“If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you.” - Henry Rollins
There’s a reason I titled this blog “Write Your Wrongs.” Writing is intensely important to me, even though I admittedly do not do it enough. It helps me vent, it cleanses the soul, it makes me feel like more of a grounded human being, blah blah blah. I know that all sounds like a bunch of self-serving mierda (that’s Spanish for crap) but it’s true. I’ve had tons of people give me kudos for stuff I’ve written, I’ve gotten stupidly embarrassing amounts of praise in creative writing classes and screenwriting classes from people who have actually gone out and done things and made money at it, and yet I still tend to fight against my own creative urges. It’s a stupid, self-sabotaging instinct that eats me alive. It aches, actually, in a strange sense. It’s like being handed a key and being told to open a door, yet remaining so stubborn that you refuse to do so. To the point that the person who gave you the key is screaming “JESUS CHRIST, WILL YOU JUST OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR ALREADY? YOU HAVE THE THING IN YOUR HAND, IDIOT.”
But it’s hard to, for some reason. There’s some sense of reticence, I guess? Something that feels like it’s just one long, tentative first step into a void of nothing, in a way. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but I want to. Mostly so that I can crush that fear. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life writing. Even if it was just silly short stories as a kid, me hacking away at the typewriter that my grandparents gave me, even if it was just movie reviews, messageboard posts, jokes, whatever. I’ve done a lot of it. Putting a pen to paper is the best form of therapy that I can imagine, especially when things flow freely.
Sure, there have been moments of paralyzingly bad writer’s block. I spent an entire year not doing a single thing because I was so awry in my personal life and mired in a relationship where both of us were essentially miserable. Would writing have helped me? Maybe. But it’s not supposed to be treated as a bandage on a gushing wound. It’s better to do it after the fact, after everything’s healed, when you can run your finger over the ragged edges of your scars, remember what made them. You’ll probably mourn, and even laugh about it to an extent, whether your laughter is borne of bitterness or gratitude or what the fuck ever. It doesn’t matter.
You still laugh. You still write.
You still cry, even though you may feel stupid for doing so. At least you’re feeling something.
I spent years with my nose in books. It got my ass kicked, but it taught me the power of language and the strength of words. There’s something solid in being a smartassed little idiot able to scream at the snaggletoothed hillbilly who’s beating your fat nerdy hide into a paste about how much of a mewling inbred dipshit he is and how good his sister is in bed, even though his punches hurt. You endure, in a way.
So I guess where I’m going here is that I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. I’ve been writing on my own, but it’s all been very intensely personal, dark stuff that I don’t want to reveal. But the ritual of opening that dollar-store notebook and clicking that ballpoint pen is borderline orgasmic for me. I crave it. My girlfriend asked me the other day why I didn’t carry around a small notebook and a pen with me.
I used to, and I used them very often.
So this morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn due to a crying kitten who, despite being fat and happy, apparently craved attention at 5 AM. I played with him, doing the cat fishing rod, switching the feather-toy back and forth as his eyes widened, the fur on the ridge of his back arose like a little gray mohawk, and he scampered around in the cool morning air with the sun peeking over the neighboring apartment towers. His endless pursuit to catch the thing that he likes. I gave him a couple of cat treats and he settled down next to me on the bed. There’s a certain sense of serenity you feel while staring at the ceiling and doing a mental inventory before you stand up and shake off the dust of sleep and get moving with your day. I basked in that for a bit as the sun continued to rise.
I stood up, stretched, yawned, and walked over to my bookshelf. My hands ran over the number of books within, stroking their yellowing pages. I felt around until I found what I was looking for. What I needed.
I drew a fresh moleskine notebook from the shelf and pulled the binding strap loose. I ran my fingers over the pages. I grabbed a pen. I set them aside for safekeeping.
Then I came to my computer, opened this up, and I wrote.
I placed the notebook and the pen in my messenger bag.
Today seems like a good day for writing, just like every other day. And that feels right.
Cleaning out the archives, dusting off the cobwebs, trying to avoid hurting the spiders.
Old memories that I found and transcribed from an old moleskine I found laying around while cleaning my room:
Ran into an old flame earlier tonight while grabbing an iced green tea and a cup of water after meeting up with a good friend and talking about life and his kids and movies and stuff.
She walked into the Westwood Starbucks, and I immediately said “Oh, fuck.” She still had the same sway to her hips, the same glimmer in her green eyes, the same butt-length red hair. My friend was like “Wait, do you know her?”
Me: “Yes. And I was a total dick to her at the time and all she ever did was love me.”
Him: “Well, we do that.”
Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” was blasting on the speakers. I momentarily wished I had a gun so that I could shoot them out. Then she ordered her drink, a tall skinny iced caramel macchiato, the same thing I had purchased for her after our long nights spent together, with me running my fingers through her hair and kissing her soft, milky-white neck and making her laugh with fart jokes.
Then she sat down at the table.
I barely was able to avoid yelling “OH, FUCK.”
"Hey, Jake. How have you been? I haven’t seen you in a long time."
