The City of Angels Part Six: Ruin

After eight months trying to eke out a life in California, I found myself back in Alaska trying to get my feet back under me. I didn’t really tell anyone what I had gone through, what my struggles were, and if I told them why I was back up, it was typically vague and one thing was clear: it was temporary. My goal was clear to me. I transferred up with Best Buy. I was living back at home with my grandparents. I was going to work hard, get a good chunk of savings under my belt, move back, get back together with the love of my life and get back on a path to a happy future.

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey
Part Three: The First Month
Part Four: Love and Tribulation
Part Five: Awry

I was in Alaska a grand total of four months. The middle of May until September 19th. My interview with the front lanes manager was a grand total of five minutes and ended with her shaking my hand and welcoming me to the team. I think she and I had a grand total of four conversations in the front four months I was there, which was a stark contrast to the ever-present oversight of my manager Stephanie in El Segundo. Stephanie wanted us to know what our numbers were at, what  our goals were. She wanted to know what we needed and she also loved us all to death. My manager in Anchorage was cold and detached and impersonal. Frankly, most of the management at my store in Alaska didn’t know what they fuck they were doing, much less what they wanted out of anybody.

There was a different department up north, though, one that required sitting in the back and taking phone and online orders for deliveries by plane out to the Bush  (rural areas of Alaska). It was a steadily growing side venture that Best Buy was taking a chance on and it grew in business every day. I worked that area every chance I got, using my downtime to learn about the other departments and get certified to cover for and work in those areas every time we were short staffed. I wanted to be the most valuable, versatile member of the team. It was a lot of work.

I also brought up the idea of the Black Tie Protection competition we had down in Los Angeles. The rewards weren’t as high (a $5 gift card instead of $25), but it took our store from being absolute shit to being one of the highest BTP selling stores in the district. It was fun, sort of, in the way a competition is when you can never really lose. One girl consistently outsold the hell out of me. She was good. I vowed never to let it happen once I moved back.

My grandparents never asked me why I moved back, and I never told them anything beyond I just needed to get stable again. They knew I’d be leaving again in the fall and I think they just wanted to make the most of the time I was back with them. I had missed them. I miss them now.

I lived about an hour, hour and a half from work and it was the summer, so I walked often. I would carry a book to read as I walked, and on umbrella as well, on rainy days. I lost a lot of weight (which, in five years, I’ve regained) and looked maybe the best I had since high school.

That’s what I did that summer: I fucking walked and worked and learned. I drank a lot and ate a lot, frequenting the karaoke bar I loved so much and which is now a weird bar/sandwich hybrid shop.

Somewhere around 4th of July weekend, I think, my friend Sam took me out to his uncle’s cabin. Sam is a great guy – he and I get lunch every time we’re both in town – so I leapt at the chance to have a quiet, earnest get-away somewhere outside of the city. The cabin was beautiful and rustic and sat on a piece of land with an expansive backyard that had been turned into a 9-hole golf course. To this day, it remains the one and only time I’ve ever played golf. I lost badly, but I enjoyed myself okay.

I was set up in the guest room, which was a separate house that overlooked a lake and the sun kissed it nicely and I was removed from myself via natural beauty. I took a picture of the sunrise over the water and sent it to my ex. We weren’t talking much at the time. “Wish you were here,” I said.

“I wish I were, too,” she replied.

And I thought I was good. I thought I was on track, working hard, being a better man, a better person. I focused on the job that was waiting for me to come back to, waiting on the arms of my beautiful woman to fall into.

But dreams and life are not always the best of friends.

It was late July. I was making a sandwich in my grandparents’ kitchen when my phone buzzed on the counter top. My ex had texted me and said that after a great deal of consideration, we wouldn’t be getting back together upon my return. Our relationship was irrevocably ended. I was crushed. I thought things were slowly getting better. I thought she would be proud of me for becoming better. And of course there were so many other reasons for her decision, but I was blind to them at the time. I was just so hurt and lost. I begged. I pleaded. It didn’t change her mind.

So I kind of lost mine? I definitely went a bit mad.

I had been celibate for three months. I was technically single. I had flirted. I’d even kissed a time or two, but my heart was with my lady in Los Angeles and so I slept with no one. But now?  Definitively single, no room for argument? Alone in Alaska? Hurt and lonely? I reacted by being a little bit of a slut.

I hooked up with a friend from high school. She was working through some things and so was I, and there was sort of a desperate tinge to the night, and it was good and it was fine, and it never happened again, but I think we became closer friends for it.

I hooked up with a woman I used to work with that I always thought hated me. She picked me up from a bar to give me a ride home and argued with herself over whether or not she should sleep with me, and I calmed her down and took the pressure off and told her if she didn’t feel comfortable, we absolutely shouldn’t, but if she genuinely wanted to, we could, with no expectations or attachments or anything like that. It was an interesting not, and I think both of us felt good about having someone there to make the other feel valued. We didn’t speak much in the days after and we haven’t spoken at all in five years.

And then I fell into a steady casual relationship with a woman I met in a bar. I finally had the balls to ask her for her number, and she gave it to me, and we went on a couple dates, and I went home with her and met her mom and we all got on well and it started a thing.

That last month, month and a half I spent primarily with her. I was still going out too much. I was drinking too much, trying to quench the pain I was feeling, and I would go home to this girl and she would make me feel handsome and funny and valued. It was incredibly selfish of me. I did care about her a lot. I care about her still, and we’re always easy around each other. That being said, that casual relationship was still birthed out of heartbreak and very much felt like a rebound solely because I felt like a piece of shit and she made me feel worthwhile.

I could feel my life sort of crumbling around me. I didn’t give a shit about anything. My dreams to be an actor/writer were a distant memory. I was still putting money away because the bartenders at the karaoke bar essentially let me drink for free. I was learning more about my job, but I stopped really giving a fuck.

And then something inside me broke.

The store in Anchorage that I worked at had one large difference from the one I worked at in El Segundo: they kept the new, popular video games up in the front lanes, where the check-out registers were, instead of back in the gaming department. The camera in the front lanes was poorly positioned as well. Sometimes the front lanes were lightly staffed. It made it incredibly easy to steal video games, and I did. I took two or three games over the course of two or three weeks. I didn’t sell them, they were for me, but they were most certainly obtained illegally.

Why? Fucking why did I take those games? I played them, but I don’t know that I even enjoyed them. I spent most of my free time with this woman. If I had to guess, it’s that I was lashing out in every unhealthy way I could just because I wanted to feel something. Or maybe I felt that I was a garbage human being, so to hell with it, why not do garbage, self-destructive things?

I didn’t got caught, though. Not then, not for that. I did get certified in every department in the store and provided coverage anytime an area was understaffed. I made myself useful. I was well-liked.

September rolled around and I was about to move back to Los Angeles. The transfer request was in and approved. I had my old room back in Jenny’s family’s place. I decided to spend my last weekend in town with my friends.

And promptly got alcohol poisoning.

I blacked out somewhere around midnight. Apparently we had a few more drinks and then I wound up at my friend Steven’s place with him and some girl. The girl I was dating lived right up the road, so despite my friend’s insistence that I stay, I left. He let me borrow a coat. Instead of going straight up the road, I walked about five miles to the right. I came out of the blackout around 4 in the morning, early September, with no coat, in the rain, in the middle of the goddamn woods with no idea how I got to where I was.

I vomited and staggered in a direction, hoping against hope that it would lead me to civilization. I slipped and fell and the battery in my cell phone – I had a flip phone at the time; this was five years ago and I was stubborn – spun into the underbrush. I sprained my right elbow trying to catch myself as I fell and I spent ten or fifteen pained, stressed, confused, drunk minutes trying to find the battery before giving up and hoping for the best.

I walked for another ten or fifteen minutes before finding a road. It was on the completely opposite side of town from where I last remembered being. I didn’t even know anyone who lived near there. With how early it was and looking the way I looked, drenched and dirty, haggard and still drunk, I couldn’t just knock on someone’s door to ask to use their phone. All the businesses had yet to open. Shit, did I even know anyone’s phone number by heart? I did, in fact, not, except for the cab company that I had no phone to call for and no money on hand to pay with.

So I set out to the house of the girl I was dating. When I found out I had walked the same distance to the woods and back, I realized I must have trekked a total of ten miles or so. My legs and feet were killing me. I felt so sick. My arm throbbed. I couldn’t stop shaking. When I got to her house, it was nearly six in the morning.

I went around back to see if the back door was open. It wasn’t uncommon for me to just show up at her place and spend the night, so I thought that was a good idea. The door was not open. I think I sob-moaned and curled up in the fetal position on the back porch, hoping to sleep until someone woke up. About twenty minutes later, her mom found me and let me in. I mumbled out an explanation and she told me to go upstairs and crawl into bed. I surprised the girl, and I really pissed her off when I crawled my damp, dirty, freezing body in next to her. She wasn’t very impressed with me. I wasn’t very impressed by myself.

It took me a few days to fully recover from that hangover. I bought a sling for my arm that I wore for almost two months. A few days later, she drove me to the airport, we kissed goodbye and I left to try and fix things in Los Angeles.

At first, everything was working out great. Everyone remarked on how great I looked. Kevin, my friend and one of the managers put me in for a full dollar raise. I moved around the store, still selling more Black Tie than anyone, still winning those  $25 gift cards. We had a new general manager and I impressed him quickly.

But my ex was still dead set on not renewing our relationship. I tried everything. Gifts. Compliments. We still hung out occasionally, I could still make her laugh, but it wasn’t enough. It was hard working with her and not having her look at me lovingly anymore. It was hard seeing others flirt with her.

I started drinking. Daily. A lot. I was still sort of broke, so I’d buy these ridiculously cheap, ridiculously huge bottles of wine and/or vodka from the CVS down the road and I’d drink most of it that night and go into work smelling like liquor the next day. Jenny told me I couldn’t be doing that. What if a customer complained. I said something about half the customers being fucking morons and that even if every customer could smell the liquor, it apparently was doing nothing to stop the sheer fucking magnitude of insurance I was selling. “There’s a reason you have all the seasonal hires train with me.”

I was a bit of a smug asshole, but Jenny still loved and worried about me, and my friends would still invite me over and try to help me get over my ex. I smiled and nodded. “You’re right. I know.” I couldn’t do it.

I tried! God help me. My friend Angie and I hung out a few times, and I think there could have been something there, but even if there was, “You dated my friend,” she told me. “I can’t do that to her. It would make things too awkward.” That’s fair. In my mindset and with my emotional instability, I don’t think I would have made much of a boyfriend for her, either.

I started hanging out with other friends more. Marisol and I went and donated blood at Universal Studios during a Saw marathon. We got some free swag afterwards. Thanks night or a couple nights later was Halloween. She introduced me to her friend, a pretty Mexican woman. She and I swapped numbers and had sex not long after. It was nice, and passionate, but I just didn’t have the energy to pursue anything more. I still had my heart set on my ex.

November rolled around and I went to Temple with her and her family. Her sister invited me to Thanksgiving again and I asked my ex if she would be okay with that. She was, but I think a little reluctant. The dinner was nice. We laughed a lot. We got along as easily as ever.

