Chapter 25: Taking a New Route Home

May 25, 2009

When we last left off, Connecticut Chris and I were being followed by a car with tinted windows and no headlights on, after it had slowly tailed us on the sidewalk of a dimly lit backstreet in Hollywood.

Just another day in paradise.

A tad bit terrified, I finally decided to ask myself what it was that the person(s) in this car was planning to do.  Unable to answer the question, I decided to ask it out loud, so that Chris might take a shot at it.

“They can’t do shit” Chris said, following it up by suggesting “just drive normal, if they follow us all the way back to North Hollywood, we’ll figure it out.”

The car finally had to turn its headlights on when we got to one of the main streets, and I felt myself take a breath for the first time since Chris had calmly but cautiously whispered, “we’re being tailed”.  Taking a quick peek at my gas gauge, I was further comforted by the fact that I had just filled up.  My phone was fully charged, so it’d be no problem to not only call the cops, but actually just pull up to a cop station if necessary.  If this sucker thought he was going to just follow Chris and me home without us knowing, he had a another thing coming.

Pshh – what a sucker.  Nice tinted windows, sucka!

Within two and a half minutes, still a bit unnerving despite my newfound arrogance, the car finally stopped following us.  Victory!  We didn’t even make it out of Hollywood before the punk gave up.  A bit too busy patting myself on the back, I managed to miss a turn onto Hollywood Blvd.  No big deal, I think to myself.  I’ll just turn left here, then turn left again.  Come on – I maneuvered us out of a potentially life threatening situation with the tinted-window car, I don’t think getting back to Hollywood Blvd is going to be all that hard.

 

 

My newfound conceit quickly gave way to the state of trembling terror that I had only snapped out of just moments before.  We were no longer being followed, but the narrow backstreet that became a dead end was hands down the worst place we could be should the car with tinted windows manage to find us again.  The lights on the few houses on this dead end street could barely even be seen through the thick shrubbery.  Frantically making a U-Turn, I tried to explain to Chris that I had accidentally missed the turn onto Hollywood Blvd and figured I could just take the next street up.

“Dude.  This is not the time to be taking new routes” Chris informed me rather matter-of-factly, the tiniest of trembles in his voice indicating that this wasn’t a let’s-make-fun-of-Jesse’s-absent-mindedness comment, but rather a please-don’t-put-my-life-in-any-more-jeopardy-than-it-already-has-been-in comment.

Sorry about that, Connecticut Chris.

We made it out of the narrow dead end street and back onto Hollywood Blvd unscathed.  Rather than return to our arrogant banter about how the tinted window car couldn’t do nothin’, we just kind of sat saying nothing.  Perhaps we were taking a moment to let what happened sink in; perhaps we were just enjoying our existence, it having been threatened.  Having successfully merged onto the 101, a daily feat that is arguably as terrifying as our incident with the tinted-window car was, Chris finally broke the silence.

“You ever been jumped?” he asked with a certain meekness.

Hmm.

All this time enjoying the company of Connecticut Chris, I had failed to ask myself the critical questions that I usually try to get to the bottom of upon getting to know people.  The moniker “Connecticut Chris” is delightfully misleading.  He has a northeast quality, there’s no doubt.  But Connecticut is a state that has, for lack of a better description, a foofy quality about it.  You think of the country clubs.  You think of the sweaters draped over the shoulders and tied in front.  You think of, well, foofy people.

This was not Connecticut Chris.  I think that’s why I like calling him that so much.  His arms hung down from his shoulders in a way that made you think he was ready to burst into the boxing ring at any moment.  He sported a goatee, made all the more effective by the kind of stone face you used to see in Soviet Russia.  But what I think stuck out more than anything was his constant use of the hoodie, something I’m also in the habit of.  If there’s a reason why we were followed by a tinted-window car, it’s probably because they thought we were someone else, which would not be too difficult of a mistake given the fact that we were both wearing hoods.  I never put any thought into why Chris was always wearing his hood, or even remembered why it is that I reflexively put mine up.

It was when he asked me if I’d ever been jumped that I made the connection.  I fortunately had never been jumped.  Mugged, however?

The rest of the ride home was an exchange of war stories, Connecticut Chris being the winner…

 

 

Tune in Next Week for what is possibly the craziest story I’ve ever heard courtesy of Connecticut Chris!

