Things I Remember

My earliest memory is set in a living room I don’t otherwise recognize outside of old photographs. I sat in a cardboard box, and my dad pulled it around on the carpet like a car or a spaceship or like the little brown box it was.

I remember my dad’s drunk friend showing up every Christmas as Santa Claus, complete with a giant bag full of stuff. He would always pose for photos and pull out a couple gifts before staggering outside. I believed in Santa far longer than I should have.

I remember being infuriated with my stepdad and storming off to my room. I remember shouting “Shut Up” at the door, accidentally teaching my baby brother those same words. I remember frantically trying to get him to forget them.

I remember my stepdad flinging a briefcase down a hallway and catching my mother in the square of her back.

I remember my stepdad hosting a charity drive for poor children for Christmas and how I became Santa Claus for those kids. I wonder if they believed in Santa longer than they should have, too.

I remember my dad taking me on a shopping spree at Toys R Us. I remember how he let me break the spending cap. I remember how he smelled of sweat when he came home from work and hugged me tight, and how much I loved it.

I remember how he swore at me as I begged him to get up from my best friend’s lawn where he had drunkenly passed out in the middle of the day, and how he still swore at me as the ambulance loaded him in.

I remember the drunk, angry voicemail he left me weeks ago.

I remember finding out he adopted me despite knowing I was the product of an affair, and how he did his best to push his demons aside to try to be a father to me while his relationships crumbled.

I remember finding out I was adopted, on Valentine’s Day, days after losing my virginity, days after being broken up with.

I remember the way my grandmother (adopted) paused while getting milk out of the fridge when I told her my mom said my dad wasn’t my dad. I remember her confirming it. I remember every second of the bike ride to the mall to the only friends I had.

I remember telling them, “Well, I’m a bastard,” and my friends saying, “Well, yeah,” before realizing what I was saying.

I remember wanting to kill myself for the first time. I was in elementary school.

I remember the first drink I ever had. I was twelve years old, staying at my stepdad’s place to visit my little brother and little sister. I snuck up to the kitchen, to the OFF LIMITS liquids. I picked the bottle I liked most, a beautiful blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin. I remember filling a paper cup with it and trying to drink it like water and feeling like I was dying as it went down my throat. I remember gagging and coughing into the sink and drinking water straight from the faucet. I remember not being able to drink gin again for a decade.

I remember writing my biological father a letter when I was 16. I remember the letter he wrote back, though I lost it, and I should care, but I don’t, but I really do? I remember my mother coming up to my date and me at my brother’s birthday party. “He wants to meet you, but only after a paternity test. But he doesn’t want to pay for the test. I don’t know what to tell you, Jered, but if he’s not your father, I don’t know who the fuck is.” I remember my date taking my hand at that, and I remember falling in love for the first time.

I remember. I remember being bullied for liking comic books, and I remember how bitter I was when comic book movies became regular box office record breakers because now it was popular to like nerdy things. I remember 7th grade and breaking the arm of a kid who picked on me. I felt nothing.

I remember frantically running down the stairs as my (adopted, though I didn’t know it at the time and though it has never changed much in the grand scheme of things, I’m doubly irritated that he leaves angry drunk voicemails for me now) dad tried to escape my abusive stepmother. I remember how I didn’t see either of them for years, and how they put each other in prison, and how they moved to Belize, and how she died and I felt nothing because she was horrible to my grandparents, and because she once tried to gouge my dad’s eye out with a key. I remember how she broke his nose with a lamp while he slept. But she was his soulmate. I get it even while it makes no sense.

I remember moving to Los Angeles with no place to live, no job, no friends but the two men I left with, and hardly any money. I remember thinking I had the world in the palm of my hand. I remember my grandmother.

I remember my grandmother.

