Chapter 29: Judgment Day

June 29, 2009

Time had been passing, and I had been meeting all sorts of people that were their own unique mixture of wonderful, interesting, crazy and fun.

But what the heck was I doing here?  Didn’t I move to Los Angeles to be an actor?  Sheesh, I’d only been on one audition since arriving, and I got it through my friend from High School.  What was I doing in this town?

I started asking myself these questions as “Judgement Day” approached.  May 7th would be my six month mark.  You may recall from my first week of being in Los Angeles that I damn near walked to the airport to buy a one way ticket to New York.  I instead made a pact with myself to stay a solid six months before I made any decisions.

But what decision would I make?  I had stopped pining for NYC some time ago.  But was Los Angeles really where I wanted to be?

One month before Judgement Day I took a very definitive step in moving into a guest house-style room that was offered to me by my old pal, singer extraordinaire Jes Hudak.  As Jes was a friend, and not some random Colombian dude, renting a room from her was a little different.  If I decided I wanted to bail in four weeks, I’d be inconveniencing a friend as opposed to a landlord.  So taking this step more or less solidified my place in Los Angeles.

But what for?

I certainly had to stay for a while just to restore my bank account.  I started looking for a second job, which would be necessary regardless of what my decision would be on Judgement Day.

As opposed to looking for a job in close proximity to my new place, I opted for just the opposite.  I wanted to work in a completely new neighborhood, so that I could explore even more of LA.  The thing is, I really love LA.  There are so many areas and so many amazing people.  I loved going to Kings hockey games at the Staples Center.  I just started going to baseball games at Dodgers Stadium.  I loved checking out new venues to see music.  New restaurants, new coffee houses, new parks.  There was so much, and I was fully aware that I had just started to scratch the surface of it all.  I loved LA – all of it.

I secured a second job in Santa Monica and started training at the end of April.  Although I had yet to reach Judgement Day, I officially started a new phase of my life I projected would last about two months: Operation Sanity.  The goal was to not go insane, given how busy I would be.

I had yet to actually step foot in Santa Monica before my interview.  It seemed so far away, despite the fact that it only took about forty-five minutes to get there.  It may as well have been in Japan.  But walking into my first day of training, I could tell it was a part of town I was going to really enjoy.  My coworkers were beyond lovely, and I was happy with my new place of employment.  Walking out onto the street at 5pm, I took a deep breath of the crisp air and a smile came over my face.

“Hey man” asked a teenager passing the other way, perhaps prompted by my big grin.  “You wanna do some ‘shrooms?”

I was a bit thrown off.  “Uh…”

“Yeah man, I’ve got some shrooms, you wanna do some?” he repeated, this time calling attention to the brown lunch bag in his hand.

“Um – oh.  No thanks, man.  I appreciate it though.”

Noticing the perplexed look on my face, the kid felt the need to explain his unsolicited offer.  “You just look like the type of dude that likes to do shrooms.”

Welcome to Santa Monica, Jesse.

Unfortunately this was the only time this happened to me.  Not that I wanted to actually do shrooms with this kid, but I would’ve liked it if he was always kind of hanging out outside my work, hoping that this would be the day that I’d be down to shroom with him.  He just seemed so excited about the prospect of it.

Reflecting on this bizarre run-in, I was only further reminded of the lack of purpose I had in this town.  Sure, I didn’t want to do shrooms, but what was it I that I ought to be doing to keep me from a nice little hallucinogenic trip after working my day job?

Acting?

Ah, jeez.  Acting.  I’ve been avoiding it for so long.  But if I’m not here to act, then what the hell am I here for?  Where’s the kid with the shrooms?  May as well, right?

Since I’d been in Los Angeles the only thing I’d been sticking to was this blog.  I’d dabbled in music a bit, but not to the extent to make me think I can do it day in and day out the way that’s necessary.  Should I quit acting and be a writer?  Ah jeez, that would mean I wouldn’t get to act anymore. 

Feeling a bit lost, I attended a Casxio concert the night before the 7th.  That would be the 6th.  Judgement day looming over me, I thought it best to just dance the night away.  And dance I did.  One thing I love about LA is how much more socially acceptable it is to dance.  That’s not to say everyone does, or even most people do.  Rather that if you decide to you won’t be as ridiculed as you would in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

After the show, I decided to stick around and have a drink.

“Dude, how’s it going?” I hear behind me, a hand gripping my shoulder.

This guy?

There he was: Jay.  I’ve talked to this guy a net total of seven times in my life, but for some reason I always thought of him as a really good friend.  Sometimes you just get that from people with no way to reason it. 

“How’s LA treating you.”

Funny you should ask.  I broke it down for Jay, explaining to him the circumstances that led to me needing to leave to New York to my uncertainty about why I should be here.

“I’m not going to tell you what you should do, but I’ll just say this – you have to love LA.”

Yes.  Go on…

“You can’t look at this town as a place you’re going to just live for a while ‘til you can build your career and make enough money to move somewhere else.  People smell that shit.  That’s what I did when I first moved here, and nothing went right.  But if you love this town.  If you love everything about it – it will love you back.”

Well, shit, Jay.

I can’t help but think it was fate that Jay just decided to give me advice that night.  It was the fourth time I’d seen him since I’d been in LA, and he didn’t bother on any of the other occasions.  This was just what I needed to hear.

If I was going to stay in this town, I needed to embrace everything about it that it had to offer me.

Feeling as though the problem was solved, I went to bed only to wake up the next morning thinking to myself – so what does that mean?

Feeling kind of crappy, I decided to hit up a yoga class before work.  I was hoping to take some time and sit down with myself to assess everything as part of Judgment Day.