In the meantime, check out incredible music from the actress playing Debbie, my new roomie Jes Hudak:

http://www.myspace.com/jeshudak


Chapter 24: The Getaway

May 18, 2009

When we last left off I was walking down a dark backstreet in a seedy part of Hollywood with my new roommate, Connecticut Chris.

“We’re being tailed” Chris quietly said to me.

It was a sobering moment, to say the least.  There I was, feeling high off a night of playing music at a hip café, enamored once again by the paradise that is La La Land, and then this happens.  If this town was some sort of fantasy world created for a children’s book, then this particular chapter must have been written by the angsty Emo kid, satiating his sadistic desire to constantly remind people how cruel the world is.  You know that kid:

 

 

Well, thanks a lot, Emo kid, for contributing.  Back to your chapter:

“Do you have any weapons in your car?” Chris asked.

“No.  Like…” I stuttered, unsure of what kind of weapons he meant.

“Weapons, like a bat or a knife.”

“Uh…no.”

Hmm.

We finally got to the car and I swiftly but calmly unlocked the door and got in, leaning over to unlock the passenger door.  This really would have been a great time for my car alarm to act up again, but alas, no help from the shoddy wiring on this one.  Once we were in the car I quickly locked my door and went to start the engine, confident I could get it started and go before the person(s) following us could make it up to the door and try to open it.  Of course they might try to punch through the window.  I figured worse case scenario was that they held a gun at me, which would be a tricky situation to say the least.

But at this point we were both safely in the locked car, and that put us at a great advantage in comparison to when we were on the street.

I turned the key.  Nothing.

Oh shit.

I tried again and nothing.

Oh bleeping shit.  It occurred to me that I might be using the wrong key.  I have two keys that look exactly the same save for the marks scratched into them.  Even those are not particularly easy to tell apart unless you look closely.  I remember when I first got the keys, I thought it might be worth adding different color key covers to each of them, so that way I wouldn’t have to look closely at the small scratches on the keys every time I went to use one.  But alas, for the same reason that I have yet to take the car to the shop to try to figure out how to open the trunk, I have for six months now put off this simple task.  The problem is I didn’t see the immediacy of the situation – so I gotta strain my eyes every time I look at my keys to figure out which is which – what’s the big deal?

This one's for the door.

This one's for the door.

This one's for the ignition!

This one's for the ignition!

 

The big deal was readily apparent to me as I was trying to see which key was which in my car parked on the dimly lit street with a still unseen person or group of persons “tailing” me.  I did my best to stay calm as I finally found the key.  About to put it in the ignition, something caught my peripheral.

Not a guy with a gun.  Not a guy with a bat.  Not a group of kids looking to prove their might.

Just a car looking to take my parking space.

Yep.

One of my least favorite things about Los Angeles is the lengths people will go for a good parking space.  It’s not uncommon for someone to wait for up to fifteen minutes for a good spot, when another spot is available just a ninety second walk away.  Rather than walk those interminable ninety seconds, on their feet the whole time, this person will instead wait with their foot on the gas pedal, ready to go, blinker-a-blinking, annoyed that it’s taking the person so long.

I first learnt about this during my early all-day explorations of the city.  I would keep a lot of stuff in my car, and would sometimes go to my car to get something, and then leave the car where it was.  From the perspective of someone seeking out a parking spot, this was a flagrant disregard of the unwritten ‘rules of the road’. 

One day I went to Whole Foods and got some grub for dinner, planning to eat at the tables they have there.  I went back to my car to get the newspaper I had, as the table area was well lit.  It took me about two minutes before I finally got out of the car, when I noticed a Range Rover pulled to the side of the parking lot’s traffic flow, turn signal on.  Taking a quick glance around the parking lot I noticed a few spots open and assumed that the person was waiting to pick someone up, and was being courteous by not taking up an available spot.  As I was squinting at my keys to figure out which one would lock the door, I noticed the Range Rover aggressively peel out and turn into one of the other spaces.

“Hmm” I thought, still more concerned with figuring out which key was which in this dark parking lot.  Finally locking the door, I started to make my way back to the dining area.

“Thanks a lot for telling me you weren’t leaving the spot!” I heard from somewhere, roughly twenty feet away.  Not sure who it was that was talking or where they were talking from or if they were talking to me, I scanned the parking lot until I noticed a lady in her thirties, standing next to the aforementioned SUV.  “I was waiting for it!” she added, this time the anger in her voice giving way a bit to the underlying tremble of sadness and betrayal.

