Chapter 18: Inspiration Meets Action

April 6, 2009

When we last left off, I was in search of inspiration only to find that it was right in front of my eyes.

There’s nothing I find less inspiring than the meeting of two movies.  Or TV shows.  Or genres.  Or bands.  The only meeting of two categories that I find beneficial is that of ice cream flavors.

Now that I’m in Hollywood I hear it all the time: It’s Die Hard meets Harry Met Sally.  It’s MGMT meets Eminem.  It’s The L Word meets Sesame Street. 

When will it end?!

My roommate Jimmy’s pitch of Spinal Tap meets The Muppets was pretty standard, but it was his idea for a modern adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds that I found fascinating.  His version would feature a terrifying flock of a particular creature, but that creature would not be a bird.  Having jogged through North Hollywood Park, I had a newfound appreciation for how ominous Jimmy’s choice of animal was:

The Squirrels.

I was reminded of his movie idea every time I noticed how aggressively social the squirrels are in this town.  So it was with substantially less of a surprise that I reacted to Jimmy’s news one day:

“Dude, I got bit by a fuckin’ squirrel.”

Not putting two and two together, I asked him about the incident as I would had anyone gotten bitten.  “What happened?”

“I was taping this squirrel, right, and then outta nowhere he just fucking attacked me!”

Whoa.  Backtrack.  “You were taping him – like video taping him?”

“Yeah, and the fuckin thing like pounced on me and fuckin bit me.”

“Wait…so you’ve got it on camera?”

Much to my delight, Jimmy had the entire incident on tape.  I was adamant that he put it on YouTube, but he quickly took it down a few hours after posting it because, in his words, “it made me look like a chump.” 

The tape was perfect from the start.  We see the squirrel, distracted from his squirrel-business by the camera man.  We hear the camera man trying to get the attention of the squirrel.  We see the camera man’s foot entering the shot and attempting to nudge the squirrel, perhaps for the sake of creating some action on screen.  We see the squirrel pounce almost directly at the camera, in all it’s pouncing glory, presumably going for the hand holding the camera.  The camera gets shaky and we hear the camera man: “Ah, motha, ah!  Stupid fuckin’ squirrel!”.  The camera finally turns off.

I was in heaven watching this.  Judging by the gash on Jimmy’s hand, the squirrel was successful in his pounce.  Jimmy wanted to make a scary movie about squirrels, and that he did, whether channeling Hitchcock or not.

Careful what you wish for…

Jimmy, like any American that enjoyed partaking in a little smokey-smoke, had another wish come true when he was granted a medicinal marijuana card.  I’m not well versed on the law when it comes to this subject, but the basic idea of a medical marijuana card is that you must have some sort of chronic pain in order to get a prescription for the chronic.  For Jimmy it was headaches.  Yep.  Headaches.

What was for Jimmy an occasional dabble became a regular routine.  As I sat down with my newspaper, coffee, and bowl of bran cereal with sliced banana, Jimmy was having his “morning bowl of Weedies”.

At first it was something that was done outside of the house and off the property.  I remember walking out to get something I had left in my car, which was parked on the street.  A bit groggy, I wasn’t sure exactly where the “hey bro” came from.  Turning a 360, I stopped a quarter of the way when I saw Jimmy sitting calmly in his street-parked truck, eyes glazed, with no indication that he planned on turning it on and/or going anywhere in it.  Jimmy’s nod confirmed that it was in fact he who was speaking to me.  The first time it happened I was a bit confused, but it quickly made sense.  Just as my car served as the occasional rehearsal room, Jimmy’s truck would often double as a smoking lounge.  I nodded back and continued on out to my car, nodding once again on my way back to the house.

But as time went on, Jimmy moved it into the front yard, and eventually the porch, and eventually the bedroom.  Jimmy was not a disrespectful guy, he just had more and more time to walk through the logic of it all.  It’s legal to have it, legal to smoke it, and legal to grow it.  What’s the problem having it in the house?  It is, after all, prescribed by a doctor!

There’s really no arguing that.  I know this because I was trying to make a case when I took Jimmy to my favorite coffee shop.  I had been so excited to bring Jimmy along to the Amsterdam Café on Magnolia, where you could get hookahs and sit out on the back patio.

Careful what you wish for…

After a few minutes with the hookah, Jimmy deduced that it must be OK to light up some Mary Jane.  “Dude, a doctor wrote me a prescription for it!”  How do I argue with that?  Having successfully sold Jimmy on the phenomenon that is the hookah, he was eager to see what it’d be like to smoke some of his medicine out of the contraption we were renting.  For those of you that follow my music career, you’ll remember that Amsterdam Café is where I had my first gig.  So it was with creeping anxiety that I tried to persuade Jimmy to hold off on the medication.  But alas, out walked Mos, the extremely wonderful owner of the establishment.  Jimmy being a very social guy, we ended up conversing for several minutes.  I remember the exact moment Mos realized what scent was in the air.

This was more or less the end of my days at Amsterdam Café.  Mos didn’t call us out, but I wasn’t really able to feel comfortable there anymore.  This was rather unfortunate for me, given that the gig was only a week away.

Although I’ve been writing and playing music for over a decade, this was one of the few times anyone had offered me a show.  I was going to be opening for two formidable acts, Eddie Gomez and Hello, I’m Chris.  I was assured by Mos that Chris attracted a big crowd, and that the last time he played there the place was packed.  I did my best to tell everyone and put a lot of thought into the set I was going to play.  Then the day came…

Ah jeez was I nervous!  I had told damn near every one of my friends, some old some new.  I sent out emails in multiple installments, determined to get a big crowd for what I was convinced would be an incredible show.

Careful what you wish for…

I had forgotten to account for the most important factor of my show: it was taking place in the Los Angeles area.  Oh yes, there’s lots of people in this town, and they’re all into the arts.  But they also have twenty other people that invited them to something and they’re extremely tired and they don’t feel like driving and they don’t live in the Valley.   And this is ironically the exact reason I love living in this town…

Were I to live in Lincoln, Nebraska, I could send out a bunch of emails and expect people to show up.  Roanoke, Virginia?  Sure thing people would make it out.  Austin, Texas?  Hell, even with everything going on there’re still plenty of people with nothing to do there.

This was a reality I already knew about Los Angeles, but for some reason did not allow myself to remember when I pumped myself up for the show.  I stalled the show for fifteen minutes, convinced that there were more people on the way that were held up in traffic.  Thus far: one of my coworkers, my good friends and neighbors Eric and Kelly, and a handful of people that were there for the main act. 

The crowd was so much bigger in my head.  Jimmy had promised me he was going to round up the housemates and make it to the show, and I was really hoping he would follow through.

Careful what you wish for…

With more than half of my set done, a crew of five of my housemates finally arrived, rounded up by the very reliable yet not particularly punctual Jimmy.  I finished the song I was playing and began what was to be a shout out to Jimmy.  As I started to speak I was cut off by Jimmy’s holler:

“Jesse Gavin’s a faggot!”  Jimmy’s wasn’t looking directly at me when he yelled it, but turned afterwards with a mischievous grin to make sure I knew it was him. 