I guess it’d have to wait.

So there I was, mid-yoga pose, when it came to me.

A TV Show.  Based on my move out here.  Based on this blog. 

No!  Don’t do that, Jesse!  You hate stuff like that, right?

I do.  I hate when people essentially turn their life into a screenplay and expect other people to give a shit.

Feeling a bit deflated, I took a deep breath while in child’s pose (the yogi maverick was doing Warrior 2).

Then it came to me – the economy.

“The Economy”.  A show about a guy that loses his job and moves to a crazy house.

There it is.  And so this lame and crappy post puts an end to the Chapter portion of my blog.  I thank all of my readers from the bottom of my heart for reading.  I’m off to start writing something that will only be of use in Los Angeles…

‘Til the next wacky experience necessitates a Chapter – Jesse Gavin

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Midweek Rant #19: Organic Getting the Jesus Treatment

June 25, 2009

I went to Church for the first time for anything other than a wedding or funeral when I was nineteen years old.  A kid had died at my college and I was feeling a bit weird about mortality.  I had also just read, for the very first time ever, parts of the Bible as part of my required Humanities I Class.  Expecting the Bible to be all about judging people and starting wars, I was pleasantly surprised that the focus was instead on love and forgiveness.  Who knew?

Neither of my parents were big fans of Religion.  My dad doesn’t speak much on the topic, occasionally pointing out that the only thing the Nuns at his Catholic School taught him was how to take a beating.  My mom recounts being scolded and humiliated by a priest when she was a kid with a wacky idea (life on other planets).  The last straw for her was when my oldest brother, four years old at the time, kept assuring my mom that she couldn’t find her keys because the devil was hiding them.  When she finally found them, he rejoiced that God had guided her, and without Him she would still be looking.  By the time I was born, we weren’t a Church-going family anymore.

There was no vendetta happening here.  We just didn’t go to Church is all.  Given how busy we were with sports, there was never a Sunday in which we weren’t running around from soccer field to soccer field or hockey rink to hockey rink.  Sunday was the day of sports, as opposed to the day of not-going-to-Church.  But throughout the years I heard the comments, not so much from my family, but from people in general.  The derogatory explanations of what Church is all about.  It’s a bunch of hypocrites, they’d say.  I started to notice that the people that actually did go to Church didn’t seem to be any more moral than people that did.  Then George Carlin pointed out that 90% of all the people ever killed in War were fighting over God.

Hmm, I thought.  But here I was, sitting in a wonderful Church, making sense of a terrible tragedy that had happened at my school.  I felt a warm sense of welcome from the other Church goers.  I went back home and read more.  I don’t think I’ve ever been more inspired than I was when I read about Jesus.  Chocked full of love, forgiveness, and strength, I was really starting to get why He is such a big deal.  Then it happened.

I don’t know if it was the age I was at, or if it was a shift in general sentiment, or if perhaps it was just my relocation to New York City.  Everyone started to hate Jesus.  They’d quote the telethons and pretend they were preachers.  “Oh, Jesus is going to save you!” mocked the Emo kid.  Like anyone trying to sell an idea, the Church was only fueling the fire with billboards that said “Got Jesus” and “WWJD” bracelets showing up everywhere.

Because I hadn’t been raised in the Church, I didn’t have particularly strong feeling about it.  I didn’t get beaten like my dad, I didn’t get humiliated like my mom, and I didn’t get molested like an alarmingly high number of friends I’ve known throughout the years.  I was never given any reason to hate Jesus.  At worst, I would just ignore Him.

After years of holding my tongue I finally started asking people what it was they hated about Jesus so much.  After all, Jesus was the name that was being mocked all the time, in response to the fact that Jesus was the one that was being praised all the time.  What I found was a whole lot of answers that had nothing to do with JC.  I’ve yet to actually talk to someone that actually has an issue with Jesus.  People will go off about the Church and about Sunday School and about Rod from down the street who judges everyone and then (insert terrible thing).  But JC?  Scratch free.

I like to call this phenomenon the Jesus Treatment.  Basically, it happens when something is great, but those people surrounding or promoting it are sometimes not so great.  It doesn’t take much for something to get the Jesus treatment, and I see lots of stuff getting it today.

 

 

There’s many many examples out there, but what’s been bugging me as of late has been “Organic”.  The idea of organic is that you make food, like, for real.  You don’t add anything a chemist invented in a lab, whether it be in the fertilizer or as a pesticide.

What a bunch of douche bags.  I like chemicals in my food very much.  No chemicals?  Oooooh – la dee da, Monsieur Organique.  Organic this, organic that.  A bunch of rich liberals going to Whole Foods trying to be better than everyone else.  Oh, and I hear it’s good for the Environment!  Wah, wah, wah, the Environment.  I need to save the planet, because I love hugging trees and rolling in dirt.

Organic is a good thing.  Just because advertisers abuse the shit out of the word, and people tend to get their panties in a bunch over it, doesn’t mean that it’s not good.  People get annoyed by this Organic idea.  But consider this – why is it that Organic food is labeled as opposed to non-Organic food being labeled?  Like a sticker on every banana telling you how much pesticide was used to make it, or if it’s genetically modified? 

Then there wouldn’t be such a thing as “Organic” food and people would have nothing to give the Jesus Treatment.

I’m just sayin’.

 

With all this talk of religion, I feel it’s necessary to include this video of Jesse Gavin singing Amazing Grace:


Chapter 28: War Stories, Part 3

June 22, 2009

When we last left off, Space Cadet Sharon had just belittled Connecticut Chris and me for being so concerned about the battle of wild beasts taking place on the roof.