I had ruined this lady’s day.

For a time I thought of making a sign to put on my car.  Since I’m constantly going back to my car to get stuff, or sitting in it and playing guitar, or making phone calls, or just reading, this type of a scenario happens to me all the time.  Maybe if I made a big sign that said “NOT LEAVING PARKING SPOT, SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE” then I would not have to deal with people being upset with me.

The sign, however, in this specific scenario, would not have been necessary.

There I was, having been tailed on a dark backstreet, having just gotten into a car with Connecticut Chris and no weapons, fumbling to find the right key, and some jerk pulls up next to me to scope out my parking spot.  The car pulled the trick where you just pull up along side the car to make sure the person is in fact leaving the spot, a tactic I quite appreciate given the fact that most people falsely assume that I will be.

I turned to look at the car, assuming I’d see a guy with a “you leaving this spot?” expression written all over his face.  But alas, tinted windows.  Tinted windows.  And no lights on.  Like no…headlights on…wait a second!

Turning my head back, it became apparent to me that we were not being tailed by people on foot, as I had just assumed given my experience from times I’ve been tailed in NYC.  No no, this is a car culture, as you may remember from the menu & flyer rant, and when people tail you they will tail you in a car.

For five of the longest seconds in the history of the Earth, the car simply sat next to ours, lights off, windows tinted.  Tinted windows are like a giant pair of sunglasses – it’s impossible to tell what’s going on in the car.  I did my best to stay calm, and just as I started up my engine, the other car pulled ahead across the intersection that was only thirty feet away.

This was good.  The car clearly didn’t see what they were looking for and pulled off to the side of the street on the other side of the intersection.  If they were going to get out of the car and come after us then they had made a mistake, since we could easily peel out past them.  I drove forward and made a right turn at the intersection, so that I wouldn’t have to actually pass the car.  There was just enough lighting on the street so that I could see in my rearview mirror the car pulling a 270 in order to start following us again.  

“OK, they’re following us” I said to Connecticut Chris.

“Just drive normal” said CC.

Yep.  Sure thing, Connecticut Chris.  Just another night of typical driving with a black car with tinted windows and no headlights on following closely behind.  Just another day in Paradise…

Thanks Emo kid, thanks a lot.

 

 

Tune in next Monday to find out what happens!


Chapter 23: The New Roommate

May 11, 2009

What is that?

 

 

What is that?

 

 

When we last left off I had finally met my new roommate, Connecticut Chris.

The two of us had a bond, being from the Northeast of the USA.  Originally hailing from Upstate New York, my sensibilities were very similar to those of Chris.  We both found it odd that the beds in our room had been lined up parallel to each other at a distance of 18 inches, when they could easily have been separated by several feet in a an L-Shape.  We both found it kind of odd that no one had a key for the house.  We both thought it was weird the day a cat tower appeared in the yard, apparently in an attempt to invite the stray cat feel welcome to set up shop on our property.

“Oh, yeah, I thought it was for the birds” said Enrique, the Colombian guy running the house.  His thick accent forced me to ask him to repeat himself three times before I got the image of Grizzly Bears playing with the cat tower out of my head.  It was an equally ridiculous picture with the birds.

“But I guess this is for cat, so I put the frog to keep him away.”

It was instances like these in the preceding three months that required me to write this blog.  I had no one in the house that could see how ridiculous it all was, but now that had all changed.

That’s not to say the ridiculousness ended, however.

That'll keep the cats away...

That'll keep the cats away...

 

In fact, for the first time since I moved in, I was an active participant in the ridiculousness.  This was due to the affinity Connecticut Chris and I had for breaking into a thick New York accent.  While this commonly occurred around the house, the instance that sticks out the most for me is the drive back from Venice Beach on the 405 one evening.  Accompanied by one of the French Canadian girls, we found sanity amidst the nutty traffic by loudly commenting on the surrounding cars like we were in an episode of The Sopranos.  As most cars had their windows down while creeping along at 8 miles per hour, the show we put on was not only for the French Canadian.

The following is a 9-second sample of the transcript from the aforementioned car ride home:

JESSE: Look at this fuckin’ guy!

CHRIS (overlapping): Oh yeah, I got a Mercedes Benz, big deal.

JESSE (overlapping): Big deal.

CHRIS (overlapping): Look at me in my Mercedes Fuckin’ Benz.

