Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Bad Habit of Rescuing Deadbeats

The used car I just buried the bulk of my money into just died on the side of the road two days after I bought it. I could relive the AAA mechanic who told me he was going to make me cry, shining a flashlight under my hood. Or the other AAA mechanic who flirted with me over Michael’s head as Cherry Bomb, the Honda Civic I bought and liked, crawled up the spine of a tow truck quiet as a corpse.

hysterics

None of that matters- well it does in my other essay but not in this one. Michael was there. He took me home and advised I get “black out drunk.” “That is all you can do in this situation,” he said. I didn’t get that far, sipping something from Frank’s (my roommate) glass bottle selection on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t long before I was slurring and doing my usual drunk, one-woman show as Michael called the people who sold me the car and threatened legal action. They agreed to take back the car. We were lucky … that time.
The next day, I got my cash back and headed back to the house.

Gary, the Native American stoner who jumped in my car the night I left Washington state, was still unemployed while living with me and Frank. When he first arrived in LA, he landed a job at the Halloween Store in the North Valley. When we moved, he quit over the phone. He tried to get jobs here or there, but easily gave up and watched Frank’s cable television from 7am to 10pm at night. He washed the dishes and walked the dogs. Then he stopped washing the dishes and stopped offering to walk the dogs.

my rescues

Frank would pull me aside and express how growingly uncomfortable he was  about the loan he gave Gary for deposit and rent. I would then talk to Gary, who blew me off until I told him Frank would be the next to talk to him, “and he won’t be nice about it.” I saw Gary kind of suck this in and then resume the search for a job. I find it irritating that men can’t talk to each other, and yet the only thing they take seriously is the words I pass between them … not the ones I speak from myself.

I had been pushing Gary to get a job for weeks. If I came in from a dogwalk, and he was planted in front of the television set … I started rubbing my temples and pacing. Rent would be due in three weeks, then two, then one.

After our last talk, he went to the social security office and was granted food stamps. (By the way, I recently applied for Food Stamps but was told I work too much .. if I worked less with my net pay, I would qualify. “I know, the system is screwed up,” the government worker said.) Then he applied on-line to various jobs I bookmarked for him on my computer.

“Am I tidy?” he asked, seated in the dining room with my computer.

“Is this an on-line job application?” I asked.

“Yes. They are asking if I am tidy. Am I?”

“If it is a job application, YES, you are tidy. And organized. And punctual.” I said.

“Oh .. ok,” he said in that kind of dumb-founded, endearing voice.

Another job interview was at INN-N-OUT Burger. After the interview, Gary asked, “Is the interview part over?”

“Yes, it is,” the manager said.

Gary took a step back and reviewed the menu. “Ok, then I will have an Animal-style burger and a medium drink with fries.”

http://aht.seriouseats.com/images/20120423-in-n-out-shooter-sandwich-05.jpg

Needless to say … he didn’t get the job. We all loved Gary though. He was quiet. He was funny. The ice cream truck would come dashing down the street. “How is anyone supposed to keep up with that ice cream truck?” he said. I looked out the window and saw the truck singing its sad, music box theme song for a blink of an eye before it was around the corner. “You would need a bike,” he said, then mimed sweating over a bicycle, reaching out to the ice cream man, ‘Can I have an orange creamsicle, please?’” It was hard not to like him.

"I want to make love to Mick Jagger," I said one morning over ramen noodles and tea.

"Even though he is old?" Gary said.

I sipped my coffee, " ... yeah."

"Ok, I would like to do Joan Jett and she is super old."

“I also want to make love to Bob Dylan."

"Is he still alive?"

"Yes, but he is also old. And! AND ... Justin Beiber."

"That little kid ... hahaha, nice. (sip of coffee) Who else would I like to bang?" Gary said, looking up to the ceiling for a cue.

"Tina Turner?"

"Ha. 'Baby, you'd better be good to me!!' ... it's the coffee talking. Who else would I like to bang Deborah Harry, that would be pretty cool. Oh, I know who else I would love to bang, fucking Cher! I thought she was really, really good as the biker chick in 'Mask'."

Cher in mask

Frank especially liked Gary. Though they shared a wall, Frank knew he didn’t mind if he ripped a fart in the middle of the night. Equally a comfort, I knew that Gary was safe. He never complained. He never hit on me. He was funny, but a wallflower. It was the perfect balance for a loud New York stand-up comic and me, a hybrid hippie who sounds like a fog horn when she orgasms.