“My village got bombed once a week when I was a kid” was her simple and concise explanation.

How do you argue with that?

What was so intriguing about Space Cadet Sharon was not so much her childhood spent in a war torn Middle Eastern Country, or her subsequent move to Germany where her family lived in a refugee community, nor was it her move after high school to San Antonio, Texas, not the most ideal place for a Muslim to settle down in the United States.  What was so fascinating about Sharon was that it was hard to imagine her having ever stepped foot out of the city limits of Beverly Hills.

A beautiful girl to say the least, Sharon’s striking looks were meticulously enhanced with what sometimes seemed like hours of doing her hair and makeup.  I’d imagine this is a bit of an exaggeration, as is bound to happen when 11 people share 1 bathroom.  But man oh man did she seem to take forever.  It paid off, however, as she seemed to always look “camera ready”.  It was easy to forget that her life had not been spent in the part of LA with the White Street Signs, but from time to time you’d get a sobering reminder.

This was one of those times.  Sharon got her yogurt and went back to her room.  Connecticut Chris and I looked at each other in emasculated shame.

You kind of had to be careful what you said around Sharon.  One time someone mentioned that the food they were eating was organic and the volcano erupted:

“Ugh!  You people with your organic.  Organic, organic, organic!  Everything has to be so – ugh!  Why can’t things just be things.”  Feeling the need to justify her outburst, she reminded everyone: “I’m sorry, I just – I work at an organic spa, and I get sick of it sometimes.”

Note to self: Ease up on the O-talk.

Sharon’s frustrations were countered by her child-like enjoyment of messing with people.  I noticed a few times she had strung people along with some sort of white lie, getting that twisted sense of satisfaction that we all enjoy from time to time.  Ha ha – I fooled you!  (you know the kind).  Despite having noticed this quality about her, I still wasn’t able to tell whether or not her being pregnant was just a plot to mess with me or was in fact a complicated matter she was dealing with.  It came up so naturally.

Talking about one of the new roommates, she mentioned that she didn’t feel comfortable around him yet.  “He doesn’t even know I’m pregnant.  I just don’t see him as, like, that kind of a friend.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.  “Pregnant?”

“Shut up” she said, playfully hitting me with that extra oomph to let me know that I should really not joke about that.  Seeing a mystified look on my face, she felt the need to check in: “I told you I was pregnant, don’t start with that.  Oh what, did you just think I was getting fat?”

Come to think of it, I guess I had noticed that Sharon had put on a few pounds.  I’m not the sort that goes out of my way to keep tabs on my roommates’ physical appearance, so the fact that I had noticed speaks of how noticeable it must’ve been.

I decided to let it go, as the subject quickly changed back to the new roommate.

I felt like there was a 50/50 chance that she was really pregnant.  There was no indication whatsoever that she was trying to pull a fast one on me, and the only reason I thought she might not be pregnant is because she had also told me she was celibate as part of her faith.  Who knows with Space Cadet Sharon.   I decided to keep my ears peeled and not bring up the topic.

A few nights later a typical scenario went down.  Sharon was hanging out by Chris’s computer as he was retouching her headshots and editing a reel for her.  I was on an earlier schedule at the time, so I was in the habit of falling asleep with the light on during their boisterously fun conversations.  I had decided to turn in, but was unable to actually fall asleep.  After  few minutes of silence, I hear Sharon quickly shift gears.

“I think Jesse is asleep” she said in a somber tone, allowing me an opportunity to speak up with a very long pause.  “I hate him.”

I could tell in the way she said this that she was not talking about me, but rather someone that had previously been discussed between the two of them.

“I know it’s wrong to hate, but I really hate him for what he did.”  I could sense the awkwardness on Chris’s part as he chose not to say anything.  “It’s not too late for me to get rid of it” she said after a long pause.

Whoa.

Chris kind of chuckled at this out of discomfort with the topic and was quickly quieted by an “it’s not funny” from Sharon.  “I’m only ten weeks, I have until twelve before I have to decide.  It’s going to make my life miserable.  Miserable.  I can’t afford to raise a kid.  I know that sounds terrible Chris, but it’s really going to make me an angry person, but the only other option is…it’s wrong.  I can’t do that to a living being.”

So at this point I am technically supposed to be asleep.  This being a common scenario, it’s safe to say that Sharon was just waiting for me to zonk out ‘til she had her talk with Chris.  The two of them were pretty close, and maybe she felt comfortable confiding with him on such subjects.

Or maybe she is an incredible liar. 

How could I think this?  What a horrible person I am to think that the pickle this poor girl had found herself in was actually a fabrication created solely for the purpose of having fun with me.  What a jerk I am.  I finally managed to doze off, not wanting to hear any more of this without knowing if it was meant for my ears or not.  I’d have to wait this one out.

“Jesse, you got something from Screen Actors Guild and something from Progressive” said Lamar as he handed me two pieces of mail a few days later.  Several us were hanging out in the living room working on our respective laptops.  I took my two pieces of mail and went back to my email.

“Whoever ‘current resident’ is got sent a magazine on pregnancy” I heard Lamar say as I was typing away, a clear bemusement in his voice at the idea of someone in this house actually needing such a publication.  The same type of bemusement I heard in his voice when “Life Extension” Magazine came addressed to me, compliments of my grandmother.  Not that we don’t all want to extend our lifespans, it’s just an odd magazine to see show up in the mail is all.

“That’s mine!” chirped Sharon.  I looked up to see a big smile on her face as she took the magazine and retired to her room. 

No one said anything about what had just happened.