"Um, I’ve had better years."
"That sucks. Still working at UCLA?"
"Hahahaha, no. They laid me off. I am now back to carpentry work and whatever else I can lay my hands on."
"That’s stupid. I remember when we met there in the Trimana downstairs."
"Yeah, me too. I still think ‘of all the breakfast burrito joints in all the towns in all the world, why did she have to walk into mine’? I ain’t forgot."
"Shut up with ain’t. Your swarthy Southern gentleman bullshit never worked on me."
"Au contraire, mon chere. I remember that you laughed when I would say ‘y’all.’ You thought it was cute, but I was just shitty at pronouns."
"Makes sense." She laughed again. It echoed in the room. I always enjoyed her laugh.
"Well, see you around, maybe at Little Bar?"
"Nah. I’m not drinking anymore and I’m spoken for, mostly."
"…Mostly?" She arched an eyebrow.
"Yeah, I fucked up."
She looked down at her rapidly warming coffee, took a sip from it, and tossed her hair back while wiping a bit of water from her upper lip. I wanted to die. I wanted to remember all of the times we spent in her weirdly creaky bed in her overheated apartment, sweating and laughing and kissing. But I bit my lip. The past being the past and whatnot.
"Well, I’d better go. I have work tomorrow. At UCLA."
"Haha, I don’t, but I understand."
"Cool. See you around. Be well."
"You too. Good to see you and glad you’re well."
And she stood up, shook my friend’s hand, shook my hand, and walked away with that same sway to her hips that drew me to her when I ran into her at that stupid downstairs restaurant.
And that was enough.
The World, And Those Within
I’ve been chewing a lot on memories lately, my past, and the people I grew up knowing. It’s good to glean fresh, solid memories of them in spite of their shortcomings as humans, because life is hard on all of us.
I just walked downstairs a few minutes ago to get a glass of ice water, and my roommate was in the kitchen with her boyfriend making fish and chips, and I was suddenly hit like a freight train of memories of one of my mom’s best, lost loves: Denny.
Denny was a dude who lived and loved and did amazing things. One of my favorite childhood memories was traveling with my mom up to see him in Portland and stay with him for a bit. I remember her giving me a pack of Big Red gum to chew during the flight so that my ears wouldn’t pop. I still cried, because flying terrifies me. She still made me laugh, pointed out the Colorado Rockies when we flew over them, and I was amazed at the fact that we were in a tin can in the sky. I’m pretty sure it was my first time in the air.
We landed at the airport in Portland, and Denny picked us up in a rickety, seventy-something Volkswagen Beetle and we were off. We drove up the mountains in a huge snowstorm to get to his cabin, and I was almost as scared as I was in the plane. My mom shushed me, kissed me on the forehead, and Denny patted me on the arm and told jokes and we listened to Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers”. I loved the dude right then and there.
He was a small guy, but he was good with woodworking, had a good mustache, taught me how to shoot my first BB gun, took me and Mom on walks in the forests where he gave me his dad’s jack-knife to scour slices off of the big, sprawling redwoods so that we could find our way back at the feet of the mountains.
I saw my first snowfall there and got into my first snowball fight with his daughter, Kellie. I had a crush on Kellie before I even knew what crushes were. She was an adorable, lanky, blonde slip of a thing with freckles and blue eyes and a laugh that tinkled like shattering glass. Denny said that she reminded him of his first wife, and he always got misty-eyed when mentioning that.
He was a huge fan of the Transcendentalist writers. One of the first things he gave me was a copy of a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem that he had clacked out on his aging typewriter. I remembered it for a long time, I took it home with me, held it dear to my heart. Emerson wrote, in “Character”
”The sun set, but set not his hope:
Stars rose; his faith was earlier up:
Fixed on the enormous galaxy,
Deeper and older seemed his eye;
And matched his sufferance sublime
The taciturnity of time.
He spoke, and words more soft than rain
Brought the Age of Gold again:
His action won such reverence sweet
As hid all measure of the feat.”
I remember that he would withhold sugar from me for health reasons. As a chubby kid who loved any sort of indulgence due to my own admitted poor impulse control, this was like torture. But he kept a box of chocolates and would ration them out to me and told me to be careful because they were bad for my teeth. This was agonizing for a fat eight year-old. But I respected him, and I understood him, and I spent a lot of time running my fingers along the crafted, carefully milled, shellacked woodwork of his home that he had repaired and hoping I could do that some day. I watched him do work in his shop, diligently milling wood. He showed me the first ship in a bottle that I had ever seen, that he had put together with his own hands.
He also had a good friend, Cary. Cary was an immigrant from Norway. He taught me my first words in Norwegian, even though they’ve fallen by the wayside. I remember long nights where they would all sit around, drinking wine, smoking pot, singing songs that Cary played on the acoustic, and not getting it, but enjoying the camaraderie. Cary was notorious for toasting people so hard that he broke wine glasses. The wine still flowed, and I still felt safe and warm, sitting by the crackling fireplace and reading books of poetry by Wendell Berry even though I did not really grasp all of it at the time.