And it still wasn’t enough. We got into a discussion about it in the car which quickly turned into a full-blown argument. “What is it?” I asked desperately. “We have fun. We get along. We make each other laugh.”

“Because you’re not the person I thought you were.” And that broke my heart completely. And I think I just gave up on everything then.

The next day was Black Friday. Black Friday in the front lanes of Best Buy in El Segundo is a fucking nigtmare. I got given charge of the registers. My job was to direct traffic to available registers, radio back to the warehouse to bring up the correct big ticket items, unfuck any mistakes the new kids made, and sell Black Tie any time I found myself at at a register. I did this for 12 hours on two hours of sleep and a hangover, and I was fucking great at it. I was supposed to work 14 hours that day, but the general manager sent me home a couple hours early because I looked like I was going to collapse at any moment.

“You’re maybe the only reason the front lanes didn’t completely fall apart,” he told me, before giving me my second dollar raise in a month. I was on track to move from the front lanes to the computer section and expected to get promoted to a supervisor somewhere within the next 6-12 months. Professionally, I had my ducks in a row. Mentally and emotionally, I alternated between being on the verge of tears, vomiting from full blown panic attacks, or feeling absolutely nothing at all.

Christmas season comes around. I’m still winning $25 gift cards. A new promotion comes out where if you bought a video game system, you automatically also received a gift card for $50 or $75 dollars (depending on which console was purchased). The thing is, not everyone knew about those cards. So I pocketed a few. No real reason why. I thought I was just being greedy back then. Nowadays I think I just wanted to do something risky just to feel something. And it was fucked up! I know that. That’s cards those people could have used for Christmas gifts. I just didn’t… care. I was so emotionally drained and self-loathing and hurt and lost. I stole those gift cards. I felt like a scumbag. I made a poor judgment choice. And because my head was in a constant maelstrom of grief and alcohol and loneliness and self-hate, I slipped up.

Using the gift cards, that’s when I got greedy. I would use my employee code to shave off a few more dollars from whatever product (usually movies or energy drinks) I was buying. And one of those customers that didn’t know about the gift card? He sure as shit found out about it, and when he came back to ask what happened to it, a little research tracked the usage back to me. And I was done for.

I got called into the office during a busy afternoon in a tone that very much indicated I had fucked up. I thought it was a transaction or something. When I saw my general manager and a stern-looking stranger, I knew exactly what had happened.

I had a weird mix of feelings wash over me then. Relief, weirdly, at finally just coming face to face with my self-sabotage and not having this guilty weight in the pit of my stomach. Resounding shame. Embarrassment. I didn’t want the people I had grown close with to know I was a thief on top of being an emotional wreck and a drunk.

This guy was the loss prevention manager for the entire west coast, and a former cop. He told me the easy was just to admit everything because they had tape, which may or may not have been true. The hard way would be to cuff me, parade me through the store and take me to jail. So I came clean immediately. I came clean on the gift cards, all of them, and the video games in Alaska.

“But there’s still something you’re not telling us. We know there’s more, just say it.” Oh, he was good. I knew another employee who got caught for stealing and then, when pressured, copped to taking money as well, sonething they hadn’t known. But I had admitted it all. I denied stealing anything else, like ipods. I didn’t need anything else. I didn’t even need the shit I actually took, but I warned them about how easy it would have been and suggested more thorough checks before leaving. I denied using my discount on behalf of friends except one time for a birthday (which was allowed). “I don’t know anyone in Los Angeles. All my other friends are Best Buy employees.” My manager told the guy he believed me. I had been a stellar, model employee other than this incident.

We tallied up the cost of the games and the gift cards. It came out to $350, I think. I agreed to pay it immediately. I had just paid rent, and I had been blowing money on booze, so I had to use what remained on my credit card to take care of it. I went on the floor to do it, and I looked at my direct manager and friend and said, “I’m sorry I let you down. Please don’t think I’m a bad person.” She told me she didn’t.

The LP manager still wanted to cuff and parade me. My general manager convinced him not to. “He’s been honest and upfront, he’s been a great employee, and he paid his restitution without any problem. Just let him leave.” I had only known the guy for four months and he cut me a break he had every right to shit all over. He walked me back to get my stuff, walked me to the front door and shook my hand. “I’ve had to do a lot of these walks over the years. This is one of the few I truly regret. Take care of yourself.”

I walked out in a bit of a daze. I barely had any money. I had no job. I couldn’t stay in Los Angeles. I called up RJ in Seattle and told him I was probably going to move up there with him. “What’s changed?” he asked.
“I got fired.”
“What? For what?” To the side, he told our friend Isaac, “He got fired.”
“Uh… theft. And embezzlement, they said.”
RJ cackled. “Embezzlement?!” Isaac cackled in the background. “What the fuck can you even embezzle from Best Buy?”
“Uh…gift cards?”
Gift cards? You couldn’t embezzle actual fucking currency? You went with gift cards?”
“Look, can I move up or what?”
“Hahaha yeah, man. See you soon.”

Jenny was on maternity leave at the time, so she hadn’t heard the news. She was visiting her family for Christmas and I dreaded telling her. But I sucked it up. “I have something I need to tell you. I’m moving this week. I got fired.” And I told her why and I told her I felt terrible about it, and she was disappointed, but she was so supportive and understanding. And her family gave me unexpected Christmas gifts because they are lovely people.

The fallout was interesting. I became a bit of a pariah, and I was somewhat flabbergasted by who stayed and who didn’t. Kevin, one of my best friends in the store, never spoke to me again. I didn’t blame him. He stuck his neck out for me multiple times and I betrayed him. Stephanie wishes me a Merry Christmas every year. Jason and Angie didn’t really give a shit. Some people I wasn’t that close with at all stayed friends with me for years. Others that I had been extremely close with, people I helped through hard times, people who could tell me anything because I wouldn’t say shit, pretended I never existed. I guess they felt like I betrayed them. The real me was a criminal and a fuck-up.

The loss of those friendships hurt; I didn’t take the gift cards from them. I paid back every cent I took. I lost my job. I lost my home. I had to move out of the fucking state! And California’s shoplifting laws allows for an additional restitution charge of  $50-$500. They got me for another $450, more than the original amount I took, and I paid that, too. I went into debt. And I didn’t complain about any of it because I broke the law. I took my punishment. But how much more did I have to give up? I lost everything, had to start from scratch all over again after everything I went through to get to where I was, and I fucked my own life up. The loss of those friendships hurt because I knew, knew that nobody hated me more I hated myself.

Brittni, one of my closest friends, took me out for milkshakes a day or two before I was set to fly out. We talked about what happened. She told me how hurt she was that I could betray her trust. She drove me home. She hugged me. She never spoke to me again.

And of course, my ex. Her words about never being anybody rang in my fucking soul. Her words about not being the man she thought I was were hooks in my heart. And now I knew this woman who loved me once, who I still loved so fiercely, would always view me as this tainted fuck-up. It killed me to think she would regret me. She didn’t speak to me for five years. Only recently did we reconnect and become friends again, and it brought closure to a demon weight that had been breaking me down for years.

I flew out of the city of angels a few days before the new year began to kick off most of a year in Seattle and Redmond, and some pretty life-defining things happened there. But Los Angeles changed me. It opened my eyes to so many amazing and terrible things. I met so many incredible people. I fell in love. I broke my heart. I built something good. I burned it all down.

Los Angeles changed me, for better and for worse. I’ll always love it, for better and for worse.

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The City of Angels Part Five: Awry

The hostel was in my rear view and I was keeping my head down. To my bosses’ credit, when I told them a couple of angry Tongans might come around looking for me and to tell them I transferred to Alaska, they agreed without asking any questions. My friends were gone, I was homeless, I was broke, I was sort of on the run, and I was still excited to live and work and love in Los Angeles.

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey
Part Three: The First Month
Part Four: Love and Tribulation

Everything I owned was in two suitcases and a box or two. I moved those, with the help of my girlfriend, to my friend Jaime’s place, to crash on his couch. Jaime was good people, nine or ten years older than me, and we had frequent beer pong parties at his place. That was a tense couple weeks because he lived in Inglewood and to get to work, I had to pass the hostel I abandoned on an almost daily basis.

Side-note: across the street from that place was a Louisiana’s Fried Chicken which not only sold, uh, fried chicken, but also Chinese food and it was fucking excellent. They were all over Los Angeles, but that’s the only one I ever popped into, and it’s one of the things I genuinely miss the most.

Anyway, my assistant manager Jenny told me that her family had an empty room they were wanting to rent. I jumped on the opportunity. The house was nice, very homey, and full of people and animals. There was a beautiful, friendly old dog, and something like four or five cats. Jenny’s parents lived there, as did her aunt, grandmother, and brother. We shared the washer and dryer. There was a mini-fridge and television in my room, as well as a desk from which I wrote. Her brother, a couple years older than I and a really cool guy, kept mostly to his room adjacent to mine; we shared the bathroom.

My room had two twin beds in it that I pushed together. The frames pressed against each other, leaving a small gap between the beds that I filled with blankets. Now it was a queen. Fuck yeah.

There were two doors in my room. One opened into the house. I almost never used it save to use the restroom, the washer/dryer, or to talk to Hector. He and I hit it off pretty quickly and would talk about sports or grabbing a drink or  (later) girls. The other door opened up to outside. The house had a gated concrete patio of sorts. I would use that entrance to come in late and to leave for work in the morning without disturbing anyone.

My entire time in Los Angeles the first time around, lasted a total of eight months. The first five were in the Adventurer. Close to three were spent in this house. I loved that family very much, but I liked to keep to myself, you know? I partied a lot and I was so stressed out all the time. I was broke and my girlfriend and I would argue sometimes and love each other other times and I just had so much going on, I didn’t want to bother the family much. But there would be days that I’d hear a knock on the door and Jenny’s mom or her aunt would be there with a plate of homemade Columbian food for me and it was so good.

See, when I say I was broke, I meant it. I may have been even more broke than when I was at the hostel. Pat the Pirate would hook me up with some food sometimes. I had that free buffet full of terrible food. I could charge shit to the room. Living at Jenny’s family’s house, I stretched every dollar out as far as I could. One day I was coming home from work and it was pouring rain. I tried to book it back to the house, but it was pouring rain and I ducked into a business about half way there just to warm up some. That business was a Dollar Store. Alaska doesn’t have those. Did you know Dollar Stores sell food? Hell yes, they do.

I’d use 20-30 bucks to buy two weeks worth of food. My routine was a cup of noodles at work for lunch and a can of ravioli or something at work for dinner. You can get cans of pork and beans two for a dollar. It’s fucking terrible but that’s two meals for a dollar. That’s the situation I was in. And I’m trying to take my girl on dates and trying to do things with my coworkers. I spent more on bus rides to work than I fucking did on food a month.

Nothing too terribly interesting happened during those three months. I worked, I partied with my work friends, I tried to make ends meet. My girlfriend introduced me to a fucking phenomenal comic book shop because she knew how big a nerd I was/am.

