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

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