Well, alright.  On to the next song…

I finished my rather stifled set and said some hello’s before the next act started.  Towards the end of the Eddie Gomez set and well into the Hello, I’m Chris set, my group of housemates, all of whom seemed to be under some sort of influence, seemed to have mistaken this small coffee house for a Frat Party.  There’s a slew of differences between the two, but what stuck out the most was the loud talking.  Some circles, including the coffee shop circles, would call it “shouting”.

This did not go unnoticed.

After the show was done I thanked Mos and Chris Hawley for the opportunity and hung out with my neighbors.  I felt myself in that detached mode where I was amongst those having fun but couldn’t quite cut loose myself.  Something was eating away at me.  I’d been spending all this time in Los Angeles pursuing the music scene, and this seemed to be the culmination of the two months I’d been there.  But was that what I wanted to do?

I had planned to meet up with my housemates out at a bar, but it turns out they got distracted by the wavy lines following their hands when they moved them, and were still hanging out at home.  I walked in to a warm reception.  Jimmy was in the living room practicing soccer moves in the 12 square feet of floor space.  While he worked on his skills, Jimmy broke down the show for me.

As I listened to Jimmy’s frighteningly articulate assessment of the entire show, including the three songs of mine he had seen, I realized what my issue was and perhaps what the solution was.  All those books on being a professional musician tell you to decide who your audience is.  Like any jerk, I couldn’t help but assume that my music would be that which would bring all audiences across the world together, perhaps bringing world peace or at the very least one of those things where everyone holds hands and sways.

As much as their tardiness and brazenness and noisiness made me a bit uncomfortable, my roommates were a breath of fresh air for me.  And yet they acted like they were at a Frat Party.  Frat Party?  That’s it! 

I need to play Frat Parties.

College kids have two important priorities that would make them the perfect fans: they prioritize partying, and they kind of enjoy thinking.  There’s really no other group of people that do both.  It’s usually one or the other, but with college kids you get the apex.  The intersection of wooh and hmm.  As I was thinking of all this a smile came across my face.  Jimmy had noticed that I had zoned out and wasn’t quite paying attention to his analysis of the show. 

“Jesse.  Hey, Jesse Balls.  Jesse?”

I came to: “Did you just call me ‘Jesse Balls’?”

Jimmy’s signature grin came over his face.  “Ha ha – yeah dude.  Jesse Balls…I am the King of Zingers, bro.”


Chapter 17: Inspiration

March 31, 2009

The New Year was under way and I was eager to tackle Mission Statement 2009.  First things first, I needed to seek out some inspiration.

Thomas Edison once said that “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”  Fortunately for me, Edison didn’t muddy up his quote with any qualifiers or pesky ‘plus or minus’ phrases that are used so often in research and statistical analysis.  I happen to sweat quickly, regularly, and profusely, which leads me to believe that the ‘inspiration’ factor of the equation carries extra weight when it comes to Jesse Gavin, relatively speaking.

I’ve always been one to seek out inspiration, and over the years I have come to believe that the most effective inspiration comes from either people I know, or those that are in the same boat.  As good as Philip Seymour Hoffman may be, his performances pale in comparison to seeing Kira Sternbach on stage, in terms of inspirational value.  If a good friend of mine is a force to be reckoned with (talent-wise), then his or her landing a role and becoming successful is like a major drug binge for me (inspiration-wise).

Hemingway hit the bottle; I hit the off-off-Broadway circuit.

One of my dear friends from New York City, Rachael Hip-Flores, deservedly landed the lead role in a new Web-Series on Strike TV.  Normally the phrase “web-series” makes my skin crawl, as it tends to be industry-speak for “don’t have to pay anyone or waste time with pre-production or create anything of value,” or some slight variation of this basic standard of shaziness (“shazy” – varying degrees of lazy and shady).  Every kid out of film school that doesn’t have enough drive to raise a budget or fill out paperwork quickly learns that he can call himself a producer and/or director when he talks to girls at bars by simply making a web-series.  “The Networks are scouting the Web these days for their new shows” is the sort of phrase that he’d use.

Strike TV, however, was conceived during the Writer’s Strike to give creative control back to the ones wielding the pen.  Consequently, a lot of carefully thought out, respectable productions found funding based on Strike TV’s challenge to members of the Writer’s Guild: “create original programs for the Internet and we will provide you with a website and ad revenue.”

I was thrilled to find out that Rachael landed a choice role in a series written by Susan Miller, whose credits include The L Word and Thirtysomething.  The series is called Anyone But Me, and focuses on “a new generation searching for love and belonging in the post 9/11 age.”  Rachael plays a sixteen year-old girl who faces the culture shock of moving from New York City to the suburbs.  We see her have to say goodbye to her girlfriend in Episode 1, introducing a side of her that she has yet to really tell anyone about in her new home, her sexual preference.

Ah, the suburbs.  They just don’t invite anything out of the norm.

A few days into New Year’s I was still hungry for inspiration, and a notice popped in my Facebook about the latest Episode being available online.  Sweet!  I brought up the site, selected the new episode, and maximized the screen.  As I was doing this, my roommate Jimmy moseyed in from wandering out and about and asked what I was watching.

“My friend back in New York got a lead role in a web-series…did you want to watch?”

“Yeah man, fire it up.”

I started to play Episode 4, and popping up onto my screen were two scantily clad female teenagers under the sheets, gazing amorously in each other’s eyes.  The scene lasts about a 60 seconds, and before it was halfway through, Jimmy interjected:

“Dude.  I swear to God.  I wrote a scene JUST like this before.  I mean, like, EXACTLY like this.  Back when I was in film school…” – Jimmy began a tangent about film school, and I ended up pausing the episode.  In general I like to focus on what it is I’m watching, and Jimmy seemed like he had switched gears from watching the show to telling a story, so I paused and gave him my attention.

When he was done, he sat back on his bed and grabbed his laptop.  I started the Episode again, from the top so that I wouldn’t lose any of the flow of the writing.  I was fifteen seconds in when I heard Jimmy get up from the other side of the divider.

“Dude, I’ve seriously written like…Fifty scenes – EXACTLY like this.  Like two chicks hanging out, you know…”

After a third attempt to watch the Episode, I realized that I would have to wait until Jimmy was not around.  Unbeknownst to me, Jimmy had apparently penned quite a few scenarios that involved two young girls lying in bed with very little clothing on.  I wasn’t able to read any of his work, but I suspect their function fell more under the category of “gratuitous” than the scene from Anyone But Me, which could best be described as “heart warming”.

The preceding three episodes set the stage for this intimate reunion of Aster and Vivian, as the latter’s move to the suburbs had placed her in a setting way out of her comfort zone.  We get to see Vivian truly relaxed and at peace, in stark contrast to the anxiety induced by her fish-out-of-water predicament.  The scene further builds the relationship with Aster, something we really only got to see over cell phone calls and text messages.

Jimmy didn’t have to watch the first three episodes, however, to see the most brilliant aspect of the scene: the teenage girls in bed.  He was able to relish in the knowledge that he had already thought of this long before Susan Miller.  In this industry, however, enjoyment quickly gives way to that nagging regret: why didn’t I shoot my stuff when I had the chance?  Here it could have been Jimmy directing the scene instead of Tina Cesa Ward.  Maybe there could have been an additional make-out sequence?