JESSE (overlapping): Eh, go fuck yourself.

CHRIS (overlapping): I gotchya Mercedes Benz right here.

JESSE (overlapping): Right fuckin’ here.

This is pretty much the way the entire forty-five minutes on the 405 went.

What was great about CC was his sense of adventure.  If there was a band playing in Hollywood, he was down.  If I got tickets to a Kings game, he was down.  If I made some weird ass vegan food, he was down.

Given the fact that I often make dumb mistakes, and even when I don’t something obnoxious manages to happen anyway, it was a blessing to be around a guy that could just roll with the punches.  The biggest test of this took place after an afternoon hockey game at the Staples Center one Saturday.  Getting out of the game at 3:30pm and having taken the Metro, we were on our way to enjoy the free game of bowling at Lucky Strike that came as part of the Kings’ Stretch Run Pack.  Sweet.

Just before we walked in the door, Chris suggested we double check that the tickets didn’t have an expiration date.  No expiration date, but it turns out they weren’t valid on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Sweet!

Being a champ, Chris was up for my suggestion that we check out a German Beer Garden I had read about online.  I had looked at a map online before the game, and it seemed to be in the general downtown area, so I figured it’d be about a ten, fifteen minute walk.  I had read a review of Wurstkuche on my favorite food blog, and was really pumped to check it out.

“We getting close?” Chris asked after about fifteen minutes of walking.

We weren’t close at all. 

“Seriously, do you know where we’re going?”

“Uh” I joked, “maybe…”

Ten minutes later CC didn’t find this as funny.  I had to assure him that I never joke about stuff like that when I really don’t know what’s going on. 

Ten minutes later I started to worry that I in fact didn’t know what was going on.

En route, however, we were stumbling upon all sorts of gems that Downtown had to offer to the adventurous pedestrian.  I say “stumbling” because we were still pretty hammered from the hockey game, although the longer we walked the more the buzz wore off.  Apparently there is a Hookah Row on 4th Street.  Eleven shops selling hookahs, all on the same side of 4th Street in the same block.  Los Angeles Street had all sorts of cool shops.  Little Tokyo had a giant mall in it, which included an empty ballroom that could probably hold events for over a thousand people.  One of the random buildings had an incredible park, complete with waterfall and amphitheater (I broke out a little Shakespeare, not gonna lie).

I confessed that the place looked a lot closer on the map than it actually was, but assured CC that we would find it.  Until we found it.

Oh, shit.

On the corner of 3rd Street and Traction Ave was a little rink-a-dink building that looked like it had been abandoned.  No sign, no nothing.  The only hope was the door that did not seem to be walled off.

CC could see the panic on my face as I realized I had messed up big time.  I apologized, and was about to suggest we take off when I figured it was worth at least giving it a peek inside…

As much as Connecticut Chris was a trooper, he wasn’t too happy about the forty five minute walk I had taken him on to an empty building, in search of a German Beer Garden I had never actually been to.  I held my breath as I reached for the handle…

Paradise!!!

Paradise!!!

Holy mother of God we hit the jackpot.  Inside was an amazing place that can only be described as a Los Angeles-German Beer Garden.  All my favorite qualities of both.  CC and I spent a solid 5 hours drinking beer and eating food.  Among the many people we talked to at the long, picnic style tables was an Editor that gets to vote in the Academy Awards.  Still sour over the Live Action Short Film Category, I got to give him a piece of my mind and he had to take it.  Stinkin’ Academy…

It was safe to say that the presence of Connecticut Chris was going to have a dramatic increase in the quality of my life.  It was several weeks later that Chris came along with me to an open mic.  As opposed to suffering through it all the way a “good friend” would, he enjoyed it for what it was, asking a few musicians for their myspace info afterwards.

Walking back to my car that was parked a few blocks away, Chris was giving me a run-down of his favorite and least favorite acts.  Adding to something he had said about one of the people he didn’t like so much, I was a bit thrown off when Chris uncharacteristically interrupted me.

“Yo.  I think we’re being tailed.”

My silence said “huh?”

“Yeah dude, we’re being tailed.  How fast can you get into your car?”

I finally came to from the abrupt shift our conversation had taken and realized that we were walking on a dark backstreet in a seedy part of Hollywood, the area that I had heard by far and away the most bad stories about.  I did my best to think clearly.

“Pretty fast, but I have to unlock your door manually.”  I quietly said, trying not to give off a sense of fear or concern.