Cary died in an undertow in Norway in my teenage years, having been swept out while taking his young son out for a swim after having reunited with the love of his life, a very gorgeous Nordic woman with eyes as blue as the sky and hair as pretty as hay. The child looked the same, from pictures I had seen They both passed. I still ache to remember Cary.
Denny came to visit my mom after a long spell. He was not in a good way, because he had just lost his very dear brother to a suicidal fit of anger. I remember seeing him shaking with grief and anxiety. He still rode a bike in my hometown, wore a denim vest, came home with anecdotes of dumb rednecks screaming and throwing shit at him and calling him a hippie, and he endured.
And one day, he made us fish and chips. It was carefully crafted, he even wrapped it in newspaper and gave us vinegar to eat it with. We listened to jazz music, he swept my mom around and danced with her, and she laughed and we were all happy and everything felt warm and electric.I watched him build a deck on the front of our trailer, I handed him hammers and nails, watched him sweat and saw his skin go red under the unrelenting Texas summer sun.
Then Denny had to go back home. He went back to Oregon, and then my mom got the call that Denny had killed himself too. Washed down a bunch of pills with booze and didn’t wake up. She was devastated. I was devastated.
I walked to the kitchen and posted on my great-grandmother’s old, weird, olive-shaded hand-me-down refrigerator were Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words. And I remembered Denny. I remembered Cary. I remember them both teaching me how to use tools and how to build things and the importance of self-reliance, and I’m trying to get back to being able to channel that lately. I remember poring through the browned pages of old paperbacks of Wendell Berry. And I remember one poem of his that still sticks to my ribs, because it makes me think of all of the people I’ve lost over the years:
”In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: ‘How you been?’
He grins and looks at me.
'I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.’”
And I remember them, and how we intersected, and I smile.
I do not want to be one of those dead friends.
I spent a fair amount of time of my youth being angry at her and everyone else, being judgmental, going to my grandparents and other family members and family friends for solace, because I was unable to wrap my head around what she was going through in her own life. This lack of understanding foolishly dragged me along for most of my early years even though I’ve already verbally forgiven her for things that were not of her own making, for things that were just the circumstances of existing where she did at the time, for a child she never asked for but grew to love, and for the man that I’m still trying to become. East Texas was not a simple place for a single mother, and she did her best to raise me regardless even though she was still trying to find her own way.
Being a guy who just happened to end up in Los Angeles out of sheer coincidence made me gain a lot of perspective. I’ve had my own share of trials and tribulations. Failed friendships. Failed relationships. general agony. I’ve been places that I never anticipated to go because I was lucky enough to have the chance to do so, and I thank everyone who helped facilitate those experiences, for better or worse. There are a lot of women I want to make amends to. A lot of guys who I want to apologize to. A lot of utter exhaustion. A lot of very scary, painful experiences that I dealt with before I even came out here. I’ve been damn near death more times than I should be able to count for someone who’s barely pushing 30, but they happened and I’m still around. Shot at, stabbed, nearly trampled by livestock, beaten up, car accidents, too many things that taught me to be too tough too fast for my own good.
And she makes really, really, really incredible chicken fried steak, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and collard greens. And followed it up with some solid brownies.
So I’m over the bitterness and childishness. I’m pushing on. Mostly for my own well-being, but also because I’ve grown to realize that I do honestly love my mom and she’s another person trying to deal with the world as best as she can and she’s made it for sixty years, which is better than most of us can manage. Hell, it’s better than my dad managed. So I’m taking a page from her and enduring, despite frustration and irritation and fear and everything else that the world can throw at all of us, because it’s the world, and that’s what happens.
I’m doing my damnedest to deal with my own baggage and my frustration and tiredness, but I’m not giving up. I learned better than that from people who spent more decades on this rock than I even have under my belt, and I’m slowly re-learning to understand and respect that.
So happy belated birthday and happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You’ve done more for me than I’ve given you credit for, and I love you.
Addiction, And The Trappings Thereof
I took my first drink at 13 years old.
I didn’t just take my first DRINK, I took my first drinks. 10 shots of Jose Cuervo, and remarkably I was still standing. Not vomiting. I had an affinity for the sauce before I knew it had an affinity for me. First cigarettes came not long afterward. I smoked my first joint at 14. Recreationally took my first prescription pills at 15. Painkillers. Xanax. Basically everything that you don’t want at that age, I had. I drank with my uncle and my co-workers after construction/floor installation jobs on the way home from our gigs, every weekend. Sometimes more often than every weekend, especially during the summer. Beers with my stepdad and my friends during barbecues. Joints, blunts, bowls, booze, pills, all of that on a regimented basis. I spent most of my mornings during my teens smoking a joint just to even out. It was…not fun. But it was fun. That was the whole problem, it was all framed as “fun”. A good distraction. Go and meet some girls and hang out and get fucked up and make out and maybe get laid. Drive home while buzzed, do it again, over and over.