It was at this moment that I was reminded that the best and most important inspiration in the world was not going to come from Philip Seymour Hoffman or even Kira Sternbach, but from the real life characters I have the chance to experience if I get my head out of the laptop (as I wrote this, I took a quick look around the Coffee Shop and it’s just a bunch of writers on laptops, so maybe this is one of those rare exceptions).

When people ask me why I want to be an actor, I always think of Dale the Dishwasher.  My first job at age fifteen was scrubbing pots and pans in an upscale Italian joint (where I met the infamous Bucci).  Although we shared the same duties, Dale was my senior by a solid twenty years.  Having grown up in the suburbs (much like the area Vivian loathes so much), I wasn’t accustomed to those that made their way through life on minimum wage.  At first I thought of Dale as, I regret to say, a bit of a joke.  He was the sort of guy we made fun of in High School or on Hockey trips.

I remember asking him out of the blue one day, for fun, “hey Dale, you ever been hit by a train?”  He spent a solid seven seconds reflecting before his definitively doofy response, “duh…nope!”.  I wish I could say he didn’t precede most of his regularly incomplete sentences with the word ‘duh,’ but let’s just say I no longer view the creator of the Goofy character as a man with an impressive imagination.

The truly defining moment for me was the day Dale started asking me questions.  It was during some down time on a Tuesday shift, and he had a grounded energy about him that led me to believe he wasn’t hung over (this is the man that would hold his arms out and shout “gimme” when cases of beer were carted by).  He asked me about school, what subjects I was taking, what I like, what I didn’t like.  He asked about my family, how my (previously employed there) brother was doing and asked that I say hello for him. 

As silly as this sounds, this is the day Dale became a real person to me.  I started to learn more and more about him.  He lived with his mom, who was sick.  He had moved in to take care of her, after his father had died.  I saw him one time taking a walk with someone, and asked him the next day at work.  “Oh yeah, that’s my buddy Larry”.  The fact that the guy was named Larry was hilarious, but I was more moved by what I could sense was his life-long friendship with this guy.  They drank beer and probably went to strip clubs when possible (I know what you were thinking there with that Larry part, but Dale was all about the ladies, just ask the flummoxed waitresses).

This was the beginning of my love affair with people.  I’m not saying I had a love affair with Dale, I mean, what would Larry think?  But Dale was the first person I ever moved past the stereotype of.  He was just a regular guy like me that lived a different life.

One of my biggest fears of moving to Los Angeles would be that I would be around lots of fake people.  But there’s no such thing as a fake person!  That’s the best part.  It might get kind of boring being around a lot of Hollywood-types, but I was fortunate to find a house with all sorts of wacky characters.  None take the cake more than my roommate Jimmy.

Jimmy has easily been my best friend since moving to Los Angeles.  Hailing from Upstate New York, we have a very similar outlook on the world.  He’s a wake-with-the-sun sort of a guy, and likes to wander.  He likes hockey, grilling, and movies.

There were two fundamental differences, however, between Jimmy and I.  These didn’t cause any tension, but rather served as defining factors for our experiences.  The first was that Hollywood was not Jimmy’s place.  I would have given anything to have lived with this guy in Colorado or Hawaii, but Los Angeles isn’t his thing.  He moved out to pursue work in film production, but his heart was in it.  He wanted to direct.  The second difference was further exaggerated by California’s medical code regarding glaucoma and the like.  Jimmy gets headaches, see.  So Jimmy gets medicine.  It’s not that he couldn’t get this medicine elsewhere, just not from state approved dispensaries.  He’d have to get it from the street corner.

Jimmy didn’t dig Los Angeles.  Jimmy got stoned.

And thus we begin the Jimmy Chronicles: Jesse’s first time moving past the stereotype of a stoner.

Thomas Edison: I’ve got some sweating to do.

 

PREVIOUS CHAPTER: Mission Statement 2009

NEXT CHAPTER: Inspiration Meets Action


Chapter 16: Mission Statement 2009

March 23, 2009

Before I got sidetracked into a three week long explanation of how I started going to the gym again, I was recounting the moment on the front porch when I decided I would fight to stay in the crazy house I’d been living in for six weeks.

As you may recall, the incident with the police on Christmas morning started a chain reaction that looked like it would lead to the demise of the household.  After going to the gym (cue workout montage), I sent Andre a text message asking what was going on with the house, with a clear statement of my wish to stay put.

“Ja Ja, I’m going to keep the house” was the text message I received back.

Oh.

Jeez, that’s it.  Now you know why I went onto a three week long detour; there wasn’t much of a payoff to the story.  A simple text message let me know that I could stay where I was and not have to worry about the nightmare of finding a new place to live or, even worse, changing my address.

The New Year was approaching and I had composed ‘Mission Statement 2009’, which was to be read every morning to keep me on track.  Now I know what you’re wondering, “what does this kid think he’s Tom Cruise or something?”  If you weren’t wondering that, then forgive my presumption.  If you were, then the rest of this blog is for you. 

I read about a study that found that the average time it took before people started breaking their New Year’s Resolutions was 23 days.  As it is a Mean and not a Median, those that stick to their Resolutions for the entire year weigh pretty heavily into the conclusion, leading me to believe that the typical amount of time is about two weeks, unless some people were straight up honest and reported times such as 27 minutes (NYE Brunch is quite the temptation).

For me, this is reason enough to dismiss the concept of New Year’s Resolutions as being nothing but a marketing ploy that was, not necessarily created, but certainly perpetuated by, Gyms and Book Clubs looking to sell memberships.  My co-workers at the station had declared 2009 to be “The Year of Action”, and I thought this year called for something more than my usual list of “Goals”, which is an indirect and watered down euphemism for “Resolutions”.

The thing about “Missions” is that they tend to get accomplished.  Have you ever heard someone say “Resolution Accomplished”?  At best your goals will be “reached”.  I don’t know about you, but that particular verb seems kind of childish and needy to me.  To explain:

Pretty lame, right?  Even if you reach said object (or goal), you looked all awkward and gawky in the process. 

Now “accomplished”, that’s a verb that can lead to a victory lap peppered with high-fives and potential sponsors.  People “slip” on their resolutions and “fail to meet” their goals.  Missions?  If they’re not accomplished, then them mo’fo’s are “aborted”.  That’s not a verb you just throw around, and I think both Pro-Lifers and Pro-Choicers would agree with me there (is this the common ground they’ve been looking for?).

Missions are badass, and 2009 is the year of action.  So consequently I drafted Mission Statement 2009.  As you may know from watching the many movies about missions (as opposed to the few movies that exist about resolutions or goals), there is always some sort of “human” element.  It’s not just about finding the treasure or saving the Queen, it’s also about making a connection with people.

So my Mission Statement included several such elements, most notably the following: OPERATION HOLIDAY.

Holidays have become the bane of my existence.  The majority of my generation has to deal with the juggling act of separated parents, in which every holiday doubles in quantity of locales.  Over the years my family expanded geographically to further complicate the task of holiday get-togethers.  But the final nail in the coffin for my holiday go-get-em cheer was my first Easter in New York City.