“Ok.  Ok, that’s fine.  Do you have any weapons in your car?”

“Weapons?”

“Yeah man – a bat, a knife?”

“No” I said.  If I weren’t quite so nervous, I may have been able to hash out a complete sentence:

No, Connecticut Chris, I don’t have a weapon in my car to use against whomever it is that is tailing us.

What.  Is Going.  On.

?

Tune in next week to find out!  In the meantime, a little live action short of my own, based on the trip back from Venice Beach:


Chapter 22: Who Will it Be?

May 4, 2009

When we last left off, I had arrived back to Los Angeles after a 9-day trip including New York City, Upstate New York and Southern Florida.

I was eager and a bit apprehensive to see who my new roommate was.  Walking into my room, I noticed that it had not only been cleaned by the guy running the house, but also rearranged.  My former roommate Jimmy and I had set up a divider between our beds, which where arranged in an “L” shape including a nightstand.  I wouldn’t even know he was there sometimes.  The new arrangement was slightly different.  And by “slightly” I mean “appallingly”.

The beds were now parallel, about 18 inches apart from each other.  As the room itself is only ten feet long, there were four feet in which the beds overlapped.  Depending on which way my new roommate and I chose to sleep, we might be able to give each other a high-five before zonking out.  The pillows were arranged accordingly.

My new roommate was out, so I had some time before I found out who it was I’d be waking up next to for the next however long.  The house was brimming with new characters, all of whom told me that he was a good guy. 

“He’s a really good guy” said Space-Cadet Sharon.

Space-Cadet Sharon acquired her moniker on my second encounter with her.  Coming home from work one night, I opened the door into a completely dark house.  People often ask me how I could possibly live in a house with ten other people, and the answer is simply that everyone is so busy.  Coming home to an empty house with all the lights off was a pretty common thing.  Closing the door behind me, I turned the Living Room light on before I made my way to my room.  As the lights came on, I was for the first time able to see Sharon, sitting on the couch, holding the remote control for the TV.

She looked up at me as though I had just walked in from the kitchen with a snack for the two of us.  “Hey, do you know how to turn on the TV?”

It took me a few seconds to respond as my mind was doing jumping jacks.  The biggest thing I wondered was how long she had been there for.  There’s no doubting that the TV is tricky to turn on with our confusing remote control, but I don’t think that the task is made any easier by doing it with the lights off.

I’d need a second opinion about my new roommate.

“The new guy?  Oh yeah, he’s nice” said Hollywood McGee.

Hollywood McGee acquired his moniker on my first encounter with him.  The first night he moved in we were celebrating Celeste’s first Dancing job with some champagne. I was meeting Hollywood McGee for the first time during this unusual soiree, and thus encountered that peculiar situation in which I was surrounded by lots of people, but no one was listening to my conversation.

“So I understand you’re a singer” said HM

“Uh, yeah, kind of.  I do silly songs with my guitar.”

“Well, I’ll be able to tell you if you’re any good.”  The look of shock on my face was enough of a cue for him to continue on.  “I’ve studied for twelve years, six different genres…”

He went on to drop names like Leon Lett going in for a touchdown.  I sat in wonderment as he explained to me the way that Hollywood works, and how he is positioning himself in it all for success.  Later that night he returned from Subway with a story.

“I must have Hollywood written all over me.”  Taking a cue from my blank stare, he continued on “Yeah…I was at Subway – just wanted to get a sandwich, and the guy across the counter asks me where I’m from, I guess he heard a hint of my Australian accent.  So I said Australia, and he says, ‘did you move here to become a star?’  I pause, not sure what to say, and he says again, ‘you must have moved here to become a star.’  And I said…uh, no.  If what you mean is, am I an actor?  Then, yes.  I’ve done professional work in my country and have moved here to continue on with my career.  Bigger roles will come, and yes, that may eventually lead to fame…but stardom is not necessarily what I’m here for.  I’m here to act.”

My jaw gently placed itself on the floor about halfway through this speech.  It reminded me why monologues are not a wise thing to spend too much time working on, lest you start doing them in real life.  I gathered my wits to try to come up with a response:

“Uh, yeah man.  That’s crazy – I mean, that’s like – whoa.”

“I know, right?  I mean, I know this is Los Angeles and everything, but he can’t say that to everyone.”