I remember how she always blamed an addiction or a circumstance and never a person. I remember when you knew she was frustrated to the point of tears, because she swore, and nothing hurt me more than hearing her swear. I remember her being the embodiment of Christianity, spoiling Christianity for me because I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone else who had an unshakeable, pure, unconditionally loving nature the way that she did. I remember saying at the church, at her memorial service, that she was the Christian Jesus wanted people to be and that no one else present could come close.

I remember the phone call when I found out she’d had a hard attack, and the last 30 seconds I ever got to speak to her, and how the last thing I told her was a lie: that my books were best-sellers, that I was flush with money, that I was going to be just fine, because I remember, too, that even on her death bed she was more concerned with the well-being of others.

God, I miss her so much.

I remember my grandfather and how he hated driving, and how he was a low-key road-rager. I remember how every time I was about to step out of the front door, he told me to be one of the good guys, and I’ve tried. I remember that my grandmother and I had it out a lot, but it was when my grandfather got mad at me and expressed his disappointment that I felt I had failed the most.

I remember when I was moving to Los Angeles and my grandmother was fretting because my plan was quarter-boiled that my grandfather told me he was proud of me because his children never took advantage of their natural talents and I was trying, at least.

I remember my sophomoric graduation speech. I remember winning Prom King, and I remember desperately clinging to that because I’ve never felt I deserved it, and because it felt for years like proof that people thought I was worth something after years of thinking I wasn’t worth anything.

I remember being broke in Los Angeles. A Canadian lighting tech groupie bought me two-for-one tacos from Jack in the Box so I could eat. I remember taking a British woman to the beach, and vomiting because I was hungover, and burying that vomit in the dirt because I was a 21 year old moron. I don’t think she saw me. She might read this, though.

I remember being broke in Los Angeles and how $25 was two weeks worth of food. Two-for-one cans of pork and beans. I remember my surrogate Colombian family who rented me a room occasionally knocking on the door for homemade food, because they were some of the best people I have ever met.

I remember falling in love in Los Angeles. I remember the first time she told me she loved me, when I was standing between her legs while she sat on a pool table in a bar, just before I left to pick up my friend and bring him out with us. I remember how embarrassed she was at letting it slip, and how she refused to take it back. I remember the weight of her head on my chest as she told me she saw us together for a long time. I remember our terrible break-up. I remember how she told me I wasn’t the guy she thought I was.

I haven’t been in a genuine relationship since, though I remember missing out on some genuinely amazing women.

I remember falling in love. One. Two. Three. Four. Five times, and having so much goddamn love besides.

I remember wanting to kill myself at 22. I remember writing my first book instead, and how I emailed my outline to my Advanced Placement Language and Composition teacher and how he said he thought it might make one solid book, and how it turned into a complex, sprawling half-a-million-words trilogy.

I remember having a fling with a woman in Denver that I thought could be it. I remember finding out it wasn’t. I remember writing my fourth book, one I had never planned on writing, one that I didn’t enjoy, and I remember publishing it, and I remember people seeming to love it while I hated it. I remember not feeling like I got closure at all.

I remember fucking up. A lot.

I remember crying. A lot.

I remember wanting to end it.

I haven’t.

I remember the first time someone asked me for an autograph. I remember the first time someone asked me for writing advice. I remember the first time someone asked me how to get through the day.

I remember the first time she told me she loved me. And the first time she did. And then when she did. And her. Her, also.

I remember realizing that none of them probably did, and that maybe I’ve never been loved.

But I’ve been read. And heard. And experienced, for better or for worse.

I remember every plane ride. To different states, to different countries. I remember every bed, air mattress, futon, couch, and floor I’ve slept on. I remember basically being homeless for two years.

I remember drinking a bottle of 99 Bananas and a bottle of Jack Daniels (right up until I don’t) and sobbing into my knees and passing out on a floor when I found out my grandfather had passed.

I can’t quite shake that one. I called a woman a bitch who didn’t deserve it. I’ve done a lot of terrible things.

I remember looking at myself in the mirror. Tired. Drunk. On drugs. Filled with hope. I remember writing poetry for people. I remember writing poetry for myself. I remember making love. I remember fucking.