I had missed my first Thanksgiving just six months earlier.  I was scheduled for the evening shift, and was unable to find anyone to cover for me.  As an actor, I was constantly trading shifts with fellow employees in order to be able to make the slew of last minute auditions that pop up.  Since I couldn’t get rid of my shift, I figured I may as well help someone else out by taking their day shift and working a double.  The horrible irony of that wondrous day was that we closed before my night shift would have even began as it became clear that no one was going to be coming in for dinner that night. 

Sweet!

I worked Christmas Eve and was able to spend a short two days at my Dad’s just three hours north of the city, the trip being book-ended by crowded Amtrak rides.  I worked the 6:15am shift on New Year’s Eve, and didn’t get to start my Saint Patty’s Day celebration until 1am.  They ironically gave me the one holiday off I never have any use for, Valentine’s Day (take that, Hallmark!).

All these shifts tended to be return-favors for people covering for me.  I learned quickly that the only way I was going to get off when I needed to was if I made it up to people in a big way.  Easter was coming up and I was once again in a situation where there was no way I’d be able to off my night shift: 5:30pm to close.  Feeling a healthy mix of caring and cynical, I suggested to my good buddy Eric Saez that I take his shift on Easter morning so that he could enjoy it like a proper human being.  He protested, but I insisted that there was no way I’d be able to make it up to my Dad’s anyway.

The one catch, however, was that he was scheduled for the 6:15am shift, which normally gets off at about 2:30pm.  I assumed someone would be willing to switch so that my double would be a bit more reasonable, but alas, no one would budge and I was stuck with the 6:15am shift and a nice three hour break.  A bit of a bummer, but at the same time I was happy I could do the favor for Eric, a relentlessly generous and thoughtful fellow.  In fact, it was probably better this way as the three hour break would give me an opportunity to call family and whatnot.

If I already had a sour taste in my mouth for holidays, the two people that decided not to show up for work that day poured some soured milk into my already too tart glass of lemon juice.  My day sucked.

Showing up at 6:15am, I got a net total of 15 minutes off my feet before my shift ended at 11:30pm.  That three hour break kind of took a back seat to our persistent flow of customers.  As I finished my side work at the end of the night, I began what promised to be a lifelong habit of muttering to myself.  Yes, this is normally reserved for alcoholics and crazy people, but it was the only way I could keep my sanity (?).  Instead of my usual stroll home down 34th Street, I waited for the Crosstown Bus, unable to muster up any more strength for the night.

My muttering generally consisted of the following thoughts divided into nonsensical fragments much like the character of Lucky in “Waiting for Godot”:

– I’m done with this city

– I’m quitting acting for good

It was amidst this muttering that I looked out the window at stupid thirty fourth street.  I normally liked this street so much, especially because of the Empire State Building in all its glorious enormity.  But now thirty-fourth street was just stupid.  Stupid and dirty.  Stinkin’ American Eagle store.  Stupid apartment building.  Dumb elephant walking the other way.  Idiotic sidewalks with their…wait…

Elephant?

I snapped out of my newfound state of maniacal muttering and focused my eyes on the line of elephants walking the other way.  This was one of my many ‘New York Moments’, in which I decide I love New York City despite how much it has been kicking me when I’m down.  I decided that this was just another wacky day in my wacky life, and I had to keep truckin’ on.

But in the act of truckin’ on, I had to make peace with the futility of celebrating holidays.  And so began an era of holiday humbug.  I couldn’t help but think that the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a delightful tale of sensibility up until the end when the hero of the story sells out to contrived gaiety driven by commercialism.  But in sharing my analysis with other people I began to suspect that my outlook on holidays was a bit unhealthy.

Mission Statement 2009 set out to rectify this problem:

“Every Holiday this year, I will take the day off and celebrate it with people.  If this means booking an expensive flight or risking my job, so be it – you only live once.”

This is without a doubt the scariest and hardest part of my Mission Statement.  But what Mission doesn’t have a good challenge, right?

First up was New Year’s Eve itself, since the post-midnight section was technically part of 2009.  I went to a gathering and had fun like a normal person, getting home at 4 in the morning (having only imbibed one drink, I would be safe unless the cops tested for Blood Mirth Content).  

The next day I woke up at 9am, eager to begin my mission.  The first thing I did was walk to get a newspaper from the Lankershim Food Mart, the closest thing this town has to a bodega.  I engaged in the standard banter with the guy behind the counter, asking him about his New Year’s.  After telling me about his quiet night at home he followed up with:

“I visited my wife in the hospital this morning.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, what happened”

“She’s in a coma.”

“Oh God, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s been six years.  But, you know, I still have her.  But it reminds me how lucky we all are to be healthy and to be alive.  We must be happy and appreciate the people we have.”

Well shit, guy across the counter, that’s just what I needed to hear.  Commence Mission Statement 2009, OPERATION HOLIDAY.


Chapter 15: The Gym – Part 3

March 16, 2009

I was in the gym locker room yesterday, brushing my teeth after a hard workout.

“You’re not doing yourself any favors.”

I slowly turned to the right, unsure of whether or not the comment was directed at me.  Sure enough, standing five feet away from me was a stout, spectacled fellow of about forty five years, his attention firmly focused on my brushing technique.  He took the cue to continue from what I’m sure was a dumbfounded look on my face.

“I know you think you’re doing a good job, creating all that foam, but it’s not doing much of anything.”

“Oh” I began, searching for the right words, “uh, what is the, uh…?”

“What you wanna do is brush the gums at a forty five degree angle, you’re gonna get the teeth in the process.”

I do my best to execute this approach, with an “is this right?” look on my face.

“You’ve gotta take it easy, you’re still brushing far too hard.  I mean the way you were brushing before was ridiculous.  Way too abrasive.”  Perhaps thinking he had offended me, he added “I mean, I don’t mean to…”

“No it’s fine, no one ever really taught me how to brush my teeth, so…”

Confirming my suspicion, he followed up with: “I always tell my patients, brush the gums at a forty five degree angle.”  Further adding, “But I’ve gotta take my hat off to you, you were really brushing away..I mean, Jeez!”

This was his exit line, which he couldn’t help but say with the chuckle he’d obviously been repressing.  During the entire conversation he was standing right where the counter of sinks ends and the hallway leading to the weight room begins.  He was obviously on his way to work out when my amusingly appalling brushing-technique forced him to make a pit stop.  As he exited I did my best to show my gratitude with a  “thank you”.  I continued brushing, pleased with the free-yet-unsolicited Dental Consultation I had received.

Now you’ll notice in this story that I was in fact the person that was being laughed at, not vice versa.  I got a membership to LA Fitness back in November, and something has been different this time around.

In “The Gym: Part Two”, I talked about my neurological disorder.  It’s some shit.  I had a major episode this past summer, one that made me realize that I needed to step up and do something about it or it would forever mess with my life.  Just like the first time it happened to me when was nine years old, I compressed the radial nerve (much like my grandfather had in World War II).  I woke up the morning of my first rehearsal for “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and it became apparent that the physical comedy that Billy Shakespeare called for would be pretty tough to pull off if I couldn’t even open my left hand.  I dropped out of the play and took a few weeks off to visit family and think about what the heck I could do to solve this life-long problem.