The third and final opinion of my new roommate I would seek out came from The Raven.  With a tendency to sit down with a group in the living room and never utter a word, I was always curious as to what this guy’s deal was.  He didn’t hide from everyone, he just never engaged.  I finally got the chance to ask him what he was up to in Los Angeles, and was delighted when a smile came across his face.  All this time no one had ever asked him!  He seemed like such a nice guy, and I was sure his bizarre spatial awareness was the result of some sort of some sort of tumultuous whirling in his mind.  Perhaps a poet?

Quoth the Raven: “I go to raves like every weekend – that’s kind of my thing.”

His mind was whirling all right.  It all made sense.  The hunched over ‘I’m not in my element’ posture, the inability to maintain eye contact for long periods of time, the hilariously large Sandwich he got from the grocery store that it took him three days to finish.

“The new guy?”  I gave it twenty seconds before figuring that the search in his head for who it was I was referring to gave way to a progressive mix of sampled beats and waving glow sticks.

I went to Trader Joe’s to get some food, and upon my return I heard some noise in my room.  I slowly peeked my head in…

Que?

The beautiful French-Canadian girl, a new one, looked up as she went through the backpack that was next to the bed.  This wasn’t exactly who I was expecting,  The only three words I had been provided with were: nice, good, guy.  The third one didn’t match.

“(H)ello.  I am Marieve.  Your roommate, he is letting me to keep my bag here.”

“Oh, hi, I’m Jesse.”

“OK”

This is where I go about unpacking my groceries, not sure what to say.  I went to the kitchen to put some stuff in the refrigerator, and upon my return there was French being spoken in the living room.  Underneath the hawking and spitting that the most romantic of the Romance languages demands, I heard some more noise in my room.  Marieve was now in the living room, so unless it was yet another person keeping his or her bag in my room, then it must be my new roommate.

Walking in, I had the kind of American introduction with Connecticut Chris that you only get at State Colleges.  There was a handshake, a smile, and talk of both sports and music within the first ten minutes.  But before we got to that, I knew things were going to go smoothly based on the first order of business CC brought up.

“Yo.  What’s with the beds being right next to each other?”

This was going to work out just fine…

 


Chapter 21: Questions

April 27, 2009

When we last left off, I had had an enjoyable trip to New York City, in which the Big Apple failed to woo me back to the East Coast.  After a pleasant stay at my Dad’s in Upstate New York,  I went down to Florida for Christmas-in-February.

One evening my oldest brother and I were given the task of getting the drinks for dinner.  It seemed as though Margaritas were going to be a must-have, and some sort of beer to go along with that. 

“Can it make a frozen margarita?”

“Will it be cheaper next door?”

“Will the mix have the Tequila in it?”

“Do we have to buy limes for this beer?”

“Will we need this much?”

“Won’t we need more?”

This is just a sampling of the questions posited by my brother, whose thorough line of questioning struck me as rather odd.  It’s not like he has never asked a question before in his life, but we’re talking about the guy that used to get annoyed by the four year old Christian Malanga for asking the question “Why” so much.  Granted, Christian was only four years old, but it drove my brother nuts that the kid needed need a reason for everything.

“Hey Christian, we’re going to go to the playground.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s fun!”

“Why?”

“Because we get to play on the monkey bars”

“Why?”

“Because we, as humans, have an innate desire to swing from our arms, just like our closest evolutionary relative, the Chimpanzee.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so!”

“Why?”

“Because…damn you, kid!  Quit it with the questions!”

“Why?”

Christian has since graduated from Law School.

It’s been about eleven years since I’ve experienced day-to-day life with my brother, so every time we get together there are new habits or quirks about ourselves that strikes the other as very strange.  I remember my brother asking me why I was stretching so much during the first holiday after I had started to get into yoga.  It was with the same befuddlement that I pointed out to my brother that he was asking a lot of questions.

“Oh.  Yeah.  Thing is, I have twelve people that work for me, so if I don’t ask a ton of questions, most of which sound really stupid, then I’ll be the one that ends up looking dumb.”

All his questioning seems to have paid off.  Amidst this financial crisis, my brother was actually promoted to a brand new position his company invented to adapt to the times.  Shortly after our Christmas he was made Vice President, head of Budgeting, Forecasting and Planning.  I was super stoked when I found out he got this position, as it has always seemed to be a passion of his.  He has been working in accounting for years, which is keeping track of what someone else has already spent.  He would now be focused more on the future, determining what his company should be spending money on (the job is much more complicated than that, this is the “Jesse” version).