Hmm.  At this point I’m starting to think myself a bit of a jerk for ever doubting the veracity of her claim.  A few nights later, however, when she lights up a cigarette on the porch after it being proffered by a new French girl, I got to thinking.  I got to thinking why she was smoking a cigarette, especially since she had always given Celeste such a hard time about how bad it is for you.  And here she was smoking.  That was odd by itself.  Add in the fact that she allegedly pregnant, and I couldn’t help but see the light.  This was clearly being done to test me.  Would I tell her to stop smoking because she is pregnant?  Did I even believe it at this point?  She was testing the waters, and it was necessary for her to do something she had always been so adamantly against in order to do it.

This girl isn’t pregnant, she’s crazy.  And she is messing with me.

Or was she?  Oh dear God, it’s an odd thing to accuse someone of, don’t you think?  And the way everything was happening was so natural that it would have required very careful calculation. 

I decided to rest on it.  A few days later she came into the house and seemed very upset.  A bit wary, I asked her what was wrong, fearing the possibility that it would be something about the “baby”.

“I had my heart broken tonight.” 

I didn’t like where this was going.  Get to the point, Sharon!  What about the baby broke your heart tonight?  Huh?!  I regretted asking.

“What happened?” I reflexively asked, biting my tongue just a moment too late.

Now that I had set the ball rolling, she’d be able to run with the pregnancy thing and it would once again seem unforced.

“This big time talent manager that comes into my work found out that I was an actor and told me I’d never be able to be an A-List or even a B-List actor because I’m Persian.”

Whoa.

Ostensibly Middle Eastern, Sharon was constantly having to hear people’s thoughts on how her ethnicity fit into her acting options.  It’s odd that I never gave this too much weight, as I am well aware from my time in New York how important external appearance is, Hollywood obviously being worse.  All I ever thought of Sharon as was beautiful and seeming like she’s from Beverly Hills.  How could I not realize how big of an issue this was?  She went on to talk about how she didn’t even ask this guy’s opinion or anything and how Slumdog Millionaire cleaned up at the Academy Awards and how it just plainly sucked that people couldn’t have an open mind about things.  It killed me to hear all this, as Sharon was terribly talented and worked extremely hard on her career in the little spare time she had from her two survival jobs at the aforementioned organic spa and as a greeter at a gym.

As Sharon vented her frustrations, I thought to myself that it might not be the right time to ask if she was really pregnant.  When I found out weeks later through Connecticut Chris that she wasn’t, it made it even harder for me.  Clearly this lady is a great actor.  She’s also smart enough to think of ways to not make things too obvious.  If the great lengths she went to to play a trick on me is not indicative of a great sense of humor, then I don’t know what is.  And here she was in Hollywood, the best place for her to be.  A place where people are accepted for who they are.  And yet…

Something she’d never be able to change would be the first thing people would think of when they met her.  And it wouldn’t be the Beverly Hills quality she exudes.  It wouldn’t be the hours she spent hogging the bathroom in order to do her hair and makeup.  It wouldn’t even be the crazy brain of hers that devised a plan to make me think she was pregnant, just for kicks.  It would be her ethnicity.  And this would be her battle.


Midweek Rant #18: Telling Old People They’re Going to Die

June 18, 2009

It’s safe to say we’ve reached that point where it’s socially acceptable to tell people they’re going to die from smoking cigarettes.

I myself fall into the very large category of “only when I’m drinking” smokers.  This, the largest group of twenty-somethings, would be willing to name their first-born children after you if you were to bum them a cigarette at a party or outside a bar.  Fortunately there exists this arena in which smokers can not only avoid vilification, but also achieve ‘hero’ status by providing a fag to someone that’s totally jonesin’.

Outside of this arena, however, the “only when I’m drinking” smokers will keep quiet and be of no assistance as the “never would I ever” smokers sling rocks of Truth at poor, defenseless, and helplessly addicted smokers.  Clearly not having enough will power to beat their addiction, they are no match for the self righteous do gooders on a quest to rid the world of this awful plant…tobacco.

I have known “never would I ever” folk that would do hard drugs – mushrooms, cocaine – and yet they would go out of their way to scold someone for smoking.  Lots of people smoke pot, which contains as many if not more carcinogens than tobacco, and for some reason they just don’t “get” how people could smoke cigarettes.  Someone might be an absolutely perfect citizen and do nothing wrong at all, and yet still they will be an asshole and a hypocrite if they choose to berate someone for exercising a God-given freedom in a legal manner, when done in a courteous and respectful way.  Yes, cigarettes are terrible.  But two wrongs don’t make a right.  

People are people, and we like to put each other down when possible.  It’s a bummer, but it happens.  But regardless of how much veracity there is in the attack, I find it completely unacceptable when this is done to old people.

Here’s the thing.

Old people have lived much longer than you, and no matter how smart you think you are, they are smarter…because they lived longer than you.  Sure, they don’t even know how to turn on a computer, let alone send an email.  They don’t know how to do that crazy hard Calculus problem you got right on your last exam.  They may have only been educated through the 8th grade, but trust me – they’re smarter than you.

They understand that smoking is bad for them.  If you were as smart as they were, you’d understand that telling them they’re going to die from smoking is not going to help them quit.  Please stop talking down to them and let them enjoy the rest of their lives.

 


Chapter 27: War Stories, Part 2

June 15, 2009

On to Chris’s story…

Freshman year of college in Boston.  Dorm renovations had taken longer than expected, so students were put up at a Double Tree Inn in Chinatown for a few weeks until they were ready.  Walking back from a night of cavorting, Connecticut Chris and his buddy Glenn were just a block away from their hotel when Glenn decided to sprint full speed to their destination. 

“Huh” thought Connecticut Chris.