And it was killing all of us. I remember a good friend of mine losing his little brother, not more than fifteen years of age, due to an Oxycontin overdose in a shitty trailer in Alabama. My best friend, Shannon, who was like an older brother to me and provided me a lot of the ways and means to which I’d get fucked up, died of an overdose as well in his mid-twenties. He left behind a wife and kids. They found him in a pool of his own blood in their living room. It’s not easy.
I’ve been in a lot of really bad circumstances over the years. Booze-fueled car accidents. Sitting in weird houses with weird people all whacked out on whatever the fuck they could get their hands on just to not deal with life. Meth (which I never touched myself, but watched many people get stuck on - WINTER’S BONE and BREAKING BAD are more true to life than you will ever understand), everything else. It was hard. I’ve had guns pulled on me, fucking snakes thrown at me, etc. I’ve threatened to stab people before if they didn’t get away from me. Crazy drunks at parties. Pulled guns on older guys who were wanting to beat my ass because I was the young guy at the party whose girlfriends were flirting with him. It wasn’t fun, but it was life.
So seeing a lot of the self-righteous reactions to the passing of an actor, one who ended up being stuck with his demons and having fallen through after decades of sobriety, is really galling to me. I’ve just finally started making an active effort to fix my life and confront my problems head-on, and while it hasn’t been without its occasional setback, I’ve been in rooms with and met tons of people in L.A. who have similar stories, if not worse. They didn’t grow up in the backwoods of the South, but their struggles are no less despite whereever they were planted. It’s all hard for all of us, whether you grow up in a house of addicts/substance abusers or if you’re one yourself. It’s not glamorous, and it sure as fuck isn’t a subject that’s ripe for mockery or derision. Nobody chooses these things, mostly. They happen. It’s circumstances. Poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, et al.
We all love to hear those Horatio Alger-type stories of people pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, because it reinforces that whole Republican bullshit ideal that if you can just work hard enough, you’ll make your way out of a bad situation. But it’s profoundly untrue and it’s very dishonest. It’s the literal antithesis of the American Dream. We medicate ourselves to separate our conscious from the harshness of reality. From being exploited by a multinational corporation for meager wages. For not having medical insurance and suffering from so much pain that just getting fucked up makes you get away from it for a bit. From the insecurity of any sort of soluble future.
Actually it’s always been clear, it just wasn’t clear to me. I lost a lot of things due to it. My dignity, relationships, jobs, etc. It’s all just sort of bled together at this point, but at the same time it’s a hard thing to let go of. I grew up in a climate where problems were not discussed. Instead of going to a therapist or getting on medication, you did what you could to escape. Drink, drugs, fighting, fucking, whatever happened to silence the gnawing inside that told you that you would never escape, that everything was meant to be utterly fucked and that you would never survive, just like many of your predecessors didn’t survive. Men didn’t talk about stuff like pussies, they bit the bullet and charged on, and sometimes bit a bullet from the end of a gun in the process. My dad was one of them - not that he shot himself, but he did absolutely drink himself to death. There were many anecdotes about how likable and funny and charming he was…until he got sloshed. Then he turned into a monster. Incoherent, abusive, angry, etc. It likely stemmed from his father, who had similar traits along with supposedly just being a downright mean person from birth.
I spent a very long time telling myself that I wouldn’t end up like my dad, and I didn’t. At least as far as the physical abuse goes. Getting obliterated because you’re so out of sorts that you don’t want to live anymore but you’re not dumb enough to kill yourself in a more immediate fashion? Fuck yeah.
I got lucky and fell into a job where I had a lot of disposable income. At least more than someone with my maturity level at the time deserved. I had a lot of good things at the time. I also was utterly miserable and did my best to stay drunk. I’d sneak it in places. I’d hide it. I’d pre-game until I could barely stand still to avoid swaying, and then go to bars with friends and black out and make an ass out of myself and sleep around and christ knows what else. There are nights where I don’t remember how I survived, entire hours of nothingness that gave way to waking up in bed or on my floor or on someone else’s floor or in someone else’s bed, surrounded by friends, surrounded by strangers, having to piece the previous night together as if I were in a fucking detective novel. It was asinine, but it was all I longed for. I kept throwing things away to fling myself headlong into another night of raucous drinking. I’d show up places sober, have women hanging off of me, and about four or five double bourbon or scotch later, they’d be disgusted by me. A hot mess, I was called. Truth be told, I wasn’t even hot, I was a scorching mess. Absolutely fucked up. Pour it down my head, give me a woman, let me loose, fuck it, I didn’t care.
I also hung out with older people, which made it a lot easier to get trashed, even in a dry county where legislators and Baptist preachers with booze on their breath decried the evils of alcohol and the lifestyles it encouraged, which they all practiced behind closed doors (and sometimes doors that weren’t so closed). We’d throw all sorts of stuff into our bodies just to feel something, to not hate waking up in a trailer in the middle of nowhere, to try and get into a girl’s pants, to dance better, etc. Liquid courage? More like liquid existence.
