Chapter 19: Crumbling (again)

Having played my first gig in LA, I had a new perspective on how to approach my music career, and knew what the next steps would be.

Time for a 9-day vacation!

That’s right, I earned it.  Well, I didn’t really earn it, but I’d be taking it anyway.  The thing about my family is that we are spread out over the country, which makes it hard to coordinate holidays.  For the first time ever last year, the Christmas celebration with my mom took place during Martin Luther King Day Weekend.

The genius!

Not MLK.  I mean, yeah, he was a genius, but I’m speaking of the genius of celebrating Christmas during a weekend in January: cheaper flights, less crowded airports, and a three-day weekend for those in the standard work arena.  This year, however, our Christmas got pushed back to President’s Day weekend, in Southern Florida.  Lincoln, Washington?  Yeah, I guess they were geniuses too.  Or is it genii?  I’m not sure what the plural is.  It’s been a while since I took Latin, back off…

Just as I was about to book a flight, I got word that the “never-ending film” would in fact be ending.  You may recall I went back to NYC after only a week in Los Angeles for a film that had started production more than a year earlier.  The persistent producers had hustled and hustled and finally managed to raise the money to shoot what was the most expensive part left to finish, which would require renting the same exact bar we had originally shot at (before it was officially open).

So I’d be shooting in New York the Monday before President’s Day weekend.  Since Tuesday was being held as a backup day, it made no sense for me to go all the way back to the West Coast only to leave within 24 hours for Florida.  As I’d be a mere three-hour train ride from my dad, I figured I’d go up and visit him for a few days and fly to Florida from Albany instead.

Sheesh, that was exhausting.

What resulted was a request to my new employer for nine consecutive days off from work.  In general I try to be an above-average employee so that when my acting nonsense starts to get in the way of my job (auditions and such), my employer will be less likely to fire me and hire someone that isn’t such a pain in the ass.  So it was with great apprehension that I requested such a large chunk of time off.  I had already given fair warning for the President’s Day trip, but there’s a big difference between four days and nine.

To add to my anxiety, the crazy house that had come back to life was starting to crumble again.  Pourqoi? 

Zee French!

Mais oui!  A new roommate had moved in during January: the incredibly talented, remarkably French, Celeste. 

For Celeste, breakfast consisted of two cups of coffee and three cigarettes.  “I am so khold!” she would softly exclaim to the general surrounding, ensuring everyone knew she meant ‘cold’ and not ‘coal’ with her stridently crisp articulation of the word’s last letter that would have pleased the most demanding of Broadway directors casting for a 3500 seat house.

This, however, was the morning version of Celeste, which quickly gave way to the afternoon version: A baggy, unzipped hoody over a tight t-shirt, a giant pair of jeans rolled up so as to not drape over her high-top sneakers, and a clownishly large pair of sunglasses.  The bag over her shoulder had her dance gear in it, and meant she was off to class.  She scoured the internet for dance auditions, and ate nothing but salmon and spinach.  The afternoon version of Celeste was all business; she had three months to prove to both her country and the US that she was worthy of an artist visa.  Twenty-seven years old, she’d been dancing, choreographing and teaching professionally in Marseilles for ten years.  She was famous in the South of France, mainly for hip-hop, but for jazz and ballet as well.  This was her time to move to Los Angeles.

Consequently, the evening version of Celeste was exhausted.  Whether sitting in the living room or on the front porch, everyone seemed to want to hang out with her.  Should the conversation ever veer from her favorite topic, she always managed to steer it back.

“Boom-Boom!” she would joyously exclaim with her thick French accent, reinforcing any immature fantasy one might have about French women.  She couldn’t get enough of the topic, and always wanted to know how people were doing in that particular arena.  “Eet is good for the health, you know?…Stretching!”  A giant smile came over her face as she enjoyed the wordplay she employed in her newfound innuendos.

Unfortunately for her, she was usually discussing the topic with people that were not quite as successful as she was in such endeavors.  To top this off, her touchy-feely ways tended to confuse many of the male residents of the household, most notably JJ.

JJ was the guy that lived in the garage.  He cleaned the house twice a week so he wouldn’t have to pay as much rent.  Before the first time I ever conversed with JJ, I had seen him several times in the back yard, shirtless, his long hair in a pony tail, brushing his teeth.  As he was in the middle of a hygienic task, I thought it inappropriate to talk to him.  I finally had the opportunity to chat with him one day when I got home.  He was sitting at the table outside, a half eaten slice of pizza in hand.

“Hey JJ, how’s it going?” I greeted him as I sat down at the table.  There was a solid three seconds of delay before he turned and noticed that he was not alone.

“Oh hey man” he finally came to.

“How’s it going, JJ?”

“I’ve been eating this piece of pizza for like a half-hour, man” he said in wonderment, staring at the half eaten slice not so much for my sake as for his.  “I’ve never eaten a piece of pizza for so long, man.”