Now I can attest to the odd bursts of behavior that college kids are susceptible to after a night at the bar.  Most memorable for me was the subway ride home during my summer at NYU when the entire group I was with simultaneously decided to take on monkey personae, using the overhead bars as tree branch substitutes.  At no point did anyone suggest we act like monkeys; we just all happened to be on the same page about it being the right thing to do.

Unfortunately for Chris, this random Carl Lewis impression was no monkey business.  He was sprinting for a reason.

“Yo, where’s your friend going?” Chris heard just behind him.  By the time he registered what was going, he had a guy on each side of him.

“I don’t know” Chris said, keeping his cool.

“Call him back” the other guy sternly suggested.

“No” Chris succinctly replied.

“Yo, give me your wallet” said the first guy, his imperative imbued with an ominous ‘or else’ undertone.

“No” Chris once again said.  At this point he realized that there was no easy way he was going to get out of this situation without losing his wallet.  If you remember my story from last week, it was at this juncture when my mind got to working.  After briefly considering getting all Irish on the guy that had snuck up behind me, I came to the conclusion that it was not worth the risk and complied with his demand that I give up everything I had. 

This where my story differs from that of Connecticut Chris.

A block away from safety, he opted instead for a preemptive strike.  As one of the guys started a reiteration of the “give me your wallet” demand, Chris quickly jabbed him in the sternum.  Knowing that the other guy would be quick to act, he immediately went in for a hook, only to find himself a fraction of a second too late.

The quick spin required to optimize the surprise factor of his attack gave him just enough of a look to see what it was that would foil his 1-2 combination: a pair of brass knuckles.

Seeing stars, Chris made a valiant effort to take on both guys, holding his own for a good forty-five seconds, his only counter to their brass being the handfuls of gravel available to him from the run-down parking lot they were in.  After almost a minute of throwing haymakers he reached the point where it was clear that he was being overpowered.  There was nothing to do now but do his best to protect himself, so he took a fetal position as they went to town. 

After ten of the longest seconds in the history of the planet, Glenn finally came to the rescue back from the hotel.  Not realizing that he had left Chris behind until he got inside, he unsuccessfully tried to find security until it became apparent he’d have to take things into his own hands.

Rocks being thrown at them from the returning college kid, the two muggers finally decided to call it a day.  What should have been a simple mugging turned into a nightmare.  Little did they know that Connecticut Chris, no hood up at this point, would put up such a fight.

“Yo, let’s go” one said to the other after getting pelted with a stone.

Glenn continued to fire away as he ran to Chris’s aid.  Before he could reach him, Chris was already up and back in action with a handful of rocks.  Seeing a giant one, about the size of a football, Chris’s adrenaline rush prompted him into perfect shot put technique.

“I’d normally only be able to throw that thing like ten feet” he told me as he recounted the story on our drive back from Hollywood.  “But I must’ve thrown it like fifty ‘cuz of all the adrenaline pumping through me.”

Doing their own Carl Lewis impression, the two muggers must’ve been wondering how this could’ve gone any worse as they sprinted across the parking lot.  For one of them, however, all thoughts came to a sudden halt as a football-sized rock hit him in the head.

Yep.

With the kind of accuracy you’ll only see in an over the top Action Movie and/or Comedy, Connecticut Chris managed to hit his moving target with a mini-crater.  He couldn’t help but celebrate as the muggers body became limp and he fell to the ground. 

“Yeah!  That’s right mother fucker!”

The other mugger stopped and looked down at his friend.  Amidst all this chaos there was the moment when all three of the standing participants quieted down in recognition of what might have just happened.

“Holy Shit, I hope I didn’t kill him” Chris thought to himself.  This is the part that the Action and/or Comedy movies don’t bother to deal with.  Killing people is a big deal.  Even if you’re exonerated in a court of law you’d better bet there are going to be people out there that are going to want to take the law into their own hands.  This could possibly be a life changing event, and all three of the standing were realizing this.

After five seconds of lifelessness, the fallen began to move.  The chaos immediately began again as the standing mugger turned his attention back to Chris, about fifty feet away.

“Yo!  That was fucked up!” scolded the mugger.  Helping up his friend.

“That was fucked up?!  You’re fucked up asshole, you just fucking jumped me” Chris yelled as he started towards them.  Glenn grabbed Chris as the two muggers retreated, a little less like Carl Lewis and a little more like Jesse Gavin in junior high gym class.

“Dude, we gotta get you to a hospital” said Glenn.  Having witnessed what Chris only got to feel while in the fetal position, Glenn had a better grasp on what should be prioritized in this situation.  Chris obeyed Glenn’s demand, despite the opportunity to exact a little justice (granted his shot put had at the very least evened things out).  It was to both of their surprise that the doctor released Chris with no broken bones or notable damage done.  All that remained of the muggers’ dirty work was two black eyes.

Chris and I were just arriving back to North Hollywood when I asked him how the experience changed his life.  On top of wearing the hood up, he started taking boxing lessons.  He wanted to make sure he was never viewed as an easy target again.  The sixth sense he developed was what had saved us that night in Hollywood, as could tell we were being tailed without actually having to turn around.  As for that crucial decision that made all the difference in our comparative stories:

“If that were to happen again I would maybe – maybe consider thinking about possibly just giving them my wallet.  Maybe.”

Viewing Chris in a different light, I couldn’t help but think of something that had a happened a few weeks earlier.  The possums that lived on our roof seemed to be brawling with either each other or perhaps an invading creature.  Chris and I were in the kitchen as we heard the shrieking of the battling beasts on the roof.  It started to sound as if they were in the house, which was certainly a possibility given its shoddy construction.  We both held our breath as we listened through the wall, each of us having the kind of schoolgirl hissy fit that would have been far more appropriate on the night we got tailed.