And I brought that with me when I moved to the city, where booze was more easily available, where getting shitfaced was just as commonplace as it was in the South, it was just more social and a little more fancy. The stresses that led to drinking were a little less stark than the stresses in the South, but they were still there. And they were replaced with worse feelings. Aimlessness, depression, frustration, feeling cooped up and just too goddamn many people, and if someone didn’t drink, the city will make them invent a reason to do so.
I’m terrified to think of how much money I’ve wasted on alcohol over the past four years of my life. I know it’s easily in the thousands if not the tens of thousands - beers, bar tabs, bottles of whiskey, mixers, and that’s not even counting money spent on other shit while sideways. If I’d saved every penny I’ve spent on it, I’d probably be able to go pay cash for a used car right now.
I drank like a man possessed. i prided myself on how much I could put away, until it became untenable. Until I was putting away so much that I was passing out on dates. Incoherent in the back of a friend’s vehicle, them not knowing my address. Fighting with people. Everything.
I’ve just come to realize how much of a Jekyll and Hyde thing it is for me. I’ve sat with Ariel and had her tell me that as soon as I’ve been drinking, the man that she loves is gone, and it’s replaced with a wild-eyed heathen, and that Jake that everyone likes has left the building. And it’s true. So I can’t keep doing that, and I can’t keep hurting the people who love me. I don’t want to die. After having taken many steps to work on recovery, it’s been a huge pain in the ass but I don’t want to live any other way. Even when I have moments where I relapse, I’m constantly in pain. It’s not just feeling guilty, it’s literally physically hurting. It’s existential agony. And I can understand how easy it is to fall back into those patterns, much like PSH did.
And I don’t want to do that, but I also don’t want to read a bunch of judgmental motherfuckers talking about how he was a loser or an idiot or whatever, because he was only doing what we all do, which is - we do the best we can with what we have at the time.
So the next time you see a drunk staggering down the street, or someone nodding off on the bus, or someone all sketched out and acting erratically, maybe hang up the asshole schtick for a bit and realize that this person is suffering through things you may never well understand, and you’re lucky to not have to do so. Have some compassion. That’s what they need. Not to be shamed, not to be mocked, but to be understood and listened to.
Even sober people need that.
On Checking Yourself Before You, In Fact, Wreck Yourself
I grew up around a lot of people who tended to make fun of “city slickers”, “Yankees”, and people from either coast or large cities. I got used to it, engaged in it sometimes, it largely just seemed like a lot of innocent ribbing. Time passed, I got older, opportunities arose, and I moved away from my hometown to – you got it, a large city on the West Coast. I know that country, salt-of-the-earth types like to give city people a lot of shit, and vice-versa. There’s always going to be that silly little rivalry, the clash of two cultures despite the fact that we’re all meat and we’re all gonna die anyway, etc.
But as I sit on a bus headed from one large West Coast city to another, I find myself sort of disgusted by Central CA. Not San Luis Obispo/et al, but the hardscrabble farm community part that actually bears a fairly strong resemblance to the type of community in which I grew up, even if the land itself is fucking ugly. I mean, it’s just flat, barely-rolling hills, a whole lot of nothing. At least we had woods where I grew up. Swamps. Not just this flat, bleak…thing. It’s an expanse of land that’s purely utilitarian, if it’s even utilitarian half of the time. And I find my disgust to be a little hypocritical! People grow up and die in places like this without seeing much of anything else. I’ve seen it happen, and it will continue to happen. I could have easily been one of those people, and it makes me feel bad for being an asshole, especially considering that I’m in Louis CK’s camp of hating civic pride. I’m not looking forward to going to San Francisco and going to places and having people be like “EWWW YOU’RE FROM L.A., GROSS,” even if it’s only in a joking manner. It’s stupid. It’s a stupid fucking thing to do. Of course I live in L.A. and I love it. It’s fantastic. Anywhere larger and more diverse than where I grew up is pretty great, and even where I grew up isn’t the worst place. It just wasn’t MY place.
But it IS a place for many people who are absolutely lovely and absolutely happy with where they are, who they are, and where they’re headed (or not headed, for that matter), and a lot of city people would probably kill for a piece of that calmness. On the other hand, there’s very little opportunity there, and that’s frustrating too. I can only speak as an outside observer, but as I told a friend, I’d rather be homeless in L.A. than back in my hometown, because there’s very little there. I don’t want to work retail for the rest of my life. I want to go places and learn things and meet people and not feel like a big fish in a small pond, even though L.A. still makes me feel like a minnow in spite of the great number of wonderful, amazing friends I’ve amassed over the years. They’re minnows too, of course, of all different shapes, colors, and sizes, but we school together and we do pretty well all things considered. There’s a deep camaraderie there that I’d have had a hard time finding in smaller environs, and I appreciate each of my friends for different reasons, but I’d still fight for them in a heartbeat.