While putting my contacts in one night, I heard a commercial for “The Hunger Games” about to premiere on Fox.  “I feel like I heard of this movie,” Gary said.

“We watched it … together at Alia’s,” I said from the bathroom.

“Oh … right.”

He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box, but I trusted him. I left my purse out in the kitchen. I threw him cash whenever he walked my dogs. I bought him food when I could. I adopted him, like I adopted the three dogs snoring on my bed right now. He needed to stand up on his own, though. The well-being of the household depended on it. Frank pressured me, and I then pressured Gary, who really tried for about 3 days or so.
I knew he was hungry. He was a big guy with no money. Frank stopped inviting him out for lunch and I only had enough money for ramen noodles and canned beans. (I wish I was exaggerating). Not to mention, Gary’s shoes were in such poor condition, he had to put plastic bags over each foot when it rained to keep them dry.

Gary Plastic Socks

He left his car in Washington. His girlfriend, and mother of his two daughters, grabbed his paycheck from the very easy-going Lodge where we worked over the summer in Skamania. The Lodge is in a town of 2,000 people, so they are used to leaving everyone’s paychecks out in paper rolodex. Employees mosey on in through an open door and pluck it out in person. Gary’s long-time girlfriend knew this, grabbed his paycheck and cashed it at the bank, who also knew that the two were a couple and thought nothing was wrong or criminal about the transaction because the clerk knew the couple. Gary called the local police, who have family relations to his girlfriend, and needless to say … the money didn’t come. No one wanted to take responsibility for it, and it was hard to come down on his girlfriend about it when she was stuck supporting their two kids now, alone.

This left Gary shit out of luck. We were all pulling for him. We all wanted him to get a job and stay.

The day after Thanksgiving, Gary told me that he was going to visit an old friend in Long Beach for the weekend. When he said goodbye from the front door, I started getting up to hug him goodbye but he left before I could. Not too much later, I realized $50 cash in my wallet was missing.

“Maybe he left for good,” I said to Frank.

“You think he would do that?”

“All of his stuff is still here,” I said, “but it isn’t much. A pipe. A record. Some clothes.”

“Let’s give it four days, that is about the time people start staring at each other from the couch and visits get uncomfortable,” Frank said.

Four days passed.

Then five.

Then seven.

I contacted his girlfriend, Mary, and his family on Facebook and asked if I should file a missing person report. Though the chances were he bailed on us, what if he fell in front of a subway or was mugged and unconscious somewhere. Someone had to say something, and who else would but Frank and me. His cousin pinged me back, “Ok, thank you.”

No more than 20-minutes later I got a phone call. “[StarFire], it’s me! Gary!” he said, excited.

Greg Ride me

“Hi,” I said, flatly. “I thought you might be dead.”

“No. I am in Arizona with my cousin. I got a job!” he said.

“Great but um … rent is due next week, man.”

“I will send you money,” he said.

“Yeah right.”

“Did you say yeah right?” he asked.

“Yeah, I did.”

“Well, I walked out on Mary so why wouldn’t I walk out on you,” Gary said.

I hung up on him and sat down in the dark, without a car and speechless. Michael was there and rubbed my shoulder, he heard everything from the phone even though it was held up to my ear. “What the fuck,” I said, in almost a whisper. I started crying.

the-crying-little-girl

“I can move in,” Michael said.

I rubbed my eyes and pushed my bangs back over my head. More crisis. Dear God, why?

“Baby, he walked out on his kids, why wouldn’t he walk out on you?” Michael asked.

My image on Facebook was attacked the first few weeks I moved down to LA by Mary and her friends, all eager for a salacious story to sink their housewife teeth into. They called me names and made me feel like I hurt Mary and now, for the first time since I left Washington, I wondered if I did hurt Mary and her kids. Should I have talked him out of coming down? What the fuck was I thinking? Was I enabling a deadbeat?

“I have money, I can move in next month,” Michael said, coolly.

“... FUCK,” I shouted through my hands.

“Do you not want me to move in?” he asked. “I won’t if you don’t want me to.”

“We have only been dating for a month,” I said.

“I am ready,” he said.

“Well,” I threw my hands in the air, “Why not? You are here every night anyway.”

“Are you sure? I won’t if you are uncomfortable.”