In my last post, however, I referred to the disorder as a blessing.  Not only was it the reason I was alive (as I pointed out in capital letters), but the disorder always seemed to hit when I was not taking care of myself.  In the months leading up to this particular episode, I wasn’t sleeping much, I was carrying tons of stuff with me every day, using a one-strap bag as opposed to a nifty two strap backpack with the strap in front, and I was stressed out in general, trying to accomplish far too many things.

So taking care of myself would be important.  Yada yada.  What the hell does that even mean?  Most people I know that take care of themselves need a slap upside the head.  “Get a job!  Life ain’t a Spa Retreat!”  How do you pay rent AND take care of yourself (ah, the capital letters come back into play).  This was the conundrum that I would be ruminating over during my time away from the city.

Something that had occurred to me a few years earlier was that repetitive motions are very dangerous.  In general they’re not good for you, but with my compression disorder the negative effects are exaggerated.  For my grandfather, training as a sniper included putting compression on the same area of his arm day after day, which ultimately led to his episode.  For me, doing the same weightlifting exercises week after week have taken their toll on me, especially in my legs.  Yoga?  Same thing.  But therein lies the “damned if you do” motif: being in shape helps my body stay healthy and strong, decreasing the amount of compression I’m likely to put on my body, whereas working out generally requires you do the same kind of things week after week, increasing the compression I’m putting on specific areas of my body.

Sheesh!

What had occurred to me a few years back was that in an ideal world, I’d exercise regularly but in as many different ways as possible.  I wouldn’t do the same repetitive motions as often, and I’d stay strong and healthy.

Ah!  But there’s the elephant in the room.  The elephant in the room that reached into my back pocket with its trunk and ate all my money.  Stinkin’ elephant!

Anything that’s going to get you in shape is going to cost you a ton of money.  The only hope you usually have is unlimited passes or regular member discounts, although the best way to go is doing it at home.  But once you’ve invested in a DVD or some sort of machine, you’re kind of limited as to your options.

“Well, I bought this stair climber.  It’d be pretty idiotic and irresponsible to work out in any other way.”

This is why year after year I was doing the same things over and over.  The cheapest gym would have the least amount of equipment, locking you into the same exercise routines.  I got a yoga mat and a DVD – damned if I was going to pay 12 dollars per session.  Not to mention, all of these options include no guidance whatsoever as to the proper use of your body, which can make you prone to some pretty serious injuries.  One of the only ways to provide that is:

The personal trainer!

Ah crap, like I’m going to be able to prevent myself from laughing at Gerald, the Personal Fitness Consultant, let alone afford him.

It was during my 3-Day Trial membership at LA Fitness that it all came together.  A few of my housemates go there, so I tagged along with the Guest Pass.  I walked into the door and before I could blink my eyes I was sitting at the sales desk, being pressured to sign up for a membership by a glossy lady with a penchant for High Fives.

“Well, I’d just like to work out for the three days and see how I like it.”

“You’re awesome, Jesse!” she replied rather matter-of-factly, initiating the third of what would be seven High Fives during my visit.  I was tempted to ask what it was about me that she found so awesome, but refrained as I suspected the explanation would necessitate an onslaught of “up-tops” (three was already way beyond my limit, given my state of sobriety).

I finally freed myself from the (high-fiving) iron claw of the Sales Desk and headed towards the weight room.  It’d been many years since I’d lifted weights, so I was pretty excited to be back in an environment I spent so much time in during previous years of my life.  I maintained full stride as I checked my pectoral-to-rib-cage alignment, but something in my peripheral vision caught my attention…a yoga class.

Hmm.

I’d heard of this before.  Living in New York City, the only gym that was even close to affordable had the bare essentials when it came to equipment.  In Manhattan you don’t just go dedicating space for people to stretch out unless you’re charging them a pretty penny.  But the concept wasn’t completely foreign to me: classes offered at the gym.

I wandered over to the doorway and noticed a schedule posted.  Whoa.  Lots of classes.  Aqua fit?  Don’t you need a pool for that?  They had a pool.  Ah jeez, I thought, this place must be expensive.  But I quickly remembered what Andre told me he paid and how it didn’t seem so bad (35/month), and all of a sudden it occurred to me that this varied workout plan I had always dreamed of might just be possible.  Space is not as hard to come by in Los Angeles, nor are fitness experts.  The teachers at these places were likely to be very qualified, so I’d be in good hands in terms of using my body properly.

Hmm.

That’s when I rack-focused to the classroom itself, which was in plain view of the rest of the gym via the giant windows.  What began as giddy, boyish excitement abruptly transitioned into stark, cold reality.

A roomful of attractive women save for the one effeminate man with a tucked in sleeveless shirt and matching headband.  I thought of all the movies in which men dress up as women and do womanly things.  Tootsie.  Mrs. Doubtfire.  White Chicks featuring the Wayans Brothers.  It always seemed to be so enjoyable for those characters to find themselves in close proximity to lots of women without any men around.  This could be that exact kind of situation except for the fact that I wouldn’t be in disguise, and there’d be giant windows that every guy that walked by would be looking through.

So there was one little wrinkle in my ingenious plan to keep my nervous system healthy.  It’d be the most emasculating thing I’d ever do.  Countless guys would walk be sneaking glances of the pretty girls in Kickboxing Class, only to see me, front and center, hopefully without a head band on, kicking away.  What would they say?  Would it be monosyllabic?  Would it contain the word “Mary”?

I can only imagine the laughter I have induced for the many meatheads that work out at the seven different locations of LA Fitness I go to.  I’m happy to report that I high-fived glossy lady and got myself a membership, initiation fee waived.  I mix it up as much as I can, mainly taking classes but supplementing it with the weight room.  My nervous system has never felt healthier, and I’ve never enjoyed working out more.  But more important than that, I don’t have to live in the constant fear of laughing at a meathead and dealing with the subsequent altercation it provokes.  No, no, this isn’t a problem for me at all anymore…

They laugh at me. 


Chapter 14: The Gym – Part 2

March 9, 2009

When we last left off, I was in what would be my last visit to the gym for four years. In an attempt to keep myself from laughing at all the ridiculousness around me, I allowed the cacophony of grunts and growls to blend into one, blurry state of noise.  This way I wouldn’t laugh at any of the intimidating meatheads around me, and I’d be able to make it out of the gym in one piece.  I had faced quite a few challenges, but found my state of Zen as I attempted my tenth and final repetition on the isolated bench for bicep curls.  But then it happened…

Into focus walked a concerned and helpful meathead who must seen my previous repetition and thought that I needed a spot. 

“I gotcha!  C’mon.  Push it.  Push it!”

I finished my last rep without any actual help, unless you counted the verbal support.  But apparently this guy thought I needed more than just a spot.  He must have saw room for improvement, thinking to himself “that guy’s biceps aren’t as developed as they should be”.

“You got two more!”

“I’m just doing ten, thanks man” I informed as I started to bring the bar back down to the rack.

“No man!  Two more.  TWO MORE!  You got it, boss.  C’mon, push it!”

At this point I have no choice but to channel the laughter into my biceps, preventing as ass whooping and instead achieving two extra reps that I truly didn’t believe I had in me.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” he exclaimed as he shook my hand afterwards.  “I knew you had it.  I’m Brad”

I’m about to burst.  “Jesse”.