So I’m heading up to San Francisco for a film festival with my awesome girlfriend, and we’re going to paint the town black and white (it’s a noir festival, that’s a noir joke, you can have that one) and meet up with a bunch of cool friends and other folks and make the best out of it in a very beautiful city, and I’m lucky to have that opportunity. Most people don’t. I gripe about tourists a lot, being a resident of a fairly touristy area of Los Angeles. They’re annoying. Like cattle with cameras. They just sort of mill around and look at things and chew and fart, but they’re people, and this stuff is AMAZING to them. That is pretty cool. I have to keep counting my blessings every time I start to elbow my way through throngs of people at Hollywood and Highland because I suddenly realize that I could easily be one of them, and have been in the past, and probably will be in the future.
In the end, we’re all tourists, in a way. We mill around and look at things and chew and fart, but what’s important is taking part in shit and being curious and being thankful for what you have and what you can experience. I’ve been horrifically bitter in the past and last year was definitely not of my finer years on record, but it still wasn’t the worst. I ended up having a pretty sweet job for part of it, got a lot of free food, met a great woman, met a lot of great people, saw a lot of good movies, took a head-on approach at addressing a lot of issues with depression and substance abuse that I had (which is still a massive pain in the ass, but it’s becoming less so) and had a lot of fun with people who I love dearly. And I want to continue that trend for this year. And I hope you guys stick around with me. No real point, I just wanted to get a lot of this out of my head while I look at this seemingly endless expanse of trees and dirt and realize that if I was standing out in the middle of it, I’d just be a speck.
On Time, Attentiveness, And Concern Trolling
This past handful of days has been sort of an odd one on the internet if you even pay a passing nudge of attention to social networks. It started with some dick reality TV producer bullying a rowdy older woman on a busy flight during one of the most stressful times of the year for many people, resulting in him being hailed as a hero for getting in the middle of someone else’s shit, telling her to put his dick in her mouth, and making the situation worse when there were people who are trained and paid to handle the situation right there to diffuse the outrage.
Then Paul Walker died, and tons of brave souls took to the internet to mock people for caring and to tell them where their concerns should really be placed. But is any of that really healthy? Is there any point to those doing the chastising in any of these cases other than to be self-aggrandizing in a sense and play yet another round of “Look How Much I Care About Things/Look How You Should Spend Your Time” Olympics? Is there really anything to be gained from telling people what they should or shouldn’t give a fuck about?
Helpful hint, gang: That’s not what’s happening. These blogposts take exactly maybe 30 minutes to crank out, if even that. Facebook or Twitter posts acknowledging that a thing happened? Maybe two minutes at the most? I mean, yeah, that half-hour could have been better spent dragging children from a burning orphanage, starting a LET’S FIND KONY AGAIN Kickstarter, or playing videogames to distract myself from everything else, but that’s not how it was spent.
There are many, many, many times where I’ve just not bothered arguing with someone either in person or on the internet because it is legitimately a waste of my time trying to convince them otherwise. But that’s not me telling someone else what to do, it’s me deciding that I’d rather talk about Paul Walker or call Elan Gale an asshole or make balloon animals while masturbating to illustrations on Greek pottery. It’s my shit, and for someone to come in on a pretty tall, stoned-looking horse and trivialize that is sort of unfair.
But, then again, I don’t want to come across like I’m telling you what to do. Do whatever, but be fully prepared to be ignored at your own peril. If you really don’t care that much, act accordingly. In the end, to quote a skilled yet largely fraudulent asshole protagonist from a popular TV show, the universe is indifferent.*
*This Tumblr post took exactly 20 minutes to type, in case anyone was worried about how I was budgeting my time.
I woke up this morning a little out of sorts. I hadn’t slept well all night anyway, as it was just fitful bits of rest punctuated with terrible nightmares, one involving my cat, Bronson. Somehow he just up and disappeared, and I went on the hunt for him. I was walking around my neighborhood at night, calling his name, and I could hear him crying for me, but I couldn’t find him. I was filled with a sense of dread. It sounded like he was in pain, like he was scared, like he just needed me. So of course I woke up with a jolt and got out of bed, went to the bathroom still feeling a little nervous and confused and kinda scared, and decided to leave my girlfriend’s place and make the (brief) trek through the park back to my place to make sure he was okay. She protested sleepily, wanting me to stick around, telling me that she didn’t like waking up without me, but I promised her I’d be back and told her to get some more rest since she’s still been wiped out from the double-header of spending a week at a conference out of state and then our jaunts to AFI Fest. As I stroked her cheek with my knuckles and gently kissed her forehead, her own cat thundered into the bedroom with a tail the size of a raccoon’s, all hyperactive from the cold weather outside and the fact that something else in the house other than him was awake at the moment. I needed to go check on Bronson.
Passing through our neighborhood park, I tried to clear my head a little by enjoying what was around me. There were herds of kids playing basketball on the courts. The air was crisp - just chilly enough for a hint of warm breath to show, enough to slightly tinge your cheeks with red numbness. The sun was just starting to peek over the building and tree line on the east, and the dewy grass sparkled with a glittery golden hue. It was sort of awesome, but of course the thoughts came back. On the other side of the park is a 7-11. It’s not much, but it does the job. It’s frequented by all sorts of shady characters, but it’s always there when you need it. Still buried in my own head, I trudged inside to buy a cup of coffee to hopefully help and shake out the cobwebs. While milling around, looking at tired blue-collar workers with rough hands and tired faces as they got ready for a day of labor that most of the people in my neighborhood couldn’t even fathom, I jokingly thought to myself “Which flavor of 7-11 coffee best suits my mood today? Am I going to be a cinnamon blend guy? A Brazilian blend?”