“No …” I thought about it. I thought about waking up to Michael every morning. I thought about how someone would be home who cared as much about my dogs as I did. I thought about rough days and coming home to Michael’s cooking and bad jokes.

two lost souls

“I think it would be a good fit because I love cleaning. I find it very zen,” he said.
“You know I am bad at cleaning?” I asked.

He laughed, nodded and rubbed my back.

It was soon, but it was inevitable. We were hot and heavy. He wanted to step it up and now I needed someone to step up.

“Ok,” I said. “Let me tell Frank.”

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Give It To Me Good

I apologize for the lag with this blog. Life keeps happening. Let me pick up where I left off … Michael and I were both without cars and without much money. After weeks of botched phone calls to private sellers on Craigslist, Frank, Michael and I found a nice, 1990s, cherry red, Honda Civic. It was clean, it seemed to move well and we all felt good about the sale.

Cherry Bomb

The night we bought it, my roommates (Frank and Gary), Michael and I all went to a local bar to celebrate. It was a good night. Things felt like they were going to be ok. Gary still needed a job. Michael still needed a car. That night, though, it was a celebration for us. Each of us, though different in who we are and what brought us to the L-shaped front house in Glendale, were all fighting to keep head and shoulders ahead in the game.

Frank, a poker player and stand-up comic from New York, was fighting the voices back home. They told him it was time to go back East. Back to what is left of his family. They told him there is a safe job somewhere for him to take, a comfortable chair behind a desk, a drawer for a secret bottle of whiskey to numb the LA dreams that still might tickle his ankle from time to time. Soon enough, he would be too tired at the end of the day to worry about who he could have been, tired from learning a new business, tired with a new wife he didn’t fall in love with but settled for, and tired from the children that naturally come in a man’s fight against mortality. Each day would come with enough struggles to quiet the restlessness of dreams, and stifle the howl of being different. He wouldn’t care anymore, not after a few years of a sedate life settled in a New York suburb. At least he would stop struggling.

Tonight, he was still a single poker player with nothing but a guitar, a daybed, and a coffee table he picked up off a curbside a few blocks away. Each morning he got up, smoked a cigar and worked on stripping and refinishing the table on the back porch, behind a thin, bamboo wall.

Frank and Table Cropped

Gary, an unemployed steward from Washington state, was running from a life of fixed responsibility. Whether it was wrong or it was right, he left his two daughters and long-time girlfriend in their small apartment on the edge of Southern Washington without a word, taking only his record player and his marijuana. He didn’t know what he wanted, but he knew that growing old in Skamania County, polishing silverware and dodging garbage duty for $10 an hour,  while sleeping on the corner of a bed he shared with a quiet partner wasn’t it.

Gary

That night was the happiest I had ever seen Gary. I was quizzing him on 80s music from my mini-laptop in the kitchen.

“Do you know this one?” I asked.

♫ ♪ “Seen a lot of sights,
Many crazy nights,
Cruising and boozing,
It's a wonder that I'm still alive.

Never wasted any time,
Never missed a beat,
Total satisfaction,
Always guaranteed.

Tease me,
Please me,
No one needs to know, oh no..” ♫ ♪

“Scorpions,” he said.

Scorpions

“Very good. What about this one? If you get this I will be really impressed.”

♫ ♪ “You say you're from the city,
Where things move so fast,
Got your fancy cars and your diamond rings,
You don't need a love to last.

And that's alright,
I'm just a man, baby.

So take me home tonight,
Like you know that you should,
When you're ready to be bad,
Just give it- give it to me good …♫ ♪

“Wait a minute … I know this one,” he said, and paused with his copper-skinned finger held up in the air as if to press the notes down on air. “Trixter!”

“Right!” I said.
trixter1

There was Michael, my 23-year-old boyfriend who was swept under the traffic of my crazy life without knowing what exactly hit him. His car was totaled. His iPhone, with all his private dog-sitting contacts, was lost. He left his job for his own pride and, in a way, mine. Everything was turned upside down in his world and the only thing that remained constant was our one month courtship. He knew if he was stepping into the storm for me, he had to go all in or he would lose me. Michael had my attention and he wasn’t going to let me out of his sight. I’ve never really felt a man so determined for my companionship before. Doubly impressive was how he was able to pull it off all the while looking strong and steady. In his negotiation of what he wanted, he managed to avoid sounding needy.

He left Milwaukee for Los Angeles to make it on his own as a film editor. When editing left him miserable and defeated, he abandoned all and turned to animal sciences. He could study that field anywhere. What kept him in LA was me.