“Hey, can you give me a spot over here?”

Oh sweet Jesus this is what’s going on.  So there I am, spotting Brad, when I reach the end of my rope.  What was it that put me over the edge?  Here I am spotting Brad, who has apparently confused his chest for a trampoline as he does the bench press, when I hear something that topples any self restraint I have.

If you, the reader, were in front of me, I would pinky-swear that I am not exaggerating this.  Coming from a large guy two bench presses away from me, I hear this:

The only thing that can describe what I heard, and what you just heard if you played the video, is an orgasmic scream.  I was in complete shock as I started to wonder if every bench in the gym is more contaminated than the sheets of a run down Motel 6, practically paralyzed at this point with a state of mind that could only be described as Twilight-Zone-ish.

“aggh.mmmm…bro…BRO!”  I look down and there is Brad, beet red with two hundred and thirty five pounds lying on his rib cage.

Oh shit.

I reach over and start to pull up the bar, most likely giving him the same treatment I got from the moisturizing gentleman in the locker room, struggling for a bit before we both lift it up.

“What the fuck, bro?” cries Brad after fifteen seconds of hyperventilation.

What do you say in this situation?  How do you start your explanation?  What could smooth things over with Brad?

Certainly not the burst of maniacal laughter that came out of my mouth.  The worst part was that I was actually trying to explain myself, so I maintained eye contact with Brad as I just laughed and laughed, right in his face.  I finally hit the point where I realized I had messed up, and needed an exit strategy.  What nifty escape technique did I use?  I just said, “I gotta go, sorry”.  Then I turned around and walked away.  Hmm.  This probably wasn’t the most clever approach, but I didn’t look back to see how it worked.

I rushed to the locker room, got my stuff, and got the hell out of there, laughing all the way.  As I was walking out the door, Vinnie (my friend from middle school) asked me if I wanted to renew my membership.  I tried to tell him “no” but I just looked at him and laughed. 

I was finally on 49th Street.  Freedom!  Fresh air…

I booked it home, worried that if I looked back there’d be a pack of guys in ribbed A-Shirts hobbling down Eighth Ave.  Maybe they’d have pitch forks and torches, maybe they’d have lat-pull-down attachments and protein shakes.  But either way, they’d be hobbling because they were so sore from that extra rep.  If I kept looking forward I’d outpace them.

Safe in my apartment, I decided that maybe that gym membership renewal wasn’t quite worth it.

So I instead walked a lot.  For years and years I’d just walk a few miles a day on top of the walking I already did, living in New York City..  A jog here and there.  Push ups in my room.  Occasional yoga class, the more occasional DVD.  Jumping Jacks in my apartment to get blood flowing.  And I thought I ‘d never go back.

But then the day came…when I DID!

I capitalized “did” because I thought it would be so surprising that it was bound to jolt you.  Who knew that was coming?  Am I right?  Ever get a text message or email that is in all capital letters?  It’s pretty freaky, am I right?

Now that you’ve had time to recover from that curveball of epic proportions, you may be wondering what made me go back to the gym.  To explain, I’ll need to tell a story.  It’s lengthy and wordy, but there will be a jolt of capital letters at the end.  In other words, it will be “worth it”.  (your interest is still not piqued?…it’ll be WORTH IT…you in?…good).

My grandfather, like most men of his generation, was in the Service during World War 2.  While in the Marines his superiors took notice of his accurate shot and decided to train him as a sniper.  Back in the day, the best way to ensure a steady shot was a tight strap wrapped around the middle of the left arm.  He trained for six months until he had earned a sniper’s medal, and was deemed ready to be sent to battle.

About to be shipped out to Okinawa, Japan, he was paid a visit by one of the high-ups in the Marines (I’m sure there’s a title that’s impressive but it’s escaping me).  Walking down the line, this high-up was saluted by each and every Marine, who would present his gun and show that it was unloaded before spinning it around back over his shoulder.

It was my grandfather’s turn and when he went to place the gun back on his shoulder he dropped it. 

“Barnard!  Pick up that gun!”

Frantic, my grandfather picked up his gun and attempted to finish the salute again without dropping it this time, but had little choice in the matter.  That morning, his wrist had gone completely limp.  He had trouble opening his fingers, and extending his arm until it was completely straight seemed unusually difficult.  He dropped the gun again.

Now I’m not a military expert or anything, but I’ve seen enough movies to know that dropping your gun is one of the worst things you can do.  This is the thing that is protecting your life, and you treat it with the utmost respect.  The gun is your best friend.  Now over the years I’ve punched my best friend in the face, stolen his bike, and eaten his food, but never have I just carelessly dropped him on the ground.  My grandfather’s actions were so despicable, he got the impression he was going to be court-martialed.

Something that is curious about war is that people don’t always necessarily want to fight in them.  Even in World War II, perhaps the last time our country was truly unified in our opinion of the mission, there were some people who just didn’t want to go fight and possibly die.  Understandable. 

So here was my grandfather, looking like some kind of yellow, spineless war-dodger.  He underwent a week of psychological profiling along with the more relevant medical testing.  The Marines were informed that he was not in fact trying to squirm out of the war, but was truly unable to move his wrist.  His radial nerve appeared to be damaged.

Years later I would undergo more advanced medical testing, and his story would make a bit more sense.  He had a genetic disorder, which must have been the result of a mutation somewhere along the line in his family.  It results in a deficiency of myelin sheath, the outer coating of nerves.  When a nerve is compressed, myelin sheath acts as a guide in it’s regeneration.  With a deficiency, regeneration gets slowed down big time.  So that strap that was steadying my grandfather’s gun was also compressing his radial nerve, and once it was cut off it would take a solid five months to come back.

It’s similar to multiple sclerosis, except that it isn’t progressive.  In other words, it’s as bad as it’ll ever be.  I got the gene passed down to me, and it seems to affect me more than anyone else in my family.  Over the years I’ve battled with it in six major instances, and a whole bunch of minor ones. 

When I tell people about the disorder, I usually get concerned eyes.  As much as I appreciate the concern, I can’t help but look at this disorder as a blessing.  It always tends to happen to me when I’m not taking care of myself.  So it’s kind of a motivation to take care of myself (which seems to be hard to find these days).

But even better than that: It’s the reason I’M ALIVE.

Holy crap!  What is this kid talking about?  He busted out those capital letters he promised long ago.

When my grandfather was affected by the neurological disorder for the fist and only time, it prevented him from being shipped out to Okinawa, where his entire company was killed within two weeks.  If he didn’t have the neurological disorder, he would’ve been with them, and no doubt would have perished.  Instead he spent four months in physical therapy, and by the time he was ready to go the war was ending.

Ain’t that some shit.

So what does this have to do with going to the gym again?  Good question.  More next week…TUNE IN!

Sorry.  I just figured if I used capitals it’d jolt you enough to want to tune in next week….


Chapter 13: The Gym – Part 1

March 2, 2009

When we last left off, I had just decided I was going to fight to stay in the house I had come to love so much.  I wasn’t going to let one little, or rather five or six relatively large, altercations ruin things.  I was going to fight!