I get a lot of grief for getting coffee at 7-11 so often, but I really don’t mind. Much like that 7-11, it does the job and it’s always there when you need it. It’s cheap, it’s warm, and it keeps the system buzzing even though it doesn’t measure up much to a triple-meta-whatthefuckever on ice. An unemployed guy doing handyman work on the side can’t really spring for $10 coffee drinks all the time. As I poured my extra-large cup of life juice, a guy came in yelling at the clerk about wanting some fucking food, then looked at me and asked me for money. I apologized and said that I only had cards. He sneered at me and stormed out the door. I shook it off and went to the register. As I went to pay and the clerk asked me if that would be it, I looked over at the warming cabinet to see a row of spicy chicken biscuits for sale. $1.00 each. Of course instead of saying “Oh, chicken biscuits” and going on with my day, I bought one. I didn’t even want the fucking thing, but I wanted some sort of distraction. Something to fill my stomach and make me not worry about my stupid cat, about my family, about not drinking anymore and dealing with my anxiety and depression without getting shitfaced, etc.
So of course I bought one. As soon as the clerk placed the creepily moist, spongy, paper-wrapped monstrosity into my hand, I felt a sensation of familiarity. Growing up a fat kid and having food be my solace, various taunts and ass-kickings and the duplicitous nature of other, more fortunate kids being slightly muffled by the comfort of something unhealthy. Much like booze was for me over the past several years, food was my first vice. I hastily stuffed the biscuit into my pocket with a mild sense of shame and walked back outside, my exit punctuated by a warm belch of disinfectant-smelling air from the store heater. I started to crave the biscuit. Memories of Chik-Fil-A breakfasts slowly digested in my grandparents’ car to help stem the tide of impending dread from the potential builying of the day ahead, helping me not think about being called fat or poor or white trash for just a few seconds per bite. Burger King French Toast sticks to distract me from noticing how ratty my uniforms were compared to those of the other kids, being made fun of for having a scholarship instead of rich parents. Caloric vacations from how shitty reality could be.
I pushed open the weird squeaky gate across the street and walked into my sprawling apartment complex. It’s comprised of a swath of towering buildings and townhouses smack near the middle of the city and it’s actually pretty nice, all things considered. It’s definitely a place I never envisioned living when I was growing up in a trailer, heading off to an expensive school 30 miles away every morning and then proceeding to get busy having my face shoved into the dirt and being called a queer because I’d rather hang out with the girls and read Archie comics than get bullied by the same kids who called one of my only other friends “nigger”.
Needless to say, money doesn’t buy you class, but it does buy you a terrible spicy chicken biscuit. It can get you a fifth of something that burns to get you away from everything else. It can help you cope in a very half-assed manner until you don’t have it, and then it’s just you and your life.
I got to a relatively secluded area inside the complex, pulled the increasingly soggy mass out of my coat pocket, and turned it over to see a small sticker that read “11/26”. Today is November 17th. I was about to willfully put a $1 hunk of “food” that could live in a fucking wrapper for nine days from this today. This hunk of reconstituted meat, carbs, and chemicals has a price point of essentially $0.11 per day, and I paid that for some sense of what I perceived to be “normalcy” in the past. That one sticker made me realize that my satisfaction had a price point.
Anyway I ate the fucking thing and it was exactly as unappetizing and unsatisfying and inspired just as much self-loathing as one could expect for a dollar, so there’s that.
I continued on, sipping my “it’s okay, I guess” coffee and watching people jog past, families walking with their kids, all that you’d expect from a fairly bustling cluster of apartments in the city, all the while wishing that I’d had the dollar I spent on the dumb biscuit in cash so I could have given it to that guy. At least he wouldn’t have felt as weird about it as I did. Approaching the door of my place, I removed my keys from my pocket and they jangled as my fingers searched for the texture of the right key. A plaintive mew pierced through the door and I sighed with relief, my breath clouding the air. He was okay. Everything was okay. “I’m here, buddy, hang on,” I said as I fiddled with the front door locks, and he wailed louder as soon as he heard my voice. I felt a sense of warmth that the cheap coffee and biscuit couldn’t provide.
The door cracked, sunlight flooded his little gunmetal-grey face, and he immediately started crying and rubbing against my legs, purring like a motorboat. I shut the door, picked his little warm vibrating body up, and cuddled him to my chest, taking him upstairs as he licked the remnants of my shame-breakfast from the corners of my mouth.. His food bowl was a little low, so I gave him more kibble and plopped down on my bed to lay back and think for a minute, only to be immediately interrupted by him hopping up onto my chest and nestling in, happy and snug with the fact that I was still a thing in his life. I was happy that he was still a thing in mine.