Michael Portrait

And then there was me. I also came to Los Angeles to study film when I was in my early twenties. The film world also made me miserable, but it was a longer journey. Now, the thing that kept me in Los Angeles was Los Angeles itself. There was no other city I knew better. I had nowhere else to go. No one else to see. Nothing else to do. L.A. was my final destination. Home.

Me Dreaming

*

Through the back alley of a dive bar, Michael led me in through the double doors by the small of my back. A few strangers looked back at us from the bar, worn down by minimum wage jobs, hard liquor and junk food. Who was this fresh-faced kid with a big smile and a tall girlfriend? Who did he think he was? “I’m Michael” he said, “And I am getting whatever the young lady would like.”

“A vodka martini, dirty,” I said, sitting down at the bar stool in front of Michael. Our faces were finally level with each other. Our height difference might be the most striking oddity between Michael and myself, but people seemed to resist accepting us as a couple even after a few affectionate kisses, the arm around the shoulder, or a “babe” kicked across the bar. Those early days of courtship, Michael was made to feel he had something to prove.

Martinis turned to beer and it wasn’t long before the karaoke was up and going. We each had a turn at our own rock n roll manifesto. Louis’ was some kind of Southern rock ballad of the 70s. Listening back on it now on crappy Droid video, I can’t decipher what tune it was with the clinking of glasses, the screams from behind the camera phone and the occasional howl in the microphone. Michael sang “Alone” by Heart to me, which was hopelessly romantic. I completely forget what Gary sang. I did “LA Woman”.

A common misconception with people who read my blog and then later become an acquaintance is that I can drink. I write about drinking, and write a lot about being intoxicated. Readers fill in a blank and assume many drinks pass between the first order and the staggering mess outside the bar walls. The truth is not that many drinks pass at all. I think all in all that night, I had about three drinks.

“I thought you were a serious drinker. What the fuck is this?” Michael asked, laughing with a cigarette held from his waist.  We were chain smoking between the alley wall and the doors of the bar, where we first entered. Bad karaoke music echoed through the dive’s swinging mouth, like it was a bad ride at a county fair.

Dave's

“I’m not a serious drinker. I am just a drunk,” I said.

“Jesus, you are a light weight. I had no idea,” he said.

“I know,” I hung my head low, “but I am a cheap date.”

“We need to have a talk before residency,” Michael said, suddenly changing the gears of conversation, “about Huck.”

Huck was a student at writing school, a poet from Milwaukee, I fell for at the head of last semester. I was immediately infatuated with him, we carried on a week long flirtation before indulging in a three-day, hotel-room, love affair. Michael followed the affair in my blog and knew that when I returned to school in December, I would be reunited with someone who made my blood boil. Though it was never said aloud, Huck would be a threat, maybe his first threat as my new boyfriend.

Dirty_Hotel_Room_by_williamturbyfill

“We don’t have to talk about Huck, because Huck is irrelevant,” I slurred.

“I think you know that’s not true,” he said.

“He doesn’t deserve 10 minutes of your time. He is a cock sucking asshole and can drop off the face of the planet for all I care … FUCK HIM!” I shouted in the back alley. The smokers were taken aback and quieted down to listen in on our conversation.

“See, this is what I was concerned about. Obviously you still have some feelings towards him,” Michael said, calmly.

“Ha! Feelings of violence and disgust!” I said.

“... OK …” Michael said, “We have to talk about this.”

“No!” I shouted again, then I threw my keys at him. He turned his shoulder and took it in the back. He laughed but managed an “ow” …

“I don’t want to talk about him, understand?”

“Ok, well, we will have to talk about him at some point,” Michael said.

The truth is I had been having anxiety dreams about going back to school for weeks. Though the coursework was a constant, we as a student body only had to unite on campus once a semester for 10 days. We refer to it as “Residency”. One student comes from Paris. Another from Florida. Another from New York. So on and so forth. In my dreams, there was a crunch to make it to a lecture or get to campus by limited means. The first dream, Huck was in the distance but I felt him watching me. The next dream, he was standing behind me though I ignored him. The last dream, a night or two before buying my car and getting tanked at this bar, he was an inch from my face, staring at me, refusing to let me turn away. I never told Michael about the dreams. They were an aggravation.

“Let’s get married,” Michael said.

“You don’t want to marry me,” I said.

“Why not? Let’s do it,” he said, holding my hand and gently swinging it back and forth.