I remember going to Red Lodge, Montana and going through thousands of photos in my deceased grandparents’ house and realizing with fullness that they adopted, essentially, a fourth child to raise to adulthood after having their own separate life raising three kids. I remember feeling like I was an outsider, then, undeserving of a family who never planned on but always accepted me. I’ve remembered damn near everything.

Damn near every awful, shameful, accomplished,hopeful, well-intentioned, mistaken, loving, intimate, selfish, charitable, cruel thing that I’ve done. I’ve remembered. I remember.

My mind and my memory never shut

The

Fuck

Up.

“Be one of the good guys.” Bompa, the world is a hard place. I’m just trying to be the best guy I can.

The Hallway

This was supposed to be a poem. Turns out I’m no poet but a rambler, a gambler hanging on to the hope that I can slap words together into a thought which may become an idea which might become a feeling which hopefully becomes a memory. Just a bunch of letters running a current through it. IT’S ALIVE, I want to shout at a crumpled page on a flat surface, hoping I can get you to see what I echo.

I want to write about rooms, and how they’re different spaces, with a varying number of walls and breaks for windows and doorways leading to different places. But they’re all functionally the same: storage quarters for your yesterdays and tomorrows and (if you’re lucky) jam-packed with the presents of the present, evidence of the life you’re living.

At the back of my mind, there’s a hallway. Always carpeted, though the color shifts from a deep maroon to the golden orange of a desert. The Sahara, maybe, and mostly on days I wake up without a hangover. Maroon the rest of the time, though, the shade of a passionate melancholy. The rest is white. White doors set in white walls lined up on either side, and probably with a white ceiling, but I seem to only look up when there’s sky involved, so I can’t be certain.

Your door was different, as happens sometimes when the heart gets touched and the mind goes AWOL. Dark frames and purple lipstick stains. Was it purple, the first time I met you? Black? I remember the first notes that powered out of your throat and the smile you lent me and the look you gave me and the memory twists a bit through the pages of the past, but the feeling remains the same. And black. Black always suited you, though you looked good in other colors, in any colors, you always looked good, but you like black, so black it was and goodness, how it never looked so bright.

Your fucking door in my fucking hallway in the back of my damned mind. I want to be bitter at that discolored room of memories. I want to rail against it, tear the door down and declare it condemned. But even now, as always, as ever, I simply hurt and remember.

I remember that in this room there were monuments sculpted carefully from marble. Memories in stone, the way one would capture a screenshot, or a painting, or a Venus de Milo. I never noticed the cracks near the base. Didn’t realize until much later that it was probably my chisel that put them there. It seemed fine, until they collapsed and were ground down into a powder as fine as the sand of the beach we drank wine at. That beach, with the slowly coursing water, the wild before us: open space and towering mountains. The wind blowing your hair into your face and the sand into our cups so that each deep draw of wizened grapes came with an extra helping of the earth that birthed us.

I remember the way you would look away when someone complimented you and the smile you couldn’t keep from your lips at the same time you told me to stop. I remember our first kiss and our last. I remember the way your eyebrows would rise and your jaw would drop whenever you heard a particularly shocking or offensive joke or story and how it quickly slipped through to your stomach for a hearty laugh.

I remember you. I do.

Do you have a hallway? Are there rooms? Is there a room for me? Musty and abandoned, slick with oil and caution signs? Are there lights in there? Even a candle? Hell, a firefly?

I remember the way you used to look at me. I remember the shyness that rolled off someone not so very shy at all.

And even if I remember a very different kind of attraction, I remember too the sugary words you set at my table that I never would have used for myself. I remember your kindness and your generosity. I remember the ears you used to listen and the arms that wiped the weight off my shoulders, the confidence you lent down as a ladder when I was in a pit. The way you knew to give me pause and space because you could sense a bad day in me.