This is the part of the sitcom where an electric guitar cues a montage of me getting rieady to battle.  I guess it doesn’t make sense, but I figure I would be working out at some point.  Fortunately for the filming budget, I already have an LA Fitness membership.

Jesse Gavin?  Going to the gym?   That would either come as no surprise or a total shock to people that know me depending on when I met them.

I had stopped going to the gym five years earlier because, well, I was afraid I was going to get my ass kicked.  It’s not like there was a guy that was out to get me, or that fights break out at the gym a lot, it’s just that I find I’m a real easy target for someone to pick on if I provoke them. 

For example.  I was at a pizza place a few years back with a huge guy standing in front of me, talking to his equally meat headed buddy.

“So yeah, I said fuck it, I’m going out every night this week, ya know what I mean, bro?  Just get hammered and take home chicks.”  He gets his slice and goes to sprinkle on some parmesan, and the cap falls off. 

Now in a situation like this I can’t help but crack a smile.  If I was watching it on television I’d be on the floor laughing.  There’s a mound of parmesan cheese on this guy’s slice and you know it’s not making him happy.  Of all the people for it to happen to in the pizza joint, it has happened to the guy that makes it by far the funniest scenario.  He’s got that befuddled look on his face that says “duh, what just happened,” combined with expanding veins that leave him one trait short of being the Incredible Hulk: green skin tone.

So this guy kind of turns back to see if anyone saw it happen, and there I am with a very subtle grin on my face.

“Hey bro, somethin’ funny?”

This is where I get in trouble.  Now he must know that the pizza place is going to give him another slice; it was, after all, their shaker that had a loose cap.  There are slices already in the oven so it shouldn’t take too long for him to get a new one.   There was no mistake he made on his part that he should be upset or embarrassed about.

But for a meathead, there is nothing more infuriating than someone finding something he did funny.  The only nonverbal thing they do intentionally for laughs is to mime having sex with women.

“I said you think somethin’s funny?”  It’s situations like these that make me think the delivery fee might be worth it.

In this situation I have three options: fight, reason, appease.

If I fight him, he’ll probably win, although there’s that small chance I take him down and everyone looks at me wide eyed.  “Wow, he kicked that guys ass!” they’ll think as I sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese on his slice and walk out the door.

If I reason with him, at best I’ll get him to understand that we’re all human and funny things happen from time to time.  This will take a minimum of two hours to accomplish, and will require a monosyllabic tweak to my all too often overly verbose explanations. 

“No man, sorry.”  I bow my head and wait for him to notice that in his rage he has expanded in size and ripped his jeans and black, ribbed A-Shirt.  By this time his new slice has arrived.

“I’ll take a slice to go.”

Gyms statistically have the densest population of meatheads, slightly edging out Sports Bars and Las Vegas.  So it’s the highest risk location for me to get picked on because I can’t keep a straight face when people are acting ridiculously.

To explain, I will walk you through the last day I went to the gym before going on hiatus: March 12, 2004. 

I walked into the lobby, where I was greeted by Vinnie at the counter with his usual question: “you wanna renew your membership today?….Jesse?”  The dot-dot-dot was for when he looked at my name on the computer screen.  I’m sure he’s got a lot of names to keep track of, but that little glance calls extra attention to how he’s acting like we’ve been friends since middle school.

“Hey Jesse, it’s me!  Vinnie from Genet: 5th grade.  Wanna renew your membership.

This is no big deal, but it sours my mood because I have to have a ninety second to-do every time I wanna work out about how I don’t have my card with me, and then he checks if they have it on file, assuring me they do, and then he finds out that they don’t, which I know because I would never let them keep it on file and I paid for my first six months in cash.

Sheesh, I’m winded already.

I walk into the locker room and the real danger begins. 

The first two bays have naked guys standing proudly with their towels inconveniently wrapped around their shoulders, if at all.  They’re conversing, perhaps comparing.  I walk into the third and final bay, which is empty.  Upon opening a locker, I am joined by the occupant of the locker right next to mine, who has just walked back from the shower. 

Here I am in a delicate situation.  I can easily move down a few lockers, as we’re all aware of the kind of spatial awareness that prompted the 1-3-5 urinal rule.  But by this point I’ve taken my shoes off and put them in the locker.  And if  I move down someone else may come in anyway; it’s a busy midtown Manhattan gym.  And we’re all men, right?  What do we have to be ashamed of?  I’ve showered with naked men plenty of times after hockey games and it was never an issue.  Just as I’ve made the decision to stay where I am, I hear the light thud of a foot hitting the bench.

It was like that part in Jurassic Park.  The water in my water bottle shook, and as I turned my head to look to my left my peripheral vision was fortunately alert enough to whip my neck back to where it started.

I didn’t have to see it straight on.  My peripheral view and the sound effects were plenty.  It was the old “lather my shaved legs with moisturizing cream” stance, one that seems to always be done in the nude by very muscular, tan men. 

Could someone please enter this locker bay so I’m not the only guy here?!!!

I mentioned sound effects.  One is pretty standard; it’s the same you hear when you put on sun tan lotion at the beach.  The other you won’t hear at the beach unless you’re in certain parts of Europe, perhaps watching a spontaneous, spur of the moment jumping-jack contest.

The speed at which he was rubbing the cream into his inner and outer thighs is really only appropriate for starting fires in the wild.  Replace the leg with a stick, and you’re ready for marshmallows….or maybe chestnuts.  Yeah, chestnuts sounds about right.

Now this guy could, and would, easily kick my ass if I started laughing uncontrollably.  I thought I was winded before, now my muscles are completely sore from the counter-tension needed to keep a straight face.  I could just imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t so self-disciplined:

“Yo, bro, you laughing at something?”

“Yeah, your balls slapping against your thighs.”

“What you a fag?”

“No, they’re two feet away from my face, I have no choice but to notice them.”

Then I get beat up by a naked meathead with smooth skin.

Now I understand this guy was probably in a rush.  He was most likely on his lunch break.  And I can deal with the metrosexual thing.  The shaving.  The lathering.  I’m Ok with it; I am.  And people that work out obviously care about how they look enough to want to take these extra steps.  And that might not be my thing, but to each their own.  All I’m saying is how about a “heads up, I’m about to moisturize”?

And one more thing…where is everyone else?  Can I please at least have someone else in this locker bay?

I finally get changed into my workout clothes and enter the gym area.  In my haste, I accidentally left my water bottle in the locker.  I’m pretty sure my next door neighbor is still buck naked and I decide to just go to the water jug instead. 

Challenge two.  Standing in front of the water jug the guy.  Which guy?  Really could be anyone.  But the second he gets that little cone cup in his hand he forgets about everyone else in the world and stands right in front of the dispenser.  He tends to stare off into space or at the girls running on the treadmill, making slight adjustments in his pectoral-to-rib alignment.

Will he move if I begin walking towards the jug?  No.  In fact, he’ll need an audible “excuse me” to move.  I stress audible because I tend to use a library voice in these situations, assuming that the person is aware of their surroundings and knows that you just want to get some water (much like he did, twelve seconds ago).  But no, you’ve got to speak up.  There’s a lot of meat in that head, and no doubt the ear canals had to make some sacrifices to make it all fit in there (Lord knows the neck did it’s part).