I turned to the worn, middle-aged woman smoking next to him. “You tell him why,” I said.

“It won’t last,” she croaked. “I was married once.”

“Yeah, what happened?” Michael asked.

“He left me for a younger woman. Asshole. Married for 20 years …”

“See?” I said, before severing the head off my cigarette and watching the orange glow cascade down the brick wall.

We all piled into my new car (I dubbed “Cherry Bomb”) and drove back to the Glendale front house. Frank and Gary retired to their rooms, while Michael tried to wrangle me into the bedroom. I was so far gone..

“Go on, leave. You deserve a better girl than me,” I said.

“I don’t want another girl,” he said.

I threw my purse at him, and he took it in the back. “Ow” he said, then laughed. “Fuck you!” I said.

“You are hilarious right now,” Michael said. He was the first guy to really understand that my fights are impromptu performances. They are small wars born out of an emotional explosion so irrational, so ridiculous, the only way I can approach them is through a caricature of myself. A one-woman show in my living room with ridiculous wickedness, over-the-top insults and outlandish accusations. “You tricked me into falling in love with you so you could throw it back in my face!”

“Ha!” Michael said, “Now come to bed, baby.”

“You would like that wouldn’t you?”

“Um … yes, I would,” he said.

The evening is a bit of a cold, murky fog for me. I really don’t remember much of anything other than being cold and having sex … sex all night long.

drunk_girl

**

In the morning, it was Thanksgiving Day. I had pet visits from 7am to 10pm that day, and for half the day, Michael accompanied me in the car so the holiday wouldn’t be lost completely between us. Cherry Bomb streaked the still air and empty streets of Glendale and Burbank with crimson paint and classic rock. Michael sat in the passenger seat, silent at first.

“Do you remember anything about last night?” he asked.

“Not a lot, was it bad?” I asked.

“Well, do you remember throwing your keys at me?” he said.

“Vaguely …”

“Then you threw your purse at me and tried to break up with me. Remember that?”

“Hmmm .. I must really like you,” I said.

“Then, when I got you to bed, you kind of fought me off like you wanted me to um … rape you or something.”

“Mmm hmm .. “ I said silently at first.

“Yeah, remember that?”

“No, but I believe you,” I said.

“And,” he stifled a laugh here, “I remember you pushing me away and saying, ‘No, you can’t have sex with me,’ and then you gave me this really big wink. Like, it was really fake and bad. And I am like, ‘Oh kay. I mean, come on, baby, I thought you were supposed to be an actress."

Foxy Rape

“So did you do it? ” I asked.

“Well yeah, I mean if I had a choice to have sex with you and pretend to rape you or not have sex with you and not rape you … I am going to have sex with you and rape you. I’m not stupid,” he said.

“Yeah well … it is kind of a little fetish of mine. Sorry about that. It comes out sometimes.”

“No, it’s ok … its just … well, is that what you want?” he asked.

“Sometimes, I guess.”

“I don’t know that I can do that,” he said.

“Well, you did it last night,” I said.

“Yeah … “ he said, taking out the replacement for his phone, a temperamental spare iPhone I kept in my dresser drawer. He scrolled down the screen. “All my friends are posting nice pictures of their Thanksgiving dinner with their families and their food and I am driving around all day talking about rape with my girlfriend.”

“Ha … well, I must really like you, that’s all I can say. Oh, what do you want for Christmas?” I asked.

“Not to rape my girlfriend,” he said.

“Really?” I was disappointed. I knew it wasn’t really in Michael’s nature but something about the possibility of it excited me.

“Yeah, really. I want to have nice sex with my willing girlfriend.”

“Ok, whatever you want, baby.” I turned the steering wheel. Holidays are nice in Los Angeles, it is the one time you can hear the birds singing. “I want to weed that out of my mind anyway. I have been working on reprogramming my mind for a few years now.”

“You don’t have to,” he said.

Rape Role Play

“No, I want to.”

This was the life I wanted for myself. A kind, gentle man who took a healthy approach to sex and love. A steady, clean car to take me from job to job without problems. I was done with the drama. Done with the wild nights, various sex partners, the unrequited love and nights sobbing over cigarettes and wine. This was the straight life. This is what I have been waiting for.

*
*

The next day the timing belt flew off of my new, used car.   I wasn't destined to be the straight girl with the calm life, at least not yet. Dark clouds were still hovering in my near future.