Space Cadet Sharon entered the kitchen from her room.

“Sharon.  Sharon!  Be careful, there’s a battle going on on the roof – they might have gotten inside” warned Chris.

Sharon paused for a second, giving Chris a cold, blank stare.

“My village got bombed once a week when I was a kid” she informed us, continuing on to the fridge to get her yogurt cup.

Space Cadet Sharon: the story has just begun…


Midweek Rant #17: T-Shirts With Geographical References

June 11, 2009

Of all the big cities I’ve ever lived in, of which there are two, Los Angeles has by far the least pride-ridden of the respective natives.  They also have by far the cooler of the natives.  That’s right, those that are from New York City have such a chip on their shoulder about being “born and bred” that it gets in the way of them being likeable in any way.  It’s such a coveted claim that you’ll find people manipulating it with an emphasis on the birth factor to imply that they grew up there. 

 

 

John McCain was born in the Panama Canal.  I often wonder if when he goes on ambassador trips to Central America, he brings it up in order to get respect at the local watering hole.

Because native Los Angelenos place very little value on the born-and-bred status, there is very little hesitation on the part of transplants to tout where it is they’re from.  Go to a sports bar on a Sunday afternoon during football season and you’ll see pretty much the entire NFL represented, with no pesky interference of an actual home team.

Which brings me to my rant.

I never thought that this would bother me.  In fact I used to wear my Kelly’s Saloon T-Shirt in New York City all the time in the hopes that I’d run into a SUNY Geneseo alum on the street.  But in the city of Angels, the frequency with which people start conversations with me based solely on the geographical reference on my t-shirt drives me friggin’ crazy.

I have a Maple Leafs t-shirt I got when I was fourteen years old.  I wear it mainly for nostalgic reasons after I found it in my mom’s attic on my last trip to South Dakota. “I used to wear this to ninth grade geometry” I think as I put it on.

“Go Leafs!  I’m from Toronto!” says the over enthused lady behind me at Trader Joe’s.  I’m not wild about the conversation I’m about to have, but hey – I brought it upon myself wearing the logo of such a passionately followed club.  One of the original six for crying out loud.

Note to self: If I wear my Leafs shirt I’ll probably have to talk to people from Toronto about how they’re from Toronto.

Next time it happens is at the gym.  Wearing a t-shirt made for my high school hockey team, I am duped into several minutes of chit-chat by the following statement: “Hey – you’re from Saratoga?  I’m from Guilderland!”  It’s 192 seconds of my life I will never get back.  Nothing is gained, nothing is learned.  Despite our best efforts to reduce our degrees of separation, we don’t know any of each other’s friends.

If I had been wearing this shirt in Clifton Park, this would have never happened.

At this point I’m starting to pick up on the trend.  The logo on my t-shirt is merely, to use a term coined by that nametag guy, a “front porch”.  Some dude in Portland actually started wearing a nametag every day because he noticed it was easier to start conversations that way.  He calls it a “front porch” because people that sit on front porches are easier to talk to than people that sit in their living room.  I’m a big fan of the simplicity of it.  It’s just a nametag, but it makes you far more approachable.

In a town where many people are looking to start conversations with strangers in the name of networking, this approachability I was creating for myself wasn’t quite as simple.  I wasn’t wearing a nametag, but rather a geographical reference.  People were using said reference to start a conversation with me.

How dare they use geographical references for their own agendas?

Where I come from, towns and cities aren’t pawns in some sort of hustling and networking scheme.  They’re the chess board.  That’s right, I’m going with the analogy.  It’s the base, whether it be a cardboard foldaway or a weathered granite surface in Washington Square Park.

OK, I’m done with the analogy.

If you think I’m being ridiculous about this geographical reference issue, either in my paranoia or in my unapologetic overuse of the cumbersome phrase “geographical reference,” please consider this last example:

IMG_0540

 

The countless conversations I’ve had with people from New Jersey, none of which bothered to take the time to notice that not only is it just a mass produced Old Navy design, but that the shirt is making fun of their home state…


Chapter 26: War Stories, Part 1

June 8, 2009

When we last left off, Connecticut Chris and I were about to exchange the stories that led each of us to an affinity for wearing the hood up.  I went first.

February of 2008.  My brother had come into town for three days.  The night before he left we got absolutely trashed at the Alligator Lounge in Brooklyn.  The next morning I was faced with a nasty hangover and an ambition to get something accomplished before working the dinner shift at 5pm.  Just several weeks earlier, I had been in the same exact situation, and ended up getting a start on the Mary-Louise Parker video I had been planning on making for some time.  What was the trick?  A little something I learned along the way called “walk it off”.

Basic idea: go outside, preferably in the bitter cold, and walk non-stop for about an hour.  Your body’s regulatory system will boost it’s metabolism at the 60 minute mark, and in the meantime you breathe out all that hangover nastiness that would otherwise just fester.  Walking has a great meditative quality, and also tends to get the creative juices flowing, leaving you itching to get back to that blank piece of paper that was torturing you just an hour earlier.

On this particular walk, I played my favorite game – “let the walk sign decide where you walk next”.  Not the most clever name for a game, but at least people unfamiliar with it don’t have to feel alienated as they ask how it goes.  Living in Jersey City at the time, I found myself walking in an area I normally only run in.  Although it was wonderfully cold, the sky was clear and the sun was working wonders on my psyche.  I was a few blocks away from the giant park, and figured I’d mosey on down that way for some top-rate wandering.  Due to the rules of “let the walk sign decide where you walk next” I ended up walking down the hill towards the park on a back residential street, as opposed to the wide tree-lined street with the giant statue of Abe Lincoln.  Sorry Lincoln, rules are rules, and the game is called “let the walk sign decide where you walk next.”