To illustrate my brother’s love of budgeting, forecasting and planning, I have a few examples from this very trip.  My brother, sister-in-law, and their two kids drove down to Southern Florida from Atlanta, Georgia.  Including a night in a hotel each way, the trip would be cheaper driving than flying.  During the trip, my sister-in-law was taking lots of pictures with what looked like a pretty high-end camera.  I was a bit thrown off, as my brother had always been the type to go for the least expensive model.

“We were paying for professional photos for Christmas cards and family portraits” my sister-in-law explained.  “They never did a good job, and the kids were never happy about them, so we figured ‘why waste all this money when we can get a professional camera and do it ourselves?’  It turns out we actually save money doing it this way, and we get way better pictures.”

Christian Malanga would be proud.

The final and most indicative example of my brother’s qualification for this job occurred right before the trip was over.  Sitting at his computer, entering data from receipts into Quicken, my other brother asked what he was doing, in a sense asking him why he couldn’t wait to enter this data in until after he got home. 

“The hotel we’ll get on the way home will be dependent on how much we’ve spent so far.  If we were careless, I guess it’ll be Motel Six.  If we stayed on budget, we should be able to get a place with a pool and a decent Continental Breakfast.”

And there you have the new Vice President in charge of Budgeting, Forecasting and Planning.

If there’s one thing I took away from this holiday with my brother, it’s the importance of asking questions.  If you ask a ton of stupid questions, you dramatically decrease the chance that you might look dumb later on.

The question now was what questions should I ask myself?

Well let’s start off with an obvious one, what if my car dies?

My car wouldn’t turn on for the two days before I left for the trip.  Having grown accustomed to the Los Angeles weather, or rather having become a big pansy in regard to the weather, I assumed it must have been that rain storm we had.

“There was like a lot of rain, so it makes sense that my car wouldn’t start for two days.”

I may as well have added “hellah” to this statement.  What kind of nonsense is that…it’s a car for crying out loud.  Having regained my East Coast sensibilities, I figured it would be wise to ask myself what I would do in the case that my car was dead and beyond repair.  I’m at the point where buying a new car is not an option, so that would mean I’d be taking the Metro.

Ah, the Metro.  A system with so much potential and so little success.  You may remember me unknowingly ranting about my issues with the Metro to an actual member of the Governing Council.  My qualms came out of very little actual Riding, so I was sure that if it became my primary mode of transportation that I would have way more.  Given all the wacky things that tend to happen to and around me, I’d even have some crazy stories.  Hell, it’d make a good blog.

Christian Malanga, you saved the day again.

By asking myself what it would be like if my car decided to die on me, I discovered that what could seem like a terrible occurrence in such a car-centric city could in fact be a wondrous opportunity.  There was a part of me that kind of hoped my car wouldn’t start when I got home.

I started asking myself questions in all sorts of ways.  What if all my stuff got stolen?  What if my computer was destroyed?  What if I met Sam Rockwell?  (I know that last one seems random, but he’s the only celebrity I would be worried that I would make an ass of myself if I were to meet).

Questions necessitate answers, and answers tend to decrease the unknown.  I got on a plane after a delightful and refreshing trip with my family, and headed back to see if I’d be embarking on an adventure of public transportation.  “Jesse Rides the Metro (so you don’t have to)”

It starts.

Damn you, 96 Volkswagen Jetta!  I was so pissed at my car for starting that I almost forgot that that was what I was hoping for all along.  It’s been several months now since Christmas-in-February, and my car continues to work, although every now and then it reminds me that it won’t last forever by spontaneously turning off while I’m in traffic. I find these little reminders to be endearing; my little car, reminding me of its mortality.

It thinks it’s being threatening, but little does it know…

 


Chapter 20: Home

April 20, 2009

When we last left off, I had just headed to the airport for my nine-day trip that would include New York City, Upstate New York, and Florida.

I arrived at JFK airport in New York City, and before I could even exit the building my prayers were answered by a cab driver looking for a customer.  I would be taking the subway, but he provided me with a greeting I’d been pining for since the move out West:

“Hey Boss – you want a cab?”

Oh sweet mother of God do I miss being called, and calling other people, “boss”.  It took me a few weeks of strange looks here in Los Angeles before I realized that New York City had it’s own specific usages of the the following words: “Boss” and “Bro”. 