I remember you kissed me first, that second go-around. I remember being an absolute fucking wreck of a human being and being the straw that broke your back.

But in this bare room with the phantoms of past years and the barest traces of your glance, your touch, your voice… in this room with faded and battered photos of your art and influence, there’s a single bust remaining: a head tilted back with a soft laugh silently gurgling forth.

“You’re in love with love. You’re not in love with me.”

I am, and I wasn’t. Maybe I could have been, I could have been, but far beyond anything else, you were my best friend and it was that that I valued so deeply. I told you things I couldn’t tell anyone else. I cried to you and you let me, and you cried in return. Time would stop between us while hours flew by elsewhere while we talked about nothing and everything. You were my friend, and I miss that so very much, but never more than when I see you and your eyes can’t even find mine anymore and our lives have grown fathoms apart. I feel things in oceans, and I’ve yet to find the surface for a breath of whatever air will make me stop hurting for driving you away.

I miss your friendship. I miss you.

This hallway and its rooms are bullshit, but the door on yours in particular has a faulty hinge and never seems to close all the way.

More’s the pity. I wish you well from Hell.

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

Jessica Michelle Singleton

Usually I try to come up with some snazzy, artsy, punny title for my posts. You know, something that has a vague allusion to the subject I’m writing about, something a “Writer” *hair flip* would do. Not for this one. It’s important to me that right off the bat, we know what we’re dealing with.

Jessica – or JMS, as I (never) call her, when I want to make her sound like a battleship – is so many things to me. I told her at…let’s check….11 PM last night, when I wasn’t quite drunk but was starting neatly into my cups, that I had to write about her, that it would kill me not to. That wasn’t the alcohol talking. It’s the fact that she’s phenomenal.

I went to school with Jessica. She was a year ahead of me, and I had transferred from a different high school after my sophomore year, so we only got a school year together. I’m not sure exactly how or why we crossed paths, but we got along immediately and became friends quickly.  We’ve kept in touch since.

She had a dream, and it was… well, to be honest, a daunting one. She wanted to make a career as a comedian, one of the hardest artistic professions to not only break into but do well at. It’s a profession that very often doesn’t take women seriously, and Los Angeles is a city that I absolutely love but fucking eats the souls of those not ready for it. I know. I moved there when I wasn’t ready for it.

When I turned 21, I moved to L.A. with two friends and no plan. I was going to be an actor/writer, I thought to myself, with six middling theatrical performances and a handful of questionable short stories under my belt. I even got headshots done. Did it matter that they were taken in a mostly abandoned warehouse by a man with half a dozen cats, arranged by a guy who ran a softcore pornography website as a side business? Not to me. I didn’t even see it when my friend said that one of my pictures looked like someone had just told me my pet had been run over by a car.

I was going for, I don’t know, pensive? It doesn’t matter. I didn’t become an actor/writer and my sheer unpreparedness for the city left me chewed down to gristle. The distance from the only home I had known, financial concerns, an unsupportive woman and, ultimately, myself left me broken. I moved away, defeated.

Jessica didn’t give a flying shit. Or maybe she gave all the flying shits. Either way, she moved down with an idea of how difficult things would be, discovered first hand the reality that it was so much more difficult than she could have imagined, and she endured it. With the storm that raged inside her continuing to roil and churn, she pushed it back and let sheer force of will keep her there, keep her fighting for every minute she could get on stage, every single person she could tell a joke in front of.

And she made it work. She has been making it work. She’s made a full-blown career out of it, doing a mind-boggling amount of shows each year, a cross-country tour, an international tour, radio shows, television pilots, YouTube sketches. She’s partying with Brian Regan in Las Vegas.

She came home for her high school reunion and did a couple surprise performances. I caught the latter of the two, the fourth time I’ve been fortunate enough to see her perform live, and she absolutely slaughtered the crowd. Just killed it. In a scarce three years, she has gone from doing fifteen-minute spots for nobody headliners to headlining shows with an hour and a half of solid material and hosting tours.