I didn’t pay a goddamn red cent for that cat, save for vet bills and food and such. Something that I initially expected to be a brief pain in the ass in my life is now a fixture, and I’m grateful for that. He’s my best friend, and I’m his. I haven’t had a pet of my own in so long that I forgot how great it can feel just to have that connection with something that loves you more than you could even imagine. He makes the bad things go away. He makes me laugh. And he was free.
I feel the same way about Ariel, incidentals for her aside (vet bills, mostly, and dinners and such). I never really expected to meet her and how it happened was largely chance, but we clicked powerfully from the beginning and I love her dearly. And she was free.
I’ve wasted so much money over the past several years struggling to be happy. And I had the money to burn. I had a really well-paying job and benefits and all of that, and I was absolutely fucking miserable for most of it. I was drinking my life away because I hated the monotony, I hated walking in every day and seeing the same sad faces of people who had been there for decades, worried that I’d end up like that. And then one day it was gone and I was scrambling. But I wouldn’t trade anything in my life right now to have any of that back. The day-to-day is a little intimidating, but I’m incredibly lucky in a lot of ways. I traded financial security and stagnation for an actual life. All of those dollars are now excellent flesh-and-blood relationships with other people and things that were sort of glassed off to me when I was in the daily grind.
I’m not as sad as I used to be. I no longer hunger for food that doesn’t sate me. It’s just a past routine that I’m still working to shed, but for now, for what I have, I’m content.
And that’s enough.
Once More Into The Fray
Okay. First off I want to thank all of you who helped the last time around when this came up. You guys saved my ass and got me out of the house and gave me some stuff to keep busy, and I appreciate it and hopefully my work didn’t suck too badly (it didn’t, I don’t think, but I’m biased). Unfortunately, I’m not out of the woods yet. And of course the wheels of the state turn incredibly slowly, especially with the government shutdown and apparently a huge glitch in their systems that caused a bunch of claims to be delayed in the first place. I’ve also had work opportunities that have been held up or just not materialized due to bureaucracy. I’ve performed work that still has yet to pay out because the places in question are notorious for taking a long time to pay.
I’ve been applying for work and have been hot on EDD’s heels for over a month since I initially filed on 9/14, and finally got fed up and went to their offices today only to be informed that my payments are pending and will remain so until they contact me to arrange a phone interview. Apparently my previous employment as a state university employee requires that I go through an arduous phone interview, which isn’t so bad - the problem is that they’ll contact me at their own convenience and I was completely, absolutely stonewalled by the EDD representative that I spoke with this morning who basically told me that I just have to wait.
Unfortunately, just waiting doesn’t take care of my basic needs, so here I am stuck again until they decide to call me. Again, I need your help.
I want to re-iterate that this is NOT a plea for free cash. I did get some donations last time around which were highly appreciated and were all used for bills and rent and not dying, but I’m not begging for that. If it’s something you want to do, that’s fantastic and highly appreciated, but I want to earn it. The jobs that I was contacted for got me out of the house and moving around and doing good stuff for cool people, and it was great!
It really sucks and I hate doing this. I hate having to ask for help, because I’m stubborn and try to do everything I can myself. I don’t have the luxury of having a family with money or any other means, so it leaves me with this. It’s intensely frustrating to ask, but it’s not as frustrating as being worried about having to couch-surf while waiting for something that may take a long time. It’s frustrating being on persistent hold. It’s frustrating to send out tons of job applications that never get answered. I’m on the verge of taking dishwashing jobs (and even then they wouldn’t pay what I need) and so forth if I don’t get a call from the EDD soon. Just anything, at this point.
I didn’t apply for unemployment because I didn’t want to work, I applied because I didn’t want to be homeless and stuck with no resources except for the goodwill of my friends. And thankfully, I’m lucky in that regard.
Again, like last time, I can do the following:
- heavy lifting
- house cleaning/laundry/car cleaning/detailing
- light handyman work & construction
- put together furniture from, say, IKEA or something similar, repair furniture
- dogsitting/catsitting/petsitting (I’m amazing with goldfish)/babysitting
- gardening (if provided with the tools)
- errands (within walking/bus distance or with the use of a car)
- cataloguing/arrangement (DVDs/books/music/whatever)
- Any odds and ends within reason (and some above and beyond reason, at this point. Try me.)
And if you don’t need anything done but know someone who does, let them know. I’m fine with referrals and can give a list of references if anyone’s unsure.
If you want to make a loan, I’ll be glad to eke out a reasonable payback plan, just email me at email@example.com
Can’t donate money? If you have any suggestions for anything, let me know. I’m at a loss, frankly. I’d like to keep a roof over my head and at least keep a phone so that I can be in touch with EDD and potential employers, and not having a landline really sucks.
Bare bones, straight up: My rent is $780, and I’ve operated under the assumption that I’d receive my unemployment benefits with no hassle whatsoever, and of course assumptions led to me making an ass out of me. That amount is what I need, bare minimum.
Paypal is firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you have any work opportunities that you would like to discuss, please email me there as well.