But the part that puts me in danger is between my first and second sip of water out of the cone.  Let’s face it, you only get two sips out of those things, despite how long it may take some people to finish it.  It’s in the silence between sips when I realize I am in what is essentially a lounge area for people working out.  And here we are.  Me and this guy.  Will he say something to me?  Will we talk about the weather, or will he ask me what muscle I’m working on today?  Does he have any idea I am even standing there?

All my questions are answered as he once again adjusts the alignment of his pectoral muscles in relation to his ribcage, this time doing a quick flex and release of his biceps.  This man is in a far away land where many scantily clad women are staring in ecstatic wonderment at his chiseled physique.  I throw back my second sip of water and throw out the cup.  Doing my best to not let the water going down my throat trigger the laughing fit I’ve been so carefully suppressing.

Phew.  Close one.

Feeling like I’ve escaped danger, I step out into the minefield that is the weight room.  No Thesaurus could help me explain this part, so, here goes:

The grunting.  The growling.  The sound of weights slamming on the floor, bars bouncing off of ribs, and spinal discs disintegrating into thin air all in the name of that last rep.  How do I not laugh amidst all this?

In a weird way all the nonsense blended into one, static, cacophony of ridiculousness.  I zone it all out much in the way that I coulc zone out street noise on Ninth Avenue when taking a nap during rush hour.  It’s all the blends together…

I was just getting comfortable with this new found state of Zen.  I was working my biceps with the curling bar, sitting on the isolation bench.  The outside world was blurry as I did my ninth rep.  Just one more to go…

Tune in next week for Part 2!


Chapter 12: Moving?

February 23, 2009

My festive Christmas was over and the house was feeling eerily empty.  I started to get the impression that the house was going to be handed back to the landlord and I would have to find a new place to live, so I started to search for a new residence.

There is nothing more painful to me than taking care of practical things.  The day before I went to college I worked my last shift at the restaurant as a line cook, then I went and played an open mic at Café Lena, then I got home and figured it was time to start packing.

Oh sure, I could’ve started packing weeks before.  And I could’ve not worked up until the day before I left.  And I didn’t really have to play that open mic, considering how much time you waste at those things simply waiting around to play your two songs.  I also could’ve kept my room tidy, so that packing didn’t have to begin with clearing open some floor space.  And I even could have thought of printing out directions for the four-hour drive before my mom and I pulled out of the driveway (now you know where I get the trait).

But doing all or any of this would have killed me inside.  It’s not that I don’t like doing practical things; they can be quite enjoyable.  It’s the mindset that comes along with being good at accomplishing simple tasks on a regular basis that I can’t stand.

Every now and then people talk to me about things being “natural”.  It’s natural to do this, or it’s natural to do that.  I normally can’t stand these arguments, because the society that we live in, founded upon the aspiration of civility, couldn’t be further from the natural world.  Go ahead and live like a caveman, see what happens.

But that’s my excuse when it comes to practical chores.  Man oh man, do I whip out the caveman argument.  Cavemen didn’t pack!  They didn’t use mapquest.  Improving this ability to take care of such matters would destroy that part of my brain that is still pure and has yet to be tainted by the reality of living in the 21st Century.

If I ever make this argument, I suggest you resist the urge to counter it and put me in my place.  Sure, my reasoning is flimsy and can easily be torn to shreds.  But I always carry a large club with me in case such a confrontation occurs and I need to take care of business, caveman-style.  And I found it in the woods, so it’s natural (although the North Face Backpack I carry it in isn’t…back off).

So as I thought about having to move to a new place, I had an absolutely horrifying realization.  After going though the tortuously tedious task of notifying various companies of my new address, I would have to go through the whole process…again!

Oh dear God, where’s my club?  Where’s my club?!  My way of life is being threatened and I can’t take it.  Despite the pain it will inflict upon me, I will walk through the process with you, as a precautionary tale.  If it helps one lazy kid decide not to change his residence, it will be worth it.

Here goes.

You first off have to think of everyone that might be sending something to your current address. Your family.  Your friends.  Your business associates.  Your former employers.  Your bank.  Your cell phone company.  Your various insurance companies.  Oh the list goes on, you get the point, right?

Thank you, I was starting to hyperventilate.

You then need to inform all of these people that you are changing your address.  Friends and family are pretty easy, except that they may not update their address book right away and forget to later on.  Your business associates and former employers need to know, and they tend to be very efficient.  Then comes the companies.

Oh the companies.  You try to change it on the internet, if possible.  But a lot of times they won’t let you.  Maybe someone has your password and they’re trying to get your information sent to another address.  It’s a security measure.  So then you call…

The Robot Lady!  I hate the Robot Lady more than you can know.  She asks you a question and then says, “say Yes or No”.  And you say “Yes”, and she says “I’m sorry, I can’t understand you, please say Yes or No”.  And so you say “Yes” and she says “I’m sorry, I can’t –“ but before she can finish you say:

“YES! YES! Y-E-S YOU STUPID ROBOT LADY!”

This is, of course, if you’re lucky enough to call during business hours.  And if you’re in a new time zone you have trouble keeping track of what time it is where you are and what time it is where they are.

Oh God, where is my wooden club?!!

The credit card company froze my card after I moved.  I called them to see what was going on, and they said they wanted to confirm that in fact I had moved to the new zip code 91601.

(Thanks, credit card company, for watching my back)

Thanks, credit card company, for messing up my day.  Now I’ve gotta go back to Target.  You made me look like a jerk in front of everyone.  And all because I changed my address.

Yeah, you can change your address with the Post Office, but that’s actually less helpful than you’d think.  There’s a delay before it goes into effect, and then there’s a delay between the arrival of a piece of mail at your old address and your new address.  How long of a delay you ask?  Long enough to miss a payment on my Discover Card.

“Why didn’t you tell us that you moved?” asked Dan from a call center in Wisconsin (or more likely Calcutta).

“I tried to tell the Robot Lady, but she wouldn’t listen.”

That one just didn’t land on Dan’s radar.

So there I was in North Hollywood, sitting on the porch I had come to love so much.  The house I had randomly found on the internet had started to feel like a real, albeit a wacky, home.  Then Christmas had to come along and ruin everything.  But was it really so bad that I would subject to myself to the torment of changing my address again? 

I started scouring Craigslist for new places to live.  All of them cost more.  All of them.  I would need to scrounge up a security deposit again.  Sheesh.  I thought of maybe moving closer to the beach.  How great would that be?  I’d probably be able to deal with the extra commute to have the Pacific as a neighbor.  Or maybe Silver Lake.  I’d have to get some new hipster clothes and start pretending like I’m unaffected by everything, but at least there’d be good vegan food.  Hollywood started to sound cool, despite how much parking would suck.  I could probably take the bus everywhere and feel like a public transportation person again.

But I kind of love North Hollywood!  It’s in the Valley, but only a few minutes away from not-in-the-valley.  Things are cheaper and people are lamer, and that makes me feel a little more comfortable.  There’s the guy at the hot dog place, the dude at the Thai place, and the girl at the coffee shop.  Sure, they never remember my name and sometimes forget we ever met, but I enjoy their friendship.

But I’d find this somewhere else.  It’s not like North Hollywood is the only place to