She’s a woman who had a dream, a horrendously difficult one, and spat in the face of adversity, wrestled that dream into something that not only supported her but brought genuine joy to others, and continues to make it work for her. The opportunities continue to flow her way, due to her hard work and her talent.

Professionally and artistically, I respect and admire her a great deal. She is doing what I meekly tried to do and continues to pursue her dream ravenously, with a fervor and talent that leaves me dazzled. It was a pleasure and a privilege to see her give an audience so much, so gleefully, striding across her element with a confidence I haven’t felt in over half a decade. She’s a hero to me.

And if it was just that, it would be enough, but she’s still so much more.

Jessica has been an invaluable friend. She’s that rare breed that won’t bullshit you, but also understands exactly what you’re going through and empathizes. Empathizes, which is much more difficult to do than sympathize and is typically much more emotionally taxing for both parties involved.

There is parental resentment. There are creative struggles. Most critically, there is trouble with mental instability, something I’ve come to learn recently is shockingly more prevalent than people are comfortable discussing. She talks about depression and bipolarism in her sets. She mentioned it in the first (and only, so far) guest post I’ve had written for my blog, which you can read here. Fun fact: That was written exactly one year and two weeks from yesterday.

I have texted her drunk, and not, at 3AM or 3 PM, wracked with angst and insecurity and desperation, and she has walked me through some storms. She is patient and guiding, despite the distance, despite anything else, because she gets it. She has been supportive and encouraging, and I will always, always be grateful for that.

Three days ago, I caught her warm-up set at an open mic comedy show. Afterwards, we had an opportunity to catch up some, and I expressed how proud I was of all that she had accomplished and was continuing to accomplish going into her high school reunion.

“Mine’s next year,” I said. “I’m 27 years old, and all I’ve done is write three books that don’t sell for shit.”

“But you’ve written three books,” she said. “Do you have any idea how crazy that is? What you’ve actually done?”

It’s so easy to discount every aspect of my life and get into a rut where I feel like a failure. Like I haven’t done anything. Like I’m not doing anything. At several critical moments since I’ve met her, Jessica has been there to gently pull my head from my ass. She has reminded me of the positive things that I have, that I’ve done, that I am. She’s been there, a thousand miles away, while I’ve wept and railed against the world, and she’s made me feel okay and normal when I was anything but.

I love her to death. That my first novel is on her bookshelf is a deep moment of pride for me. That we are friends is a shining diamond in my life.

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Jessica Michelle Singleton. Beautiful. Loyal. Intelligent. Raunchy. Wild. Hilarious. True.

You can follow her on Facebook here, check her site out here, and follow her on Twitter at @JMSComedy. Also, just Google or YouTube her or some shit. She’s funny. You won’t regret it.

Correction, Not Compromise

“Be true to yourself. But that’s something everyone says and no one means. No one wants you to be yourself. They want you to be the version of yourself that they like.”

That’s an excerpt from The Young Elites, written by Marie Yu. It’s an interesting quote and a bleak one. I find it’s not always true, that most people are fortunate to find at least one person who will accept them during the good days and the bad. Conversely, you’ll find out who cares or even pays attention in situations that would often benefit from ignorance in that regard. You know, if you find yourself in the hospital. If you find yourself dealing with bleak feelings or bouts of irritability. If you lose someone and you’re mired in grief. Those are the times you most need people to be there for you, and those are the times you’ll find out who appreciates you for you and not just what’s convenient to them or what handful of aspects appeal to them.

I have several friends who have seen me hit rock bottom and stayed with me as I struggled to step back up. They’ve offered assistance and a shoulder to lean on, a couch to crash on, or money to borrow until I could get back on my feet. I am fortunate for them.

The thing is, even having people appreciate me for who I am, it’s often difficult to appreciate myself. Where friends, true friends, have been forgiving of my missteps and mistakes, I’ve often found myself having a difficult time forgiving myself. I don’t often feel worthy of their kind words or their assistance or their time. I struggle with being me because I don’t think I’m very good at it.

