me under the tour bus. If I was a millennial, tips on being poor and believing in another chance would be relevant. But after you’re 55-years old what do you need to know about pursuing senior subsidized housing? Sign up for Meals On Wheels, volunteerism, and learn Word Press?

All else fails scout garage sales and become a resell guru on Craigslist. Wake up sleeping rust, your previous life is over.

In America the opportunities are endless? Reach for the stars! The bills were crashing down me and time was running out. My savings looked like a half can of Spam. I didn’t qualify, for reasons never explained, to refinance the mortgage on my home.

After 50 years as a Minnesota resident, I lost the only long-term home I ever knew in foreclosure. The home where I had raised my daughter. The neighbors and a billion memories fueled my last Minnesota nice campfire.

Both of my parents had passed away a day apart only a few years earlier. My older brother died, my sisters, both suffered divorce. My ex-spouse died from liver disease. There was no saving the day inheritance or friend. I had no one able to step in and help make ends meet. I figured I was collateral damage? Mom and Dad said I was a misfit. The “system” wanted to rehabilitate me long ago. They were right?

In an act of self-esteem building, I celebrated a handful of my life’s lottery ticket moments. I’d published a book of poetry and a novella. Released a double album of music. Owned a recording studio. Performed as a professional guitarist. Landed a major label music contract and resurrected a former rock star’s career. Only months earlier, I was shaking rock guitar legend, Jimmy Page’s hand. Also, in my last job, I earned a President Club sales award! I’m a winner! And America is great again. What happened?

“Nice story. Write a book,” the Sales Manager said.

I lost my home, for half of its original value, to a young immigrant couple. They came to America for a better life — the same reason I was considering leaving it. I wished the young couple from India good luck and as a gift, I left the new owner my lawnmower.

I was about to find out what it meant to be a refugee. I had seen the writing on the wall. It was too late for me to start up my own business and I needed a reboot experience. So, I contacted an expat I knew living in Bali. I sucked up his Kardashian-painted lifestyle on the island — living on the cheap.

No stress days filled with Yoga, available partners, and healing. Who could say no to that? Not knowing the language, culture, or how anything worked in Bali was overlooked. I didn’t care. I was crazy in a sick society.

In an act of soup line fear, I booked a one-way ticket to Bali, Indonesia. In preparation, I tried to wash the tear gas from my clothes and backed up my life on a thumb drive. There were worse things, I reasoned like a drunk driver severed your spinal cord? Modern American life evaporated before my eyes. The house, cabin, pet, health care, car, record, and book collection sold. Everything that added up to the past 50 years of my identity, sold. I was not over-leveraged. I lived according to my income afforded.

As I lost my possessions, it felt like a butcher chopped off a part of my body. My suitcase was full of bloody fingers and toes. Contact with my adult daughter would become a challenge. There was even the more horrible prospect of losing a reason to want to live.

Anything I couldn’t carry. Except for my guitar, I headed to the airport under dark eye of disapproval from my daughter.

In spite of the risks. There was a sense of freedom in freefalling off the unemployment trail.

Absent a farewell party, bon voyage, or last goodbyes, I faced my destiny on downsized me alone. The unpredictable winds of change fingered my hair. The smell of lightning over a rice field, the hunger for a dream over the sacred smoke of Shaman fire. A flute in my head played. The sound filled the canyonlands of my skull with an ancient melody. It sounded like how a boy once saw his life outside a bus window.

The jet was somewhere over the pacific before it dawned on me this was happening. I watched a sun that didn’t set. I accepted a red wine from the flight attendant and began to gulp down the reality of my destination.

Until I had a better idea of where I was going, it was a type of cheap that I could swing for a while. The trip was going to take at least 27 hours.

I would arrive a few days before Christmas in an alien world. I had plenty of time to sit there and stare out the airplane window. I wondered what lied ahead. Was it better to jump off the cliff than be eaten by the lion?

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I am an of Author two non-fiction books on SE Asia, and an expat living in Indonesia. Music publisher. Ph.D. (Cultural Anthropology). MFA (Creative Writing). My narrative style has been described as a cross between Herman Hesse and Groucho Marx. My beat is the world. From the first Woodstock Music Fest. Nelson Mandela's election, and tied to who plotted J.F.K. assassination. I deep dive into life's absurdities. Pain, warmth, humor, and a bold statement on how being crazy in a sick society is healthy. I explore the uncovered abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world. World-weary wisdom infuses such sunburned narratives as rock n' roll. Shamanism, skateboarding on volcano rims, global settings, and underrepresented voices. I am set in reality but let loose the fantastical. Adept stories with a surreal or subversive bent. Taken together, I try to draw an intelligent mosaic of what it means to be alive as a whole person.

Minneapolis, MN
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