To my pleasant surprise, I ended up walking down the most amazing little street in all of Jersey City.  I couldn’t help but think of the beautiful Center Street in Geneseo, New York, the town of my old alma mater.  Every time I walked down it I would look at each unique house with its character and its big front porch, and I’d think to myself: what I wouldn’t give to live in a house like that. 

The thing is, I never really think that.  I usually dislike houses.  Some people see front yards perfect for barbecues; I see a lawn I’ll have to mow every week.  Some people get excited about the spacious living room with high ceilings; I see astronomical heating and cooling costs.  Some people admire the beautiful windows; I see yet another reason to be wary of the neighborhood kids playing baseball.  I’m not one to ogle at houses.

So it was a very rare thing for me to be so jazzed about the houses on this backstreet leading to the big park in Jersey City.  The blue skies and my rising rate of metabolism helped to create a sort of wonderland that I may as well have been skipping down.  Birds were even chirping, in February for crying out loud.

I was just starting to make a pact with myself that I would one day live on this street.  It’s very rare that I get excited about things that would involve any sort of adult-like responsibility, so needless to say I was really caught up in the excitement of it all.  I wasn’t expecting to find myself yearning for a future residence, nor was I expecting someone to grab my shoulder and jam something in my back.

Que?

“Don’t move” the ominously gruff voice said.  My mind still wrapped up in the magical street I was on that reminded me of my college town, I for some reason thought it was my buddy Alex Sovronsky.  Such a random assumption, I know.  When I was in college, Alex was the guy that would smear himself against the window of the Pizza Parlor you were eating at, as much for a laugh as for a “what the heck”.  Always brimming with energy, I for some reason had it in my head that the fellow that snuck up behind me on a gorgeous backstreet on a beautiful day must be him.  Who else would pull such a joke? 

I later conferred with Alex and he assured me that he would never do something like that.  I guess in small towns it’s fun to pull pranks like that, but Alex was from Long Island and it’s safe to say has always known better.

My first clue that it wasn’t Alex was when I started to turn around, grin on my face, the word “Alex!” on the tip of my tongue.  The clue came in the form of a violent thrust forward, hand firmly gripping the sleeve of my jacket. 

Alex wouldn’t do that.

Wait a second.  I’m not in Geneseo!  I’m in Jersey City, and Alex doesn’t live in Jersey City.  Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone that actually lives in Jersey City, and even if I did, they certainly wouldn’t sneak up behind me on this random backstreet.

“Don’t move!” the voice reiterated, jamming the extremely hard thing that felt like a gun even further into my back.

What.  Is going.  On.

It was at this moment that I realized that this was no prank.  I had a guy sneak up behind me and now I was at his mercy.

I had no idea what to do.  What could I do?  I was pretty sure you were supposed to do something in this sitauation, but then again this wasn’t supposed to be happening at noon on a Tuesday in February.  I’m pretty sure this was supposed to happen in the dark alley I always walked through on my way home from the PATH Train.  Perhaps if that were the setting it would have been easier for me to figure it all out.  I certainly wouldn’t have wasted time thinking it was Alex Sovronsky playing a joke on me.

It had been ten of the longest seconds of my life when I was instructed a third time “don’t move”.  Finally I had something to work with.  He didn’t want me to move.  I quickly thought about it, and came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t move. 

But wait.

I’m walking.  Should I stop walking?  Ah, crap!  I’d been walking the whole time and it didn’t seem to be an issue.  Based on the force with which he yanked me forward when I tried to turn around and look at him, it was safe to say he could’ve stopped me from walking if he wanted to.  So I figured it safe to assume he was fine with me walking, so long as I didn’t make any sudden movements or try to break free.

Or look at him.  That’s it!  That made sense.  He quietly crept up on me and obviously didn’t want me to see who he was.  I felt like I had an advantage in knowing one of the things was he wanted, an important and useful bit of information when it comes to negotiating.  This was going to be a hell of a negotiation, considering one of the cards on the table was that thing that felt very much like a gun in my back.

“Alright, turn this corner.  Do what I say or I’ll fucking kill you, alright?  Don’t fuck with me.”

Advantage, the other guy.

I could practically hear my heart pounding against my ribs as I noticed a narrow driveway just twenty feet ahead, practically hidden by a low hanging tree on one side, brick wall on the other.  If this was the corner that this guy was talking about then I was royally fucked.  The thought occurred to me that this fellow may live in this house, and was leading his unsuspecting prey to some sort of secret lair fully equipped with chains, shackles, and an array of instruments of torture.  This was how the story always went on the news.  If I turn this corner, I may have a new place of residence for the next eight years until he slips up one day and I escape.

Actor/Waiter Jesse Gavin reappears half naked and speaking gibberish at the VIP Diner in Jersey City after mysteriously disappearing almost a decade ago.

I wasn’t wild about this option.

The other option was the upcoming street, which was about sixty feet away.  Man oh man did I hope it was the street he meant.  For the six seconds it took before we reached the driveway, I felt all my senses kick it up into high gear, as I was fully aware of the sensation of simply being alive; something that you just kind of take for granted.  It’s the kind of feeling yoga tries to bring out in people.  I felt eerily zen as I was about to find out which corner this guy meant.  I just had to wait…

We passed the driveway and I felt my mind jerk out of it’s ridiculous state of zen.  What’s wrong with you, mind?  Getting all zen on me at a time like this?  As I realized that this guy was going to turn me onto the next street, I started to take inventory of what it was I knew of what was going on.  This guy had come up behind me out of nowhere and jammed something in my back.  He didn’t want me to look at him.  He wasn’t Alex Sovronsky.  He wasn’t bringing me to some secret lair.  He was looking for an opportune place to, in all likelihood, mug me.  My mind shifted into Irish mode.