At work, a competition was implemented. I mentioned in one of the previous entries that I was really good at selling Black Tie Protection at work. To motivate everyone else, whenever someone sold a BTP, they would print out the receipt and put it in a box for a weekly drawing. At the end of the week, whoever had the most receipts would win a $25 gift card. Whoever’s receipt was drawn would win a $50 gift card or an iPod Touch. The first weekend I won both gift cards. Every weekend I won the $25 for having the most.

And still, I began to grow increasingly stressed and as I stressed, my emotions began to spiral out of control. I became sullen and insecure. I still had my girlfriend’s minor indiscretion in the back of my head and I began to feel I wasn’t good enough for her and because of that, because of the fights, it was only a matter of time before I lost her.

Let me be absolutely clear: outside of that one night and one other instance, she was an incredible woman who supported me and loved me as much as I let her, and I didn’t as much as I should have. She took me to Temple with her and her family, and I genuinely enjoyed it. Everyone there was welcoming and kind. There were food buffets afterwards, sometimes. Bagels with lox and spreads, salads. And liquor. And then we’d go to Pinkberry.

She would stay over at my place regularly. We broke the bed frame once doing boyfriend-girlfriend stuff, something I had always sort of secretly wanted to do until it became a little uncomfortable to sleep in a certain spot.

And what’s funny is one of my favorite memories and one of my worst happened probably within a week of each other. The worst came when we were….drinking or arguing or both. I just remember her saying once that she didn’t believe I would ever be somebody if I didn’t go to college. That fucked me up. Badly. I wrote about it in The Six Year Shadow. Considering where my head was at and how much I was in love with her and how desperate I was for validation and a clean break and a bright spot in my life, that may have been the most devastating, defining thing anyone’s ever said to me.

And despite that, I also remember laying in bed one late afternoon/early evening, her tucked under my arm, her head on my shoulder, her hand on my chest. “I can see us being together for a long, long time.” And yeah… when I wasn’t being manic, I saw that, too.

I was head over heels for her and I was not a great boyfriend at all. She and I recently rediscovered our friendship, and I’m so grateful. I don’t have any delusions about our future. I may never even see her again, but I really wish I hadn’t put her through so much shit. She deserved a better guy than me. I wrote a thing for us recently: “And when they argued, they were brutal and scathing and cut to the core. They wept for each other, for the mislaid lines and frayed edges. They were perfect and terrible.”

I reached a point in late April where I had completely reached my limit. I decided the best decision was to transfer back up to Alaska for the summer, live back at home, and get myself in a better financial state before moving back to Los Angeles. By then I was in a full-blown bipolar episode. I hated myself and I was so anxious and i overthought everything. I broke up with my girlfriend over text. I told her something like I was going through a bunch of shit, I was teaching severely, I was being emotional, it wasn’t fair to her, she deserved better. I drove her away because I felt so poorly about myself. She was pissed. She was so mad that I would break up with her over something as dumb as my being broke. We argued a bunch but she was such a great girlfriend. Jesus, she loved me while I lived in a hostel. I didn’t have a car. I could barely afford to eat. And I broke up with her over my own insecurities. She had every right to be pissed. I expected us to get back together when I got my shit together. Haha, well.

My birthday was right around the corner. I was going to celebrate in Anchorage, but before I left, I wanted to make the most of things. She was tired of my wishy-washy bullshit, and I can’t blame her. Not only was this probably the third time I tried to break up and the first time over reasons that had literally nothing to do with her and 100% about my inability to cope with my living situation, but I was also planning on leaving for four months to a state across the continent.

We saw Iron Man 2 together. We went to a party together. She was super distant with me, even though I was leaving the next morning. I was hurt. She was hurt, too, and she was done with my shit, and she shut me down effectively. And that’s fair! God, it hurt so bad.

And I came home to Alaska for four months to kick off fucking my entire life up. I guess if I do shit, I don’t do it in half-measures.

Part Six: Ruin

The City of Angels Part Four: Love and Tribulation

I’m just going to jump into this fucker: with DJ gone, RJ and I were more stressed than ever on how to make ends meet. I was working the front desk at minimum wage. RJ was doing desk and shuttle driving and going to school to become an EMT. With my funds rapidly diminishing, I even considered becoming an escort. Not caught up?

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey
Part Three: The First Month

Yeah, so I wasn’t hearing anything back on auditions. I did get an audition for As the World Turns, but despite being obviously located in Los Angeles, the audition was in New Orleans. Too bad. I would have done a soap opera. I’m good at acting bad.

So with few jobs in the pipeline, one caught my eye, and I swear to God this is true and I’m not necessarily proud: male escort. I submitted pictures and some information about me and had the arrangement explained to me like this: your profile goes up on a website. Someone can select you to be their date to an event, a gala, a red carpet thing, a dinner, whatever. $400 for a three hour commitment, $150 for each hour after that. Company only, sex optional. And honestly, I’d even fake being gay in public for three hours for $400. You want to know how close I was to doing this? The only thing that stopped me was that there was a $100 surcharge for them to build my page, and I was so broke, I didn’t want to throw $100 at a maybe.

Luckily for me, not long after that, I had an interview for a job with Best Buy. I got a haircut, and it wasn’t exactly professional (it was a Mr. T level Mohawk honestly. It looked dumb as hell on me), but I interviewed well. There was a second interview and I think I benefitted from the hiring manager being a fellow Dallas Cowboy fan. I got hired full-time, provisionally for the holidays, at $10.50 an hour. I still maintained my job at the hostel, and worked that schedule around my existing schedule with Best Buy.

The hostel situation got interesting, though: turns out for 2/3 of the year, the owner would rent out fully half of the available rooms to oil and gas workers that would come in – usually from the mid-south to south-east- to work on the refineries. Which meant that we had a lot of hard-drinking burly hicks to deal with on a regular basis. As employees of the hostel, it also meant we had to deal with them whenever they started acting unruly.

RJ and I did the smartest thing we could: we made friends with the biggest of them and the boss as fast as we could. Johnny Ray was a fucking massive man, soft-spoken but quick to defend his friends. If one of his crewmates began to act aggressive and get in my face, Johnny would simply put a hand on my shoulder, stand up behind me and say, “He’s with me. Listen to him.” That ended shit really quick.

Mike Jones, mind you, was the complete opposite of Johnny. He was a lightning-quick-witted man, generous, who had suffered a stroke that had rendered the left side of his body largely useless. And as goofy as he acted, as quickly as he got drunk, everyone respected Mike. When he spoke, they listened. That’s huge weight for a guy who, when he got too fucked up, we would sit him down on a luggage trolly and wheel his ass to his room. I tucked Mike into his own bed many times.

Johnny, meanwhile, skipped out to his own private bungalow early on. He threw a handful of parties out there and if we weren’t working, he would have us work the door for entry fees. We’d receive a cut at the end of the night.

At some point during all of this, I recall asking Zhana’s ridiculous struggling actor boyfriend for audition tips. He said a lot without saying anything and then I overheard him telling her he was always talking to “nobody’s” like me. I was blackout drunk the next time Robbie went in. Johnny told me I threatened to “smack the shit” out of him if he insisted “on talking all that shit”, until Robbie apologized profusely and bought me a drink. I took the drink, but man, fuck that guy.

There were plenty of other amazing people passing through, though. The Russian New Yorker whose name I couldn’t recall, so we all called him Niko Bellic, after the Eastern European protagonist of Grand Theft Auto 4. His last night in town, he asked Selma how much she would charge for a pitcher of Long Island Ice Tea. I think she charged him $13. Fucking ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is how she would only charge me $6 when I asked her to do it again on other nights when I wanted to sit and drink and right.

There was Irish Tommy. He had these ridiculous glasses with fake Elvis chops on them. I remember I made the mistake once of promising RJ I would DD for him and some of the others at the hostel and take them down to Hermosa Beach after I got off work. I was so tired and so grumpy by the time I got back to the hostel that I tried to renege, but he wasn’t having it. So I’m driving. There’s someone sitting in the middle of the front (not a seat), someone in the passenger side, and four people crammed into the 3-person back seat, including RJ, Tommy, and this absolute knockout named Dale.

We’re about halfway to the beach when I pull up alongside a police officer. She glances over, sees how many people are in the car, and I immediately know I’m fucked. The light turns green, the cop pulls back behind me, flips the blue and reds, and I pull over. Now, the driver’s side window on the HMS DB didn’t roll down, and I opened the door to try and explain that. The cop immediately put her hand on her gun and shouted for me to stay in the car; I realized this was the kind of dumb shit that got people killed on accident, so I closed the door and kept my hands on the wheel and begged everyone to shut up. They didn’t listen.

Everything got resolved pretty quickly after. We weren’t far from the beach, so she let us off with a warning and insisted a couple people cab it on the way back. That didn’t happen, of course, but we promised anyway.

There was Becky, the British surfer, and Kirsty, a Scottish beauty who sent me a calendar of her beautiful country once she returned home. There was Guy, a British actor/writer with some bold ideas and no idea how to string them together into something coherent. There was Nick McDonald, nephew of Christopher McDonald (you may know him better as Shooter McGavin), and colossal asshole. Chris, the Australian, who told us a delightful story about playing with his puppy and saying, “Come here, ya little cunt”, and asking RJ if he needed his girlfriend to help him when he was working on the car.

But the best by far was probably Pat the Pirate. A Canadian man in his late 40s or early 50s, he was one of the most genuinely nice guys I’ve ever met. He always bought rounds for people, always had a smile on his face, always video chatted with his daughter. When he talked about her, he just beamed. Hell, there were days I was so broke I couldn’t afford to eat. He’d give me a few bucks to head down to Jack in the Box and get something, and he never made me feel ashamed about it.

The most interesting thing about Pat, though, is that he worked as a lighting tech for concerts and events. He set up stages for a massive variety of people. “I remember shaking hands with George Carlin and smoking dope with Snoop Dogg,” he told me once. “And the craziest party I’ve ever been to was one where Motley Crue did $40,000 worth of damage to a hotel floor.”

When he finally left, it was to go work on a tour with Kiss. We kept in touch for a while because I genuinely wanted to write his biography. He never got me the notes, though, and we drifted apart over the years. I hope he’s doing well. He helped me out a lot.

The point is that there was a revolving circus of diverse people, not all of them savory, but all worth a story. It kept things busy at home while we were trying to get our feet under us with work. RJ was finishing up EMT school with a new friend, Phil, and beginning ridealongs.

And I started at Best Buy. We lived in Inglewood and I worked in El Segundo, but there were a couple of buses that took me directly there. That’s one thing that surprised me about Los Angeles: the transit system is surprisingly clear and easy to navigate.

I went in a day or two before I was officially supposed to start and met a good amount of the people I’d be directly working with. My assistant manager, Jenny, was a tremendous sweetheart who became a lifesaver for me later. The other assistant manager, Brittni, was a very close friend. My direct manager, Stephanie, is one of the best bosses I’ve ever ad, and the fact that we’re still friends after the way things turned out is incredible to me. The hiring manager, Kevin, became one of my best friends in the store and turned me on to some video games and movies I’d have no idea about otherwise. Jason and I used to go dsy drinking down to the beach. Jaime saved my ass. And Angie became my rock when everything started to fall apart.