Additionally, I put myself out in the open a lot. I published and put out novels. I regularly post poetry and writing tips and opinion pieces. I write about my family, friends, and especially about myself, and I’m generally pretty open about it. On paper, anyway. I express my emotions as fully and deeply as I can, because I feel to do otherwise would be disingenuous.

Exposing those aspects of my life and my psyche is somewhat taxing, though. It puts a spotlight on me and allows others access to my life, and there is an inherent pressure in it. For everyone that messages me thanking me for talking about something they couldn’t or didn’t want to, I can feel others pulling away from me in disapproval or annoyance or disgust. It’s tempting to rein it in. It’s tempting to fudge the truth or to shy away from the embarrassing or negative aspects of my life, especially when I consider that by being so open, I could very well push away people who would otherwise be interested in me as a friend or something more.

The last week and a half, I’ve been tapering off from liquor and so have been sober (in so much as not reaching a state of even tipsyness), going through the day, going to bed and waking up with a clear mind for the longest period of time in… Christ, I don’t know how long. That clarity, though, has helped remind me, though, that I value honesty above all else.

I was raised to be honest, I was raised to try and help others where I can, and those lessons are ones I’ve spent my whole life trying to live up to. I haven’t always been successful at that. I’m far from a saint. All the same, I’ve done my best to do right by people and to be there when they needed someone.

I used to write long Facebook posts about thoughts and feelings I had. When I started this blog, I found my words could reach so many more people. It gave me an opportunity to talk about things that others found uncomfortable, to confess things about my life, to relate experiences that came from a difficult family or personal lifestyle. Not all of my posts are agreeable or wide-read, but they’re honest. They’re as true to me and my life as they could possibly be.

If even one person messages me or comments to tell me my words meant something to them or to thank me for talking about an experience, if one person feels better about the things they’ve gone through because they know someone else has gone through it, too, then it’s worth it not to compromise who I am.

I forgot that, for a while. I forgot I wasn’t just writing for me. I forgot I was writing in hopes I could reach others and help others and let people know it was going to be okay.

Shit, I forgot it was going to be okay. Probably. Maybe. Probably.

I wrote somewhere a while back that I’m starting to come to terms with the idea that it’s more important for me to sure others felt safe and secure than it was for me to be happy. Not that I was incapable of being happy, not that by not being happy I was necessarily sad. I meant that maybe I’m meant to be here more for others.

If that’s the case, I’m happy to put my demons on display. Maybe not immediately, but always completely. Honestly. Being true to yourself means not conforming to expectations, I suppose, but it doesn’t mean being content with damaging behavior. You can improve yourself without compromising who you are at heart or being someone else’s ideal, and I plan on doing that, and I plan on telling the truth about it.

I’ll tell you it’s fucking hard, that I’m struggling. That I want to tear my hair out and give up some days, that I wish I felt comfortable enough with others to not do this 95% by myself. I’ll tell you that sometimes I want to cry myself to sleep and I don’t because I don’t want to have to sleep on a damp pillowcase. I’ll tell you sobriety is bringing me nightmares and heartache and that I don’t know what to do with myself or who to talk to, and that I’m astonished at how much of my life I’ve wasted with grief and anger.

I’ll tell you I don’t know what to do, what I’m doing, what I’m going to do next.

When I started this blog, I made a promise to never lie to you. Not about myself, not about my life, not about anyone else. I won’t. Ever. I’ll keep writing about difficult things, my fuck-ups. I’ll keep sharing short stories and poetry, and stories of the people I love and the world’s beauty. Hopefully you learn something from my mistakes. Hopefully you’ll know it’s okay to make some of your own. Hopefully you won’t feel alone.

Most importantly, know that whatever I write about, whatever I’m going through, you’ve got someone here in your corner if you need it. Most importantly, know that you’re going to be okay.