Fuck this guy.  This couldn’t be happening at a worse time.  I had just had my bag stolen from me while on the train, just before I got sick and missed two days of work.  I was broke as a mo’fo, and the last thing I could deal with was losing my wallet, which I was realizing had about ninety bucks in it, on top of my unregistered MTA and PATH cards, adding up to about 130 dollars in transport currency.  Why hadn’t I registered my transport cards?!  I could hear that slogan about how quick and easy the registration process was mocking me.  I decided that I was not going to let this fly as I realized that this guy was stalling with an occasional “don’t move” or “don’t fuck with me”.

I got the sense that he was shorter than me.  I’ve had a few bursts of Irish rage in my life, and truly believed I was capable of successfully flipping out on this guy.  People have always joked that I was going to snap someday, and perhaps I could let this be the day.  This dumb jerk had no idea the amount of pent up rage in the fellow he decided to tail.

My plan was this: quickly turn around and knock the gun aside, grab his wrist and get the gun away from him, then pummel him until he is no longer moving, then call the cops.  The beauty of this plan was its simplicity.  When things get too complicated everything can go wrong.  Just ask Walter Sobchak

I was just about to burst into action when a tiny thought creeped into my head.  I wouldn’t call it a doubt, because I truly do put trust in my Irish temper, rather it was a realization that if something goes slightly wrong in my plan, I may be shot.  Given the fact that my plan was not a particularly well thought out one, there was a significantly higher probability that this might happen.

Damn you, brain!  Always making me puss out.

I made the decision right then and there that the money wasn’t worth the risk.  Even the opportunity to look like a tough guy, which, let’s face it, is something I’m usually in need of, didn’t seem worth the possible consequence.  Although I had just walked down a picturesque street with beautiful houses, the fact of the matter is that I normally don’t walk in this part of the city for a reason: a whole lot of halfway houses.  There’s a lot of people in this particular area that are in need of a fix and may not be rational about what they’re willing to do to get it.  Jogging isn’t as much of an issue.  Who jogs with a wallet on them?  

This guy was smart enough to go about it so I wouldn’t know what he looked like.  He’s clearly done this before.  He at no point told me he had a gun, rather he let the thing he was pushing into my back do the explaining.  It may or may not be real, and there’s only one way to find out.  That way may possibly result in getting shot.

Hmm.

I took a breath and finally spoke.

“I’ll give you whatever you want, just tell me what to do.”  I said.

“Alright, turn into this corner” he said, referring to a brick alcove to our right.  “Drop everything and run.  Don’t turn around, alright?!  Don’t fuck with me, I’m serious, I’ll fucking kill you!”

Emphasizing his seriousness with a little jerk, I took him at his word.  All I had with me was my wallet, which was fortunate.  As I was playing the old carefree game of “let the walk sign decide where you walk next,” I hadn’t taken along my iPhone, which I definitely would not have been able to replace at this juncture of my life.  I turned into the brick enclosure and reached for my wallet.

“Everything!” he reminded me.  Thanks for the heads up, my man…I damn near forgot.

I dropped my wallet and slowly started to jog.  After a few cautious strides I gradually accelerated to a sprint.  I was in the clear, and for the first time in over forty-five seconds I did not have a guy jamming something in my back.  It’s hard to think of it as forty-five seconds, because it felt like at least an hour.  I didn’t bother to turn around.  I had made the decision to put my life above trying to be a tough guy or a hero, and I wanted to get as far away as I could.  Time had slowed down so much that it felt like everything was in slow motion…

I remember the exact moment that time went back to it’s usual tick tock of the clock.  After fifteen seconds my path merged with that of a skinny man in spandex pants running with his dog on a leash.  He had one of those Winter Headbands.  You know, the kind that keeps the ears warm without putting your hair styling in jeopardy.  We ran for about eight seconds along side each other, when I came to the realization that this guy had more reason to think me ridiculous than vice versa.  Here I was in jeans and converse sneakers with a scarf draped over my wool coat, trotting along at a pace sufficient for an 8 minute mile.

“What an odd fellow” he must have thought, his spandex-aided stride unimpeded by air resistance.

Walking home, I was surprised to find myself in the best of moods.  Replacing the stuff in my wallet was going to be a pain in the ass, but at least it wasn’t a bullet in the back.  I found change in my couch cushions for PATH fare to work.  Waltzing in the door, my coworkers were quick to acknowledge my cheery disposition.  I told them the story of the pleasant back street and the unpleasant thing jammed in my back, and was greeted with wide eyes and big hugs.  Feeling the love, I winced as I heard a voice behind me.

“What happened?”

I realized I’d now have to tell the story to my previously blogged about manager, Jeff from New Jersey.  Unrelenting from his “no big deal” listening pose, he took in the entire tale before telling me what he thought about it.

“Dude,” Jeff started with a giant condescending grin, “that guy was holding a screwdriver”. 

As Jeff continued on, I slightly regretted not going Irish on the guy behind me…

Slightly…

My new version of the ready stance was to always have a hood up.  Not quite as effective as Jeff from New Jersey’s…

Tune in next week for the long awaited story of Connecticut Chris!

Lastly, apologies to all my dedicated readers for the lack of a Chapter last Monday!  I hope this ridiculously long one made up for it…