I worked in the front lanes, where most of the registers are at. Now, there are several different departments throughout the store (Gaming, Digital Imaging, Home Theater, etc.) and those departments have reps trained specifically to sell those things as sort of certified experts. And once they close a sale in their department, they’re expected also to try and sell Black Tie Protection (insurance) on applicable devices. That means, of course, that a proper sales rep would know exactly what it covers and what it doesn’t and how to personalize and leverage the benefits for the customer.

But not every sale is closed out in that department. Most are actually grab and gos, so in the front lanes, we’d see just about every product except maybe home appliances. We had to get to know what BTP covered for every department. There was no compensation for selling the stuff, but there was still an expected percentage of attachment, so whenever I had a spare ten minutes, I’d go to each department and learn, and I got very, very good at selling it.

Besides becoming sales oriented, I also met a woman I would come to love very much. I had met her when I’d gone in a day early, but it was a couple days more before I saw her again. Caramel skin. Thick, dark, curly hair. A dazzling smile that came easily, a laugh usually ready behind it. She always made my heart skip a beat, mi boricua princesa.

We got along great early on. We made each other laugh. We spent a lot of time together. She made me feel welcome and being so far away from home and with so much stress going on and only one of my two friends still around, I clung to that. I was lonely, and she was kind and beautiful and funny.

She invited me early on to Jaime’s place for beer pong, and RJ and I went. Turns out he didn’t live too far from where we were staying, so it was convenient for everyone involved. Her and my friendship grew stronger, and Jaime and I became closer buddies as well. He gave me a lot of shit, but I gave as good as I got and I think he respected that.

Thanksgiving came soon after. Knowing I had no one to spend it with, she invited me to spend it with her and her family. RJ had to work and I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could, so I eagerly accepted. To this day, it ranks as maybe my favorite Thanksgiving. I got along great with her family, played around with her dog and stole every soft smile and caring glance I could from her. And man, her mom would not let me stop eating. When you have spent months borrowing money to eat off the dollar menu, a home-cooked Puerto Rican Thanksgiving dinner is like seeing God. And when I literally couldn’t eat anymore for fear of getting sick, of course they made up a plate for me to take home.

On the drive home, we held hands. I don’t think we kissed that night. She made me nervous. I know I couldn’t stop grinning.

It was that weekend or the weekend after that we went to a party, probably at Jaime’s, probably to play beer pong, and she and I both wound up drunk. I don’t think she wanted to go home like that and risk upsetting her parents, so she asked to come home with me. That was the first night we slept together. I don’t know if she had gone in expecting just a hook-up, but I fell for her even more and afterwards, holding her in my arms, I asked her if she would go out with me. “You want me to be your girlfriend?” she asked,  and I responded, “I really, really do.”

She didn’t respond until morning. When she did, she said yes.

December was more or less perfect. We didn’t really go out of our way to tell anyone we were together, but we didn’t exactly keep it a secret, either. Any time we were away from work, we were all over each other. It was fast, it was passionate, it was horribly naive and going 100 miles per hour because it was a love born of youth.

And love it was. I don’t remember what the place was called. It was a sports bar with high ceilings, booths and pool tables. She was sitting on the side of one the tables and I was standing between her legs, about to leave to pick up RJ and bring him out. I told her I’d be back in a few, and she responded with, “Okay. I love you.” And there was a pause as we both realized what she had said.
“Do you?” I asked.
She thought for a minute, nodded and said yes. So I kissed her and said, “I love you, too. I’ll be right back.”

And December was nice and December was good, and I helped celebrate Hanukkah with her and RJ’s mom sent us a care package for Christmas.

Then New Year’s rolled around and the first real hint of how bad things were going to turn out rolled through.

RJ had to work that night, so she and I went together to a party at this guy Jesus’ house. I’m still pretty new around these people. It’s only been a couple months at this point. It wasn’t a huge party, but there was ton of liquor. We started playing beer pong and I was getting tipsy. She was decently drunk and dancing and being flirty. I got jealous. She liked to dance and I didn’t. I still don’t. But she was the kind of oblivious who thought guys were just being sweet instead of blatantly hitting on her in front of me. So I got jealous, and I handled it by doing the absolute last thing I should have: grab a bottle of Jack Daniels and just start swigging from the bottle. A group of friends pulled me into a room and asked if I wanted to do some cocaine. I had done blow a couple times before, I was drunk and in a bad mood, so I figured, fuck it. Let’s go all in.

She found out somehow. Maybe she saw me do it, or I told her. She was pissed, and figured if I was going to do I it, she might as well, too. That pissed me off. She had never done it before, and as far as I know, she’s never done it since. She didn’t know how she would handle it. I was worried about her, and part of me felt she was doing it to get back at me, which – while there are no good reasons to do drugs – may be one of the worst reasons to do drugs.

We got into it. I blacked out and stormed out of the house. Apparently I slammed the door on the way out, something I had to apologize profusely to Jesus for. Not that Jesus. The other one. I stumbled through the road and called RJ to come pick me up. She came out right after and wanted to come home with me. Neither of us were in any condition to give appropriate directions, so it took him some time to find us. It had to have been 3 or 4 in the morning. I blacked out. RJ told me he blared Depeche Mode while she and I argued nonstop.

Nonstop. I came out of the blackout to see her sitting at the foot of my bed. I was standing in front of her, yelling, and I realized I no longer had any idea what we were arguing about. I shook my head to clear it and mumbled an apology. I realized it was now morning, neither of us had slept a wink, and I had to go work a full shift. I staggered out of the room and left her to watch the Rose Bowl parade with RJ.

At some point, I managed to convince the desk manager to let me catch just two hours of sleep. I was exhausted, crashed hard off the drugs and I was still pretty drunk. I went up to the room. She followed me into my bed and we wrapped our arms around each other and she fell asleep with me. When we were good, we clicked so fucking perfectly. When we didn’t, it was usually because I was an asshole and she would bite back twice as hard.

I woke up, and we learned a few things: 1. Shawn the shuttle driver had a meth addiction.
2. Shawn the shuttle driver decided to let that addiction make him think it was okay to do meth and drive the shuttle.
3. Shawn the meth head drove that fucking shuttle over some people and parked it halfway up one of the columns at LAX, and RJ would have to cover the rest of his shift with the larger shuttle that RJ was in no way qualified to drive.

New Year’s wasn’t good for anyone.

And then things continued to be rocky. Towards the end of January, she and I were at a party. I wanted to leave because I had to wake up early for work. She wanted to stay. I walked home. I figured she would crash at Jaime’s. I got up to use the restroom around 4AM. When I came out, RJ had let her into the room and she was laying in my bed. It scared the shit out of me, to be honest, seeing a person where moments before there was nobody, but then I got curious. How did she get there? Who drove her? Which friend? And through some drunken questioning, I found out a guy friend of hers had driven her and at some point they made out. I don’t know if it was someone from work; she insisted it wasn’t, but just a guy she had known for a long time. I don’t know if she initiated it. I know she was drunk and a lot of her guy friends didn’t seem to give a fuck about her relationship status. I do know she felt tremendously, horrifically guilty.

I reacted extremely poorly. I only found out this year that I’m bipolar and anxious and depressed. At the time, I had no idea why I felt things so intensely all the time. I just knew I had a really hard time regulating my reactions. I threw the blanket against the wall. I threw my phone against the wall. I yelled and I cried because I was so hurt. That’s what I woke up to is this feeling of betrayal. Was it because I wasn’t good enough? Did she want to be single?

I scared her. She thought I was going to hurt her, I think, and that appalled me. I would never hurt her or any other woman. The realization made me sick. I sank down on the bed and she came up next to me and she apologized and we both cried and we told each other we loved each other and we made love and we fell asleep on damp pillows.

It would always eat me up, though. I never really got over it. I talked with Angie about it, and Brittni, and my girlfriend’s friend and they all told me the same thing: that she was so guilty over it and all she talked about was how much she wanted to make up for it. And I struggled to keep my jealousy and anxiety and anger and propensity for over thinking under control to middling success. We went out for dinner and a movie once, and I was still so bothered about it that I broke up with her over dinner before realizing it was Valentine’s Day. I immediately recanted and we talked about it and we had a tense movie date after.

Towards the end of February, things were getting tense amongst the employees of the hostel. I found my money was still running tight. They hired on RJ’s friend Phil as a shuttle driver to replace Shawn. The HMS DB had finally shit the bed and RJ was making preparations to move to Seattle to live with a couple of our friends from Alaska. I began to make plans of my own.

In the meantime, my girlfriend and I continued to patch things up. Her friend managed an AMC theater, so we saw a lot of movies together, often for free. One night we had a really great time together and afterward she dropped me off in front of the hostel. She couldn’t stay over that night, so I kissed her and got out. She took off and the manager of the hostel caught me in the parking lot. He wanted to take a walk and discuss how my schedule working the desk would coincide with my Best Buy schedule.

As we walked and talked, I heard a loud shot from behind me. Something moved so close to my cheek, just under my eye, that it tugged at my skin. It cracked into the wall in front of me. I turned and saw a white car with tinted windows suddenly tear through a red light away from me. A half inch of difference is all it would have taken. I hardly left my room for three days.

And even after all of that, the Adventurer still had one good story left for us. RJ was working the desk night shift. Phil was working the shuttle. I was behind the desk with a drink. RJ pulls out a pair of letters a customer had dropped off. Both were similar in content but contained such ramblings as, “I am a man vacationing from San Francisco and am interested in your rooms. I would like to purchase [specific] room at [specific rate] from [this date] to [that date] which comes out to [total].” (He included a handrawn calendar). He also said “I am familiar with both the insides and outside of the closet” and some inanity about his occupation. One was signed “John Rockefeller”, while the other, “John Rockefella”. On one envelope, he had written “Enclosed is a $10 tip.”

“Was there a $10 tip in there?” I asked.
“There sure as shit was,” RJ said.

They’re trying to explain to me what this guy looks like and Phil gets the bright idea to call this guy’s room and pretend to want to meet him for a good time in the shuttle bay, causing him to walk directly by the office. Well, Phil calls and comes on to the guy in a low voice, but he hangs up and cackles when the guy seems receptive. RJ called bullshit, so Phil called again with me listening in. I heard him sound receptive and Phil broke and hung up again. RJ insists we call one more time and I tell him it’s probably a bad idea, that I doubted anyone else knew the guy’s room number and so he probably thought it was RJ. RJ laughed that off and Phil calls again. Before he can say a fucking word, ol’ John asks, “Are you coming or should I go to the office?”

Phil slams the phone into the receiver and he and I double over in laughter. RJ is aghast, repeating “No. No.” over and over, stopping only when a heavyset lady came to check in to a room. While RJ checks her in, a short man in his late thirties or forties steps into the office. Parted brown hair, thick glasses, wispy mustache. Holy shit, of course this was him. He set an envelope and a bottle of orange juice down on the counter. Phil is sitting on the couch across the room, bright red from holding his laughter in. I’m sitting on awe, aware I’m about to witness something beautiful. The lady leaves with her room key.

“I brought you orange juice.”
“I do not want your orange juice.”
“Know what’s in here?” *taps envelope*
“I do not.”
“Male pornography.”
“THAT’S weird. AND uncomfortable.”
John’s eyes turn into dinner plates and he stammers, “OH! OH! SORRY!” before darting from the room. I have rarely laughed harder.

Anyway, as RJ’s departure neared, I arranged to sleep on Jaime’s couch for a month or two until I could get situated. My girlfriend helped me smuggle my things out of the room and over to his place. The morning RJ was set to fly out, we had one last breakfast that we charged to the room. We shook hands, he took the shuttle to the airport. I took the bus to work at Best Buy and never went back. I left behind a bill of $2,000-$3,000; Phil told them I snuck off to Seattle as well, and they tried to hire someone to track me down. Whoops.

A week or so later, Phil called us to let us know John Rockafeller/Rockafella had moved to a dorm room. The cops were called when everyone else woke up to find him in the center of the room, buck naked and masturbating furiously. That’s some vacation.

Part Five: Awry
Part Six: Ruin

The City of Angels Part Three: The First Month

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey

On Friday, September 18th, 2009, I used hotel Wi-Fi to update our blog. This is what I wrote then:

“We made our way into Los Angeles and immediately got lost. It wasn’t our fault (this time) as Priceline decided to give us directions that were completely ass-backwards. A boulevard was in fact a freeway. East really meant go West. Eventually we bungled our way to the Homestead hotel and got situated, watching Wonder Boys before falling asleep.

The next morning we got on searching for jobs. RJ started looking up places to pawn some stuff, I negotiated a few days’ stay at a nearby hostel, and then I got a call I truly wasn’t expecting: a talent agent working for one of the most presitigous talent search companies in L.A. told me he was interesting in accepting me as part of the group. We worked out financial details, what I needed to have prepared, and even a meet time for me to come by the office.

Unfortunately, with so much other stuff that needed doing and outrageous, if expected traffic, we weren’t able to make it by yesterday so I called and rescheduled.

Looking back, I realized I had said that it was me that booked the stay at the hostel that would become my home for the next five months. I guess I wanted to sound like I had my shit together, which wasn’t fair to the guy who really booked our room: DJ. He told us it was located in Hollywood. This will become relevant in a little bit.

Anyway, RJ had an old engagement ring he was trying to pawn, so the most apparently obvious place to do that was the Jewelry District. Where better to find a group of people most qualified to determine the value of the piece and offer an appropriate amount to procure it.

I cannot properly convey how much of an absolute shit show that first week or so was. The entire first five months were crazy enough, but we were fish out of the water, across the street, and straight on the grill upon arrival.

The car was running low on gas. We didn’t know how long RJ was going to be – and parking was atrocious, anyway – so DJ and I went on a mad dash around downtown L.A. trying to find a pump, looking frantically at the fuel gauge as it gradually ticked closer and closer to empty. We found a station eventually, practically on fumes, and realized we had no fucking idea where we were.

Also, we began to realize how idiotic our plan had been: RJ was supposed to hock the ring, buy a disposable phone and call us. But what if he couldn’t sell the ring? What if he couldn’t find a place that sold disposable phones? I was the only one with a working phone at the time. But who would I call?

And as DJ and I accidentally drove to Chinatown and followed that up by speeding down the wrong freeway, we realized that while Anchorage is a big little city, it’s the tiniest big city.

DJ and I parked somewhere and decided to look for RJ on foot. In retrospect, as many aspects of this move came to be, that probably was the worst thing we could have done. It’s all about ground coverage. It’s a logistics issue. Maybe we just didn’t want to waste the gas? Fuck if I know. RJ managed to find a payphone and some change and call me and we finally reconnected.

We drove to a nearby casino to wait until the traffic jam calmed down. DJ played blackjack again. DJ lost at blackjack again. The jam cleared up and we headed back towards the LAX area, but because we are terrible navigators, we wound up in Orange County before finally finding our way back. A whole day wasted and RJ got an insulting amount for a pretty stellar piece of jewelry out of it. Fantastic.

We applied for jobs, we joked around with each other. I was drinking Johnny Walker Red out of my flask and thinking that it tasted like ashtrays and maybe I would stick to rums. And speaking of ashtrays, DJ “playfully” through one at me and wound up shattering a light bulb all over my face and bed. Nothing worse than a mess came out of it, but it’s the sort of thing that sticks in your mind.

From the original blog:

“Today, we’re getting ready to check out of the hotel and move over to the Adventurer Hostel nearby. Once we check in, we’re going to head down to the office so I can meet this talent agent and discuss not only career opportunities but apparently a deal he can work out for me on head/body shots (he’s offered to cover the normally $800-1,200 bill, but said I’d probably want to pay the photographer $100 for studio time). Then, tonight, it’s $2 beers!”

I completely forgot $2 beers were one of the selling points of that place They quickly became irrelevant.

First things first, the hostel isn’t in Hollywood. It’s in fucking Inglewood, and the sight of bars on the windows of homes as we first rolled through didn’t fill us with a lot of good faith. But here, let 21-year-old me set the scene for you:

“At first, we were tremendously skeptical. It seemed as if the online ads were completely misleading. The sign out front is a little dilapidated. The outside wall is covered in vines. All in all, we were sure we made a tremendous mistake.

Turns out we were wrong! We checked in, pulled our car around to the back where it was locked nice and secure into a gated, barbwired parking lot. While that might seem a little sketchy in and of itself, it was to keep people out, not people in. In the building area itself, there’s a pool table, some vending machines, a pool, some arcade games and internet you can pay to use. Or free WiFi, if you have a laptop (like DJ and I! Joy!). There’s a bar and restaurant area. Every day there’s free popcorn, a half hour free buffet with some decent chips, tater tots, french fries, rice w/peas, some bread. If you have the coupons, there’s a Champagne Party every night where you can have a free couple glasses of champagne. Happy hour has $2 beers and margaritas.

Due to some overbooking issues they were having, they moved us from a dorm room (20 beds) to a private room with two beds and our own private bathroom and television. All in all, not a bad deal.”

Not so bad, right? This is a hostel for youth and international travelers. The amenities were decent enough. We just wanted to stay around long enough to get jobs and find an apartment.

I’m going to jump ahead a little bit and spoil this for you: RJ and I lived in that place for five. Fucking. Months. And that idyllic first impression? Complete and total bullshit. By the time we left, people were dead, people were searching for me, there was a psychotic masturbator, I had met one of the loves of my life, and I was definitely guilty and/or complicit in a few crimes.

Case in point: that first night, we all got amazingly drunk. DJ played the South Park pinball machine until the employees literally pulled the plug because of how late it was. RJ and DJ went up to the room about three in the morning. I stayed out about a half an hour later to try and write, but then went up and pulled both of them out onto the catwalk. Across the hall, a Russian girl had called the police because her bathroom wasn’t working. She threatened to literally shit all over the sidewalk unless it was taken care of immediately. The cops said there was nothing they could do but get the manager’s attention. Which they did, and I assume the situation was resolved, because she and her roommates were there the next day.

This was the first night. That’s one of the tamest things that happened.

“The next day, Saturday, we loaded into the car and headed downtown for me to get headshots and bodyshots taken by a pretty big-deal photographer. We had some growing unease, however, as the studio ended up being in the middle of some warehouses that looked like they’d been condemned for quite some time. From a clay head laying around to a giant, abandoned steel mill with “God is Dead” spraypainted on the walls, to a bag of candy mysteriously sitting on the ground next to a dumpster, to a Murder Horse [statue], everything screamed Murder-Death-Kill.

We found the right building and waited outside until the photographer, Brian, as well as the talent agent, Mike, showed up. I headed up with them while RJ and DJ went for smokes and waited in the car. When we actually got INTO the studio, I was pretty impressed with the set-up. Some sweet lighting equipment, some sweet props, some gorgeous photos from past subjects. There was a really creepy Jesus wall, though, and four cats lounging around, one of which was missing an eye.”

Yeah, I’m hesitant now to believe that guy was a “big-time” anything other than a super weird, cat-freak recluse. His pad WAS pretty sweet. Super artsy, clean, well-lit. If it weren’t located on the third floor of an abandoned building in the middle of fucking Chernobyl, if these two total strangers hadn’t told my two friends in the creepiest imaginable way to wait outside while they lured me into this murder factory, you know, if none of that… then it would have been alright.

I paid $100 for the studio time  (“You’ve got to spend money to make money”, I told myself sullenly as my funds continued to gradually diminish), we got gas in in a sketchy neighborhood and went home. DJ decided to take it easy while RJ and I threw caution to the wind and got drunk. Around 3AM, I went to the room and fell asleep on the floor. RJ and the Australian guy he had been playing pool with earlier in the night met up with a quartet of British women. Despite the pool being closed after ten, the six of them somehow managed to avoid detection as they swam from 4-7AM, RJ mostly clothed.

I only know this because he burst into the room in the wee hours of the morning, startling me awake. “Where the hell have you been?” I asked like an angry parent. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“Pool with british chicks. And Eric.”

“What? Who? What?” All in all, it was a decent night.

The next day RJ and I decided we wanted to go to the beach (“Drive west until you hit the ocean”, this smart-ass says, knocking the map out of my hand. And it worked.), and then were accosted by a homeless man on our way out. He asked for some money. I gave him something like $5 in change because any other cash I had on me was a $20 or higher. RJ was rolling with plastic. The man wanted more and began to swear at us.

“What did I do to deserve this insult? I’m a veteran! I served in Vietnam! I had to kill babies. Does that disturb you?”
“Yes, tremendously. We’ve got to go now.”

The Adventurer had doors that could be electronically locked from inside, unlocked only by a switch under the counter. This came in handy most nights and on afternoons like this one. Saved the desk ladies some hassle.

We were hungover and downed some cheap Chinese and then headed to the beach. Swimming was fun, in that filthy fucking water, but between the food, the hangover, and whatever salt and other nasty shit was in the ocean there made us vomit profusely. Also, I skinned my knee.

Back at the hostel, it was the British girls’ last night. The cops had been called earlier in the evening because someone had stolen their ipod. It wasn’t recovered. The cops showing up would become a recurring experience. RJ and I were invited to their room to play Uno and drink tea. One of them suggested ketchup and rice as a meal. I tried it. It’s… ehhh. The evening and early morning was nice, and we added each other all on Facebook before they left. Six years later, I think I’m still only friends with one of them.

The next day, we went to pick up some prints of my head and body shots. I thought the pictures turned out great. RJ thumbed through them and tapped on one. “In this one you look like someone told you your cat just died.” I was going for smoldering. Fuck me, right?

Later, after a meeting with this talent agent… do you know what a talent agent is? I didn’t when I first moved there. The talent agent isn’t an agent who gets in touch with casting directors and studios for you. He’s the guy who puts you in touch with agents. Kind of. This guy fucking sucked at his job. He called me twice after the headshots, I think. The only thing he did was get me professional pictures taken (decent enough) and access to an audition board where I could look for potential jobs. But I remember after the last meeting we had together, he talked to RJ and I in the parking garage. Upon finding out RJ does IT work, he said, “Look, keep this on the DL, but I’ve got this little side business maybe you could help me with.”

He proceeded to pull out his phone and pull up a softcore porn site with a terrible layout. He wanted RJ to fix it for free, with the promise of possibly finding a job for him later. RJ gave him his best serious face and told him he’d definitely think about it. We laughed about it over Denny’s minutes later.

A day or two later, I got an email for a runway modeling audition which, hahahahaha, most of you reading this have never seen me.  I wouldn’t say I’m an unattractive guy or terribly out of shape or anything, but I’m a far cry from model material. Also, I’m clumsy as all hell. I walk up stairs awkwardly. God forbid you see me run ever.

I remember going to that audition, because money is money, a chance is a chance. There was a long line of gorgeous people I had to stand in. I made awkward conversation. When it was my turn, I did my best to confidently strut down the runway, swung a super fucked pivot and shamefully walked away. I didn’t expect a call back from that and I didn’t get one.

That night DJ went down to the hostel bar for a few drinks. He came back absolutely plastered with arms full of hot dogs someone in the kitchen had given him for free. He excitedly explained that as he was drinking, he happened to sit next to and start up a conversation with the hostel’s owner, who lived in his own private room next to the bar. Somehow he convinced the man to give him a job as a shuttle drivers if he could get his driver’s license switched over. We resolved to do that the next day.

And this is where my original blog ended. From here, I’m going to have to try and remember the order of things as they happened to the best of my ability and recount some of the crazier stories that occurred.

Let me take a moment to kind of explain the setting of this hostel. The place was run by a pair of Tongan gangsters. And when I mean gangsters, I don’t mean in the street gang sense. I mean these guys were violent, racist thugs who used their influence and money to hold power over people. Employees were replaceable. No race or religion was safe from their condescension. The uncle owned the hostel and his nephew, fresh from prison, managed it.

The building was open 24 hours. The manager’s wife, and feisty but generally sweet Eastern European immigrant, usually handled the day end of stuff, but there were a handful of other women that ran the desk, too. I think there were three shuttle drivers at the time: one heavyset man who later had to quit because his gout so bad, one monstrous asshole that kept taking my fucking food without asking, and Shawn. We’ll get back to Shawn.

The bar was usually tended by one of two women. Selma was a wild, dark-haired young Slovenian woman who liked to get black-out drunk on the clock, break glasses on the ground or by throwing them at whatever patron pissed her off, sing loudly and out of tune to “I Got 5 On It”, and generally be a total mess. The other was Zhana, a beautiful, buxom, soft-spoken, terribly naive Russian woman who was dating an emotionally manipulative, greaser-Lou-Diamond-Phillips-looking piece of shit named Robbie. They were two of maybe four employees that I genuinely liked consistently.

Now, RJ and I were almost at the end of our ropes financially. We were willing to do a lot of shit work for cash, so we meandered down to the main entrance and introduced ourselves. “Hey, we just moved from Alaska, we’re roommates of the guy you were talking to, he got his license and you hired him as a shuttle driver, we need work, too, yadda yadda yadda.” And it worked, because the turnover rate was so high. RJ and I became desk workers, and RJ sometimes also filled in as a shuttle driver, usually during the day.

Employment came with some perks! Eh, sort of. For one, Selma stopped charging us for drinks unless it came in in a pitcher, and then it was always $6. Any drink, in a pitcher, six dollars. Also, our cost of living went down. Barely. They knocked the state tax off the cost of our room, which I think saved us $20-30 a month.

Let me explain the rooms: there were four and eight bed communal dorm rooms for travelers, with no lockers, so theft was common. There were private, one bed rooms. You would walk in, the first room would have a couch and maybe a little table and a television. Then a doorway, which sometimes had a door and sometimes didn’t (RJ and I shared a room for a while without a door, so when my girlfriend came over, certain activities were a little awkward. Not doing those activities never occurred to us; the man had headphones). The second room would have a bed and the bathroom.

And then there were the two bed bedrooms. First room had a bed and and a television, second room had a bed and the bathroom. These are what we got, and when there were three of us, I often either had to share a bed with one of them, sleep on the floor, or sleep on this uncomfortable little cot that put twin beds to shame. We paid $850 a month for this arrangement. As employees of this fucking dump.

The minimum wage in California in 2009 was $8.00 an hour. That’s pretty much exactly what we were getting paid, so I kept applying to other jobs and auditions, RJ began looking into EMT school, and DJ… well, a woman asked him to drive her around some nights to different places to make money, and at the end of the night, she would give him 20% of whatever she made. That went on until one day we were talking and realized… well… he had accidentally become a pimp. So that stopped and not long after, that girl and her friend were removed from the hostel for completely unrelated reasons.

He went back to allocating some of his paycheck to blackjack. We lived down the road from the Hollywood Parks casino, so he’d head down there sometime. I went with him one night. He gave me $20 and told me I could keep what I won. RJ was working the shuttle at the time, but came over when he was done. He played an arcade game while we gambled. I was up $49. DJ was down $150, and he stormed over to RJ and stared at the arcade box for a minute before he told him, “You’re just throwing away money into that thing.”

Without looking at him, RJ replied, “I think I’m getting the same rate of return you are right now, but I’m having a lot more fun.”

And if it sounds like DJ was reckless with his money… well, he was.The three of us were all young, dumb men who had bitten off more than we could chew and made a ton of questionable, if not outright awful decisions. DJ ordered strippers for his birthday, for example. We were hanging out in the private room of this Australian guy, Chris, who was awesome. I remember RJ was working the desk that night. He paged up to the room to let us know when they arrived. DJ asked if they were hot, unaware that he was on speakerphone and RJ had to mumble an uncertain affirmative in front of the girls before sending them up. They were not. They took him into Chris’ bedroom, locked the door, gave an unethusiastic, half-naked strip show and, at some point, robbed him of $400.

He made his money back, sort of, by using the medical marijuana license he had procured to sell weed to the owner of the hostel. None of us gave half a shit about any of it, really; we were trying to survive and we were trying to have fun while we did it.

But problems continued to pop up. While DJ was working the shuttle one night, RJ and I went a couple miles down the road to get some Panda Express. When we came out and got in the car, we discovered that the ignition had broken somehow. So, alone, the two of us began to push this car down Century Boulevard as night fell in the middle of Inglewood.

A week or two previously, RJ and I, along with a pale Australian, we’re walking a couple blocks down the road around 11 at night to pick up some bottles from the liquor store. We were stopped by police who asked us where we were from because we were obviously not from around the area. After explaining we were from Alaska (and Australia), they told us we really shouldn’t be out at night in those parts. Then they refused to escort us to the liquor store, which, fair enough.

So with that in mind, RJ and I were pushing this fucking car as fast as we could. Darkness had fallen when a large, angry-looking black man began yelling at us, wondering what the fuck we were doing. He demanded we push it towards him, down an alley. I have no idea why we fucking did, but we pushed it towards him, down that alley, and into a gated chop shop where a chained Rottweiler barked and growled at us.

“Give me fifty dollars and wait here,” the man grated.
“Uh…”
“C’mon, man. Fifty bucks.”
RJ forked over the money and the man left for a solid twenty minutes. We waited uncomfortably, staying clear of the dog and shrinking away from the handful of other men that glared at us but didn’t say anything. And when that scary man came back? We found out he’d used the money to purchase parts, and he used those parts to install a button under the dash that you could push to start the car. He didn’t charge us for the installation. We felt like idiots.

And most of that first month was dumb luck, recklessness, idiocy and shenanigans. And then DJ got fired.

It was some time… had to be early November. Not long after Halloween. I remember hearing something about a group of six or seven other Alaskans checking in for a few days. RJ and I had the night off and we considered finding them to see if we knew any of them. DJ was working the desk and the shuttle with the manager’s wife. He kept leaving to pop into the bar to check on Selma. He had had a thing for her and believed she had a thing for him, too. Maybe she did, I don’t fucking know. She once poured champagne all over me and shoved ice down my pants, so literally nothing would surprise me where she’s concerned.

I do know that on that night, she was wearing some stilettos or something that were killing her heels. DJ took it upon himself to get her some flats from her room or her car or something, despite the manager’s wife being slammed with check-ins, leaving her to handle the new arrivals by herself. I happened to leave the room and be walking towards the bar when I see DJ and the manager’s wife arguing full-tilt, high enough volume that I could hear them through the lobby doors. Then the manager goes in and just tears DJ a new asshole. I saw my friend sink further and further into the lobby chair, hands gripping the arms so tightly his knuckles were white. He had thought he was safe due to his, uh, sales to the owner. It was becoming increasingly clear that that wasn’t the case.

I ran back upstairs and burst into the room with so much force that RJ recoiled in shock.

“We need to get you as drunk as possible as fast as possible,” I gasped.

“What? What? Why?”

“Because DJ’s getting fired right now and I’m 90% sure they’re going to try to get you to cover his shift.”

“Well, fuck THAT.”

RJ rolled out of bed and we crept in the shadows around the lobby and booked it to the bar. Selma poured us three shots apiece which we chased with a beer. A woman on the other side of the bar eyed us and said, “You must be the other Alaskans.”

“How did you know?”

“We can tell by the way you drink.”

The manager did find us and ask RJ to take over the shift. RJ breathed liquor directly into his face and “regrettably” said he couldn’t. The manager told us DJ was not only fired but kicked out and and asked us if that would be a problem. We said no, because dammit, we were gradually sort of making things work.

We helped DJ pack his shit. He arranged to get a room at a hotel down the road, and I gave him some DVDs to watch while he was there.

Then RJ and I went and partied with the other Alaskans. They were some kind of hippy folk band, and the lead singer was cute. And they could drink. Nothing came of any of that except me throwing up in the bushes outside of their room.

A week or so later, DJ ran out of money. He called his uncle who arranged for him to fly back to Alaska.

And then there were two.

Part Four: Love and Tribulation

Part Five: Awry

Part Six: Ruin

The City of Angels Part Two: A Perilous Journey

Part One: Departure

Our car was fixed, our bellies were full, and we continued on our way through Canada. We spent several hours traveling and ran the gas gauge down until it was nearly empty. We pulled in to the first place we could, middle of the night, to refuel. I’ve seldom seen a more terrifying place.

The place was a bed and breakfast seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There were ancient gas pumps that needed to be turned on to operate, but there was no sign of movement in the building. It looked abandoned. The woods around the lot were thick and dark and spooky. The door was locked. The barn nearby had a table saw that we convinced ourselves was used to dismember bodies. Our car was almost out of gas; we wouldn’t be traveling very far without more fuel.

So we stayed the night there, of course. We slept in the car, hoping the building wasn’t as empty as it seemed and that we could rectify our situation in the morning. Completely aware that I was paranoid for nothing, I still slept like shit, convinced I’d wake up to someone trying to break through the window to get me.

But we were fine, because of course we were. We had a flat tire, so we slapped a spare on, refueled and left. And we were fine! We saw moose and bison and bears  (and RJ apparently saw the ghost of a man wearing a yellow rain jacket), and we were fine!

Until the valve stem blew. I’m going to be honest: I don’t know what the fuck a valve stem is. I don’t know what it does or where it goes. I know that we pulled off to the side of the road and RJ said, “Well, I screwed it on, so let’s hope for the best” and tensions were high because this was the third thing to go wrong and we were still in the middle of Canada and DJ went off on me out of nowhere and I told him I’d kick the shit out of him and leave him on the side of the fucking road because his former employer still hadn’t given him several months of back pay so he hadn’t paid for shit so far.

Things were going swimmingly.

We rode in silence for a long time and switched drivers and moved along, all mad, but not really at anything except this series of unfortunate events. We stopped in Fort Nelson to get cheesecake and pie, use the cafe’s Wi-Fi to update the old blog and let our heads cool.

In Fort St. John, we continued using Fix-a-Flat on the tire we were limping along with to middling success. DJ and I played a little blackjack in a casino there and didn’t win, proving again that I am terrible with my own finances.

We left and I fell asleep hard in the back seat. I had a vivid nightmare. I don’t recall what it was about, thank god, but it jarred me so much that I awoke to a much more terrifying reality.

DJ was driving. We were currently in the middle of a snowstorm on a precarious road with no guard rails on the side and a sheer drop off a tall cliff. It was nighttime. A deer jumped in front of the car and DJ almost hit it, but he swerved and almost drove us off the cliff instead. He regained control of the car and it was about an hour before we found ourself on safer ground and with less aggressive snowfall.

We trucked along, feeling vulnerable and mortal, until we reached Prince George, where the car decided to shit the bed even further. The brakes weren’t responding the way they should. Like most of our problems, we discovered this in the middle of the night. We pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall. RJ, in shorts, knelt down beneath the car and found a gaping wound in the brake lines. He used gum to plug the hole and used a lighter to heat it and make it stay. This was obviously not a viable long-term solution and did nothing to help with the amount of lost efficiency we were already dealing with, but it would do until we could find a place to crash.

Let me rephrase that: a place to sleep.

DJ took the wheel and we headed for a hotel called Sandman Suites that sat at the bottom of a large hill. As our brakes were growing increasingly unreliable with every passing second, RJ and I gripped pillows and prepared to bail from the car should disaster prove imminent.

Fortunately (because I barely trust myself with a flight of stairs, much less leaping from a moving vehicle) it turned out alright. We rented a room for a couple nights and tried to take the stress of the situation off our minds by going for a dip in the pool. I like swimming a lot. I don’t know that I’ve ever written about that, but it’s therapy to me.

We bought a pack of Dude Beer (locally brewed, sold in an all-black box save for the name in bold white letters), some vodka, some McDonald’s and proceeded to get absolutely plastered. I snored so bad that night RJ opted to sleep in the tub.

We got the car fixed, temporarily, and drove down through William’s Lake and Pemberton until we finally reached Vancouver. The brakes were still giving us some shit, the transmission wasn’t doing much better and the spare tire was so flat we were almost running on the rim.

Luckily I have friends everywhere in the world. Though we’ve since lost touch, at the time I knew two women who lived in Vancouver that I had met three years previously in Barcelona and spent five days partying my ass off with. I called up Allie (who I was going to temporarily lived with during my original, unsuccessful attempt to move to Los Angeles), and she offered to give us a place to stay for a few days. Her boyfriend was a mechanic and he was able to order a replacement tire for the car.

In terms meantime, we did what we did best at the time: drink heavily.

We got a group together and wandered down to the Cambie Pub. We had to wait in line for an hour but stayed entertained by the local citizens. One homeless man played a 9/11 conspiracy song for us while another held a sign that that read “Smile If You Masturbate”. I took a picture with him. A few years later, someone I followed on Twitter shared a picture with the same man holding the same sign. God bless him.

Inside the bar, we got belligerent. I remember having a rum and coke in one hand and a whiskey and coke in the other. RJ was drinking directly from a full pitcher of beer. A kiosk was set up off to the side and an attractive woman was selling some new cinnamon whiskey. We bought too many shots of that shit while unsuccessfully flirting with her.

The group was so large that we had to take two cabs. We figured out about thirty dollars into the ride that none of us had cash and the cab’s card reader would only take one of our four cards, and that one only for $8.50. Instead of driving us to an ATM, he kicked us out in some neighborhood. We had a motherfucker of a time getting home. It got worked out eventually.

Later that night, I threw up hard and excessively. Probably in the top ten hardest times I’ve vomited and from 16 to about 21, I was the master of the puke and rally. There was no rallying here. There was only defeat.

When Joe, Allie’s boyfriend, got the tire in, he put it on the vehicle and gave it a look-over. The transmission was so fucking shot that he gave us a 50/50 chance of making it to Seattle, much less anywhere else.

We might have been irresponsible and reckless and a bit immature, but we were ballsy as hell. We decided to chance it.

I remember passing through the border. We had a little bit of trouble because DJ only had a military ID and no passport. I don’t know how the hell we got him into Canada without one, but it worked out. RJ and I kissed the ground once we re-entered America. We also took that time to clear out a cooler that didn’t cool quite enough and left a vegetable platter rotting in a puddle of melted ice. That was… unpleasant.

We stopped briefly in Seattle to take a picture of the Space Needle and some fancy IMAX theater. In retrospect, I find that hilarious. I’d go on to move to Seattle a little over a year later and couldn’t give one shit about the Space Needle then.

Tourist interest sated, we headed for Redding, California. Here’s what 21-year-old me had to say about that:

We drove and drove and drove, and it was smooth sailing. Know what smooth sailing is like? I’ll tell you. Smooth sailing is a straight, paved road that goes through multiple cities. It is not a twisting, winding, up and down “road” that’s half paved, full of wild animals, skirts cliffs with no guard rail, cuts through terrifying backwoods “towns” and is subject to some of the most varied weather phenomenons that one can ever experience.

We reached Redding and spent a day drinking beer with our friend Shane. From there, we headed down to Sacramento to refuel. We took a pit stop in Sacramento for another reason, though.

In my pocket, I had an address my mother had given me five years previously. This was the address to my biological father’s home. The address I sent a letter to and received a letter from my junior year of high school, the only correspondence the two of us have ever had. We tracked that house down.

I remember the day. The weather was nice, warm but with a light breeze rustling through some leafy trees lining the sidewalk. The house itself was a duplex with a porch. I remember my friends asking me if I wanted them to come with me. “I don’t know,” I said. “No, I don’t think so. I think I’ve got it,” I said after a minute. RJ came with me because he knew better.

I opened the door of the car, walked up to the curb, walked up to the steps, walked up to the door of the house. I lifted my hand and realized I had no idea what I was going to say. My chest felt tight. I was more nervous for this than I was losing my virginity. What would the first words be that I spoke aloud to the man who fathered and abandoned me?

I knocked. No one answered. I knocked again. No one answered. I checked the mailbox. The letter inside was addressed to an Asian woman. My father had moved.

I called around to a few places to try and find him based on the few things I knew about him. I didn’t find him. With a heavy heart, I told my friends it didn’t matter and we should continue. So we did, moving on down to Concord where we stayed with RJ’s cousin, her fiancée and their wonderful dog for a few nights. We played a lot of beer pong and did our best to empty a left over keg. We had barbecue. It was a nice break.

It was also the first place that we really seriously looked into places to stay and jobs to work. I submitted my resumé for some local acting gigs and DJ secured a hotel for one night and a room at a hostel for three. After a few nights of relaxation, we set out for Los Angeles.

We arrived. The trip took us two weeks. Not quite a year and a half later, a friend and I would drive from Anchorage to Vero Beach, Florida in four and a half days. But that also is a different story for a different day.

Anyway, that’s all for now.

Part Three: The First Month

Part Four: Love and Tribulation

Part Five: Awry

Part Six: Ruin

The City of Angels Part One: Departure

I used to think I was unbeatable. Not unflappable, mind you; I had been frustrated and angry so many times, had so many breakdowns and setbacks, cried and hurt and sometimes even longed for death… but I always came through. I always found a way to get to the next step, always managed to, in some way, get what I wanted. I was bruised and battered and worn, but I was a winner. The world was mine and damn the hands that would keep me from it.

Then I moved to Los Angeles.

People move new places all the time. They get fresh starts, begin new lives. That was my intent. It had been an idea cooking in my mind for a while. See, I have a love/hate relationship with Alaska. It will always be home to me and the familiarity is comforting for the most part, but it’s a small city. Your business or a gross exaggeration of your business gets around. Your personal life becomes a labyrinthine clusterfuck of connections. Then the winters are long and cold and dark and seasonal depression is a real thing that doubles down on people already depressed during the “good months”. And I fancy myself an artist on days I don’t have a problem getting out of bed, but though social media is a thing and the Internet is a wide open door to the world, the opportunity to make a personal connection with the “right person” isn’t often available here.

I love California. I love the busyness. I love the ability to stay relatively anonymous. The weather is pleasing, the people are beautiful. It’s a good place to get lost.

When I was eighteen, I talked a lot about moving. I had a lot of false starts then and for the next three years. “I’m taking off in the summer,” I’d say and then I would chicken out or something would come up. I pulled the trigger once when I was nineteen or twenty and it was and disaster. I had a friend who possessed a car that we would drive down. He knew a guy who would give us a place to crash and help set us up with a job. We had a going away party.

A week before we were supposed to leave, my friend bailed on me. He thought the idea was too crazy. He wanted to stay in Alaska. I didn’t want to be the guy who kept saying he was going to do something and failing to follow through. We had a going away party. So I bought a plane ticket.

That trip ended with me getting politely kicked out of Canada in living in Alabama for a month or so. When I screw up, I apparently like to do so spectacularly. But that’s another story for another time.

A year or two after that disaster, I began talking about moving with my friend RJ. He was ready for a change, too, and we went back and forth for a while on where we would move and when. I was feeling particularly lonely and finding solace in any woman who would have me. He was engaged at the time and then he wasn’t, and then he found another couple great women and those things didn’t work out because sometimes things just aren’t supposed to.

The beginning of one summer, he calls me in the middle of the night. Rarely do I hear him upset, even now, after eight years of shit you wouldn’t believe we got up to. He was upset that night. He said, “I’m moving to Los Angeles in September. I’m fucking DONE with this city. Come with me if you want to, but if not, fuck it.”

We talked a little. I was unsure if I’d be ready by then but he was set on it. His decision was made and it was final. So I drove over to his house in the middle of the night and despite needing to be up at eight the following morning for work, we split an entire bottle of Jameson over three or four hours and hashed out our plan.

The following months were stressful. If I’m being honest (and I always am, or else what’s the point?), I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being stressed since then. But this was a good stress. I was working towards something. I stopped going out almost completely for a few months, I stopped buying shit I didn’t need, and I put money aside. Not a lot of money, mind you… in fact, a grossly inadequate amount, but I saved for once, and for something important to me.

I was twenty-one years old. RJ was twenty-three. We caught the interest and companionship of another friend, DJ, who was twenty-three as well and looking to escape Alaska.

What were my goals exactly? I wrote poetry and short stories. I had been in a handful of school and local theater shows. I had it in my head that I would become an actor, a screenwriter, a novelist… any one or two of things that would skyrocket me to stardom and riches. Looking back, I cringe at my naiveté and applaud the sheer audacity.

The three of us decided to keep a blog that updated everyone on the status of said journey to success. We fully acknowledged that failure was at the very least as likely an option, but we did our best to laugh in the face of it. The initial car we were going to take down completely shit the bed, so we considered flying down instead. No putting it off for a few months. That would be ridiculous; we said September. It was September. We were going. That led blog entries like this:

“With the sudden and complete ceasure of a working automobile (a fact made only more ironic by the recent acquisition of everything necessary to cross the border in it), our eclectic trio will once more be planning a trip through the skies.

If the Gods want to declare war, we’ll pay them a visit just to show we don’t roll over for anyone.”

Well, then.

So much went wrong in the weeks leading up to our move that we should have taken it as a sign. If it had just been me, I would have absolutely been deterred. But I was spurred on and supported and encouraged by my friends, so we powered through. I quit my job decisively. I said my goodbyes to my friends and family. I made peace with my decision.

I’m reminded as I write this how my grandmother fussed over every little detail, asking me multiple times for I remembered to bring this or that, where I’d be staying, how I’d keep in touch. I bullshitted so many details just so she wouldn’t worry. And I remember that when she left my room, my grandfather – already suffering greatly from Parkinson’s and early onset dementia – stood up and hugged me. “Your dad was such a talented musician. Your uncle, too. Your aunt never did what she wanted to. You have so much talent. I’m proud of you for pursuing your dream, because they didn’t.”

My grandmother called me often during my time in L.A. and I always cut those calls short or ignored them. Since their deaths, I have regretted that to an extreme degree. On the other hand, I never once asked them for money and they never had a fraction of an idea of the turmoil I was going through, and I’m grateful for that.

We found another car, my friends and I: a white Chrysler New Yorker that we dubbed the HMS Douchebag, because we were young and we were idiots (now we’re old and idiots; we still think that’s a great fucking name for a car.) We got an adapter that would charge our laptops and music players, piled literally all of our worldly belongings into it and began to drive. September 4th, 2009.

Yeah, man. That was a day.

Quick note: that is a goddamn terrible car to pack three grown men and hundreds of pounds in clothes and personal belongings into to drag down the Alaska-Canada highway. The leather seats were a nice touch, but it isn’t built for a strain. And the car is only one aspect of the trip! There was so much else going on.

Alaska is a large state. It’s massive. I once drove from Prattville, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan in 13 hours. I don’t think we even hit Canada in 13 hours trying to get out of Alaska. We bought fireworks in Glennallen from a man named Sourdough Joe for no other reason than to fire them off. Okay, hold on: if there is any indication that we were three people woefully unprepared to leave our lives behind and move across the country, the very fact that I, alone, only had $2,000 or so to fund THE ENTIRE MOVING OF MY LIFE and we decided to buy fucking fireworks just to fire them off should be a red light the size of the Bat-signal. I mean, despite the little toy cat stuck to the dashboard  (named Turbo Sexaphonic, God, we are great at naming things), RJ managed to spill Red Bull all over his lap and lose his phone in the middle of the woods trying to clean it up.

Perfectly capable and reliable adults, we three.

The ride itself was long and largely uneventful. I slept a lot. This inexplicably earned me the moniker Dame Ellen Mayer, but I embraced my role as a lady of the Queen’s territories and showed my appreciation for my chauffeurs by sleeping more.

Here’s another excerpt from the blog six years ago:

“”Just three of you?”
“Any alcohol?”
“Any cigarettes?”
“Where ya going?”
“How long ya gonna be here?”
And that was it. Nothing about weapons, drugs, money, insurance, the car registration. We were on our way.
We made it to Destruction Bay, a town of around 55 people that seemed to consist solely of two buildings, one of them a gas station attended by a woman who looked remarkably lke Marisa Tomei.
The radio was killing us. Three stations, one which was the news, another that sang oldies (including the theme to Gilligan’s Island), and one that was giving us a recipe for seafood chowder. I kid you not.”

Canada was absolutely thrilling so far. Sarcasm aside, I said that Alaska was massive, but Canada is absolutely ridiculous. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but being the only three people in the middle of nature in a packed car with an inconsistent radio and small selection of the same songs to listen to will lead to tension. And it only gets worse when things go wrong.

I was driving. DJ was navigating. RJ was sleeping in the back and rudely awakened when the shocks suddenly blew out from the weight. We were giving the car a hard time with all the weight in it already, but the AlCan highway is poorly maintained. There already large chunks of the road that alternate between pavement and gravel and the constant shift in solidity wound up being too much. We limped the car into the parking lot of a hotel called Casa Loma, not far outside of Whitehorse.

The hotel, referred to as “Oh God, the Loma” by citizens of Whitehorse, was pretty rundown as I remember it. RJ was able to get ahold of his dad, who agreed to come up and run some maintenance. It was going to take a day or so, so we rented a room and RJ and I went to the the adjoining bar. Old country music was playing, and the only people there were the dancing elderly, so we convinced the bartender to sell us a bottle of Crown Royale and went back to our room to watch TV and order pizza.

This interaction happened:
RJ: Hey, I’d like to order a pizza to the Casa Loma.
Pizza Person: And what kind of pizza would you like to order?
RJ: Canadian bacon and pineapple.
Pizza Person: …so, like, ham?

I picked up a girl with that story one time.

Anyway, Ron showed up with an employee of his the next day. We took a trip, the lot of us, to a local store and bought some hockey pucks and McDonald’s. RJ’s dad then proceeded right A) use duct tape and hockey pucks to somehow fix the shocks  (or at least give them enough improvised support for the car to work again) and B) feed some random German Shepard a bunch of junk food, because the pup was sweet and looked sad, and I think we all needed a little love right then.

And Ron left. And RJ, DJ and I packed ourselves back in the car and continued on our way. To Los Angeles! To success!

Haha, no. To more disaster.

Part Two: A Perilous Journey

Part Three: The First Month

Part Four: Love and Tribulation

Part Five: Awry

Part Six: Ruin

The Bedroom Is a Powerful Place

A powerful place is the bedroom.

There is a space where your most valued possessions lie; the things you can’t forget in the morning and want to remember before shutting your eyes for the final time that day. It’s a place of comfort. A place where you can shed your clothes and any masks you may have used to brave the world through morning and afternoon.

The bedroom is where the rest of the world ends and you convalesce. Where you can get the silence you’ve wanted all day. Where you can scream at the walls and blast music that shakes the window looking out to the patch of yard you share with the neighbor you never talk to. Or it’s a place soft notes coax the tears that have been fighting their way out for hours, letting them free, finally, to find a home in the pillowcase softly caressing your cheek.

The bedroom was a place one could feel vulnerable or powerful or free. There was a release in a bedroom. There was an intimacy there.

He was all too familiar with intimacy, release, and soft caresses. He was all too familiar with bedrooms.

And vulnerability.

He traced the rim of the shot glass with his index finger and stared into the amber liquid within. It didn’t reflect as well as he, and he saw nothing in it but the worn wood of the bar beneath it. He was a man so familiar with cold that he had fallen in love with the fire for the way it danced in his chest and made him feel… something. Finally. When it wasnt women, it was whiskey. There hadn’t been a woman in a while.

But he thought of them, often, every one. He thought about how each person he had taken to bed had taught him something about himself he never would have discovered otherwise. Most of those things were good. Not all of them, but most.

Despite all odds, he recalled vividly the drunken nights of stumbling down stairs, one arm wrapped around a woman, their hands running over clothes, craving intimacy and too impatient to wait for the articles to be discarded. A careless hand pushes into a pocket, the apartment key is dropped, picked up, fumbled around the lock until it finds purchase. The door falls open and the lovers fall in and the door slams closed and the lovers bob and weave to the bedroom. Shirts are tossed, pants are kicked away. A sock or two might stay on and the next morning they would both thing too much about it and roll their eyes.

The sex would be frantic and desperate, both eager to please and eager to feel something. Both primed to be vulnerable and be wanted in the midst of it. There were nights when it meant nothing but sharing a moment with someone who needed him as much as he needed them, and that was okay.

That was okay. And it was nice. And it was soft pecks in the morning and an agreement to get lunch soon and six months of sporadic texts and an occasional short, happy conversation when they ran into each other in a restaurant or a bar.

Comfort.
Companionship.
Release.
Acceptance.

Sometimes it worked better than others. There were always other things in play. The mind is distracted. The body doesn’t cooperate. Both participants had their distinct ways to communicate. Even when it meant nothing in the grander scheme, it was an intimate arrangement, an exposure of body and interest, a reveal of arousal and preferences. But it was temporary, an act of validation, an acknowledgement that one could be desired in this world, that one could cause pleasure or serve as an escape from worse things.

It doesn’t always work like that, does it?

He recalls a woman he had had his eye on for some years. A chance meeting. The first kiss. Rhythmic sex interrupted by a call into work and texts that promised repeats of a performance she “couldn’t stop thinking about”. But he had provided nothing special and there was no second encounter and she began dating someone a scant few weeks later. She was married now, years after, and happy.

He recalled a passionate affair. Neither of them could keep their hands off of each other the minute the door snapped shut. There was a desperate craving, a need to be wrapped around each other an irresistible urge to be as close as possible. They were flint and tinder and together created a wildfire.

That wasn’t how it started. It started in a quiet bedroom lit by a tiny lamp in the corner. It started with sitting next to each other and asking if each little touch was alright, assuring each other that nothing was crossing the line. Innocence was found among the guilty and it released a flood upon good judgment.

He remembered being on the phone with his brother when a t-shirt fell into his lap. He remembered looking up to see a naked back retreating to the bedroom. There wasn’t even a cheeky glance back. There didn’t need to be; that call had ended with a quickness.

He remembered an ex-lover that he had reconnected with while mourning the loss of his mother. They had a need for each other that transcended the physical, and they felt comfort in being weak with each other, and they took turns keeping their souls in, holding each other when the world threatened to break them down to ash.

That relationship hadn’t ended well, but it had ended with as much raw emotion as had breathed life into it.

There was a woman who was everything right and everything wrong for him all at once. When they clicked, the world was wide open. They loved each other and took every moment in every place to express it. The sex came easily, naturally, two parts to a whole. They knew what the other wanted and gave it and afterwards collapsed together contentedly.

And when they argued, they were brutal and scathing and cut to the core. They wept for each other, for the mislaid lines and frayed edges. They were perfect and terrible.

He remembered a woman he never expected to love. He remembered the first night together and the panic attack he had because he was so terrified to let her down, and how she patiently worked him through it. He remembered laying next to her, on their sides, looking at each other and forgetting there were lives outside of the sheets he had bought just to impress her. He remembered hours spent, naked, beside her, both reading, both touching enough to reassure reassure the other that they were still there.

He remembered desperately clinging to her because he knew she would slip away. And with a long, lingering kiss, she did. He found her hair on his pillow the next morning. He could trace his hands over the silhouette her body haunted his bed with. Of all of them, he thought he might miss her the most, for her patience, for her passion.

He traced that goddamn shot glass with his finger. He searched for answers in the liquor he knew would light his belly. He longed for connection and recalled fondly every one, every drunk, desperate, passionate, awkward, loving, awful, perfect one.

The bedroom is a powerful place.