In Los Angeles, the word ‘Bro’ is more or less used by people that go with the flow (ie mooch off of others).  I heard it for the first time when I went to Venice Beach.  “Hey bro, what’s happening”.  My heart started racing as I got ready for what might be a fist-fight with the hippie that started walking along side of me.  Maybe I had accidentally walked on his self-designated property and I should pay him some sort of peace-toll.  Whatever it was, it was clear he had a problem with me, since he called me ‘Bro’. 

But it turns out that ‘Bro’ isn’t fighting words at all in these parts like it is in New York.  It’s not that the hippie didn’t want some money, it’s just that he wasn’t angry with me is all.

In NYC the word ‘Bro’ is used to get the attention of someone that should be expecting to fight.  I’m not sure why, it just seems to be the case.  Tim Clancy always manages to come to the rescue for me in these instances in which I can’t quite explain the “how come”.  If you skip ahead to the 1:56 minute mark you can see what I mean:

 

I’m not one to use the word ‘Bro’ much, but I have always relished the use of the word “Boss”.  I never actually thought about it’s meaning or appropriate usage until I started getting weird faces from it.  So what was it that made me want to call someone boss?  Would I call just anyone boss?

I think it’s safe to say that anyone making six figures will not be called ‘boss’ by anyone in New York City other than his employees.  The word, as far as I can tell, is a term of endearment for your fellow man.  Perhaps it’s similar to the Russian use of the word “Comrade”.  It shows respect to your fellow, equal man.

I would use it when I would go to a bodega, when I would stop at a newspaper stand, or when I’d thank a bus boy for filling my water.  I’d be called it by a cab driver asking me where I was headed, someone letting me know I dropped something in the subway station, or the guy working the make-your-own-salad station.  It has a strange “we’re all in this together” quality about it, in stark contrast to the “I’m planning on punching you in the face” quality that the word ‘bro’ has. 

Why all this nonsense with the Bro and the Boss and the Boss and the Bro?  Because after three months in Los Angeles, being called Boss made me feel like I was home again.

Ah, crap.

You may remember that I went back to NYC when I was just eight days into my Los Angeles experience, under much different circumstances.  I more or less hated LA that time around, and damn near walked to LAX Airport from the center lane of the 110 where my car was firmly stationed, billowing smoke out from under the hood.  The trip back that time was nice, but I got that ‘home’ feeling upon arriving back on the West Coast.

This time around I was a much bigger fan of Los Angeles.  My car had gone from being a menace to being merely a nuisance.  It’s most notable foible in the preceding weeks had been that the trunk stopped opening.  Literally just wouldn’t open.  That ain’t so bad, right?  I just can’t get stuff out of my trunk anymore, ya know?

I was enjoying the clear skies Los Angeles was offering me on a nearly constant basis.  I liked how people would look all frantic, fear in their eyes at word of an approaching two days of rain.  It was like they were talking about the Recession.

I liked my job, which was not waiting tables.  I had met so many cool and interesting people, and these people had become my friends already.  I would go to parties and not wish I was at home.  I was living in the most magical house to ever exist, leading me to believe that I ought to seriously consider spending my life living in communes.  It worked for the hippies, right? (save for a few stragglers that escaped and have been calling me “bro”).

So all this seemed to be immediately erased with the word “boss”.  This one single word got me thinking that perhaps this trip would be a reminder of how much I belong in New York City.  And the trip had barely begun!  I’d be acting the next day, which is my favorite thing to do; I’d be staying in my favorite places, seeing my favorite people and doing my favorite things.  If being called “boss” had this much of an effect on me, chances are the rest of the trip was going to make it very hard to leave.

Turns out I just really, really, really like the word “boss”.

My trip was splendid.  I got to hang with the people I truly miss, eat at the Dosa stand in Washington Square Park, see a movie at the IFC, and get absolutely obliterated at Rudy’s.  I had the best, most meaningful conversations I’d had since moving, with people that have known me for a long time.  But New York, for the first time ever, lost it’s magic for me:

 

Hopping on a train to Upstate New York, it was clear to me that this Los Angeles thing was not just a mistake I’d be learning from.  It wasn’t a place I’d be scoffing at as I drank PBR’s in the East Village.  It wasn’t even a place I was moving strictly for the opportunities it offered.  It was home.

 

PREVIOUS CHAPTER: Crumbling (again)


Chapter 19: Crumbling (again)

April 13, 2009

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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