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

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