His gaze slowly melted away from the pizza and upwards towards the leaves on a nearby tree.  He found a leaf that seemed to be a worthy of four-minute stare, and began his tunnel-vision examination.  It occurred to me that this guy was on something and that in all likelihood he had forgotten I was even there.  This suspicion was confirmed by my exiting having no effect on his leaf-stare, but was contradicted twenty minutes later when I saw him in the kitchen beginning a two-hour cleaning session. 

JJ wasn’t on anything, he was just an odd fellow.

I think it was difficult for JJ to figure out what it was that Celeste was doing.  The French girl that always talked about “boom-boom” and “stretching” would also put her arm around him and talk about how much she loved him.  So it was with JJ that Celeste first had to explain her rule:

No boom-boom with the housemates.

As “stretching” was something that she thought was very important to the quality of her life, she set boundaries for herself so that it would not mess with anything else.  The rule extended to fellow dancers and choreographers.  No mixing boom-boom with her professional or residential worlds.

But that didn’t mean she couldn’t talk about it.  And man, did she love to talk about it…

It’s hard to say exactly when the tension started between Celeste and Jimmy.  Jimmy was more or less the strong personality of the household for the preceding months, and it’s unlikely that both he and Celeste could remain in the house in harmony forever.

The afternoon version of Celeste didn’t like Jimmy’s lifestyle.  “Why don’t you have job?”

“This isn’t France, OK?” Jimmy replied, a rather curious retort.

The evening version of Celeste didn’t like Jimmy’s stories.  “Jimmy, I don’t care about Buffalo!  All you talk about is playing hockey and Buffalo – I don’t care”.

Jimmy wasn’t too keen on Celeste’s disrespect for his hometown.  “Then why don’t you go back to France?!”

To make matters worse, another “French girl” moved in.  I use quotation marks because Nicole was in fact from Quebec City, Canada.  The French language, however, was her native tongue, which was reason enough for Jimmy to deem her as being from France.

While Celeste initially got along with Jimmy, Nicole instantly embarked on an antagonistic relationship with him.

“Jimmy started drinking at 10am yesterday morning” she told me in one of our first conversations, her French-Canadian accent equally as thick as Celeste’s French-French accent.

“Oh yeah,” I replied, “he bought one of my bottles of two-buck-chuck off of me, said he wanted to have a drunk day.”  I’m sure a smile had come to my face as I pictured Jimmy enjoying his lazy-hazy day of inebriation.

“Eet was a Sunday.  Do people here start drinking wine at 10am on Sunday?”

Hmm.   While the French-Canadian had a point, this was the house of anything goes (remember Christmas?).  What began as a French menace was now a French-led mutiny against Jimmy.  Feeling threatened, Jimmy took opportunities to point out all he was doing for everybody to counter the growing sentiment that he just hung out all day and did nothing but self medicate.

 

An uncharacteristically clean and empty sink, with a note attached to the windowsill.

An uncharacteristically clean and empty sink, with a note attached to the windowsill.

"All the dishes done by Jimmy.  Your welcome."

"All Dishes Done By Jimmy. Your Welcome."

But his efforts fell short, and eventually he realized that he could no longer go on living in the house with the French girls.  His demeanor slowly started to approach that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, and it was clear that something was about to give.

I overheard what was the defining argument, in which the distance between faces was inversely related to the level of volumes employed by each party; Jimmy and Celeste got up in each other’s faces, Jerry Springer style, saying essentially the same exact things they’d been saying for weeks but in a heightened state.

“I don’t need to do anything, OK!” shouted Jimmy, defending his right to hang out at the house without being hassled.

“But you must have goals, Jimmy!” yelled Celeste, unwilling to back down from her French-given right to tell people what they should be doing with their lives.

“Goals?  GOALS?!  You know what?  Stay right here, I’m gonna go get my high school hockey trophy!”

Hmm. 

I think it’s safe to say Jimmy didn’t really think that one through.  This is more indicative of the boisterousness of the shouting match than of Jimmy’s familiarity of the various meanings of the word “goal”.  But the hilarity of the transition remained.  Jimmy was infuriated by Celeste’s low opinion of him, and Celeste was uninterested in any past accomplishments.

The two were living in the house with very different purposes.  Jimmy was taking his time to check out the scene in Los Angeles, see if it’s a place he wanted to spend some time in, and enjoying the perks of his medical marijuana card.  Celeste had three months to accomplish Mission Obtain Artist Visa.  Neither could see where the other was coming from, and no hockey trophy was going to help.

Right before I left for my nine-day trip, Jimmy told me he was going to probably be gone by the time I got back.  I was sorry to see him go, but knew it was probably best for him.  Jimmy was my first roommate in Los Angeles, and was definitely the top reason I loved living in the house so much.  A well-read guy with a slew of experiences, he had some wisdom that I will no doubt feed off of in the years to come.

In his last days, Nicole began putting post-it notes on all her food items so that they wouldn’t be eaten by anyone else. 

“Like she thinks I’m gonna eat her cheese or croissants or something” vented Jimmy as he drove me to the airport for my flight to New York, referring to food items that Nicole didn’t necessarily have but ought to, being French and all.

The King of Zingers would be gone by the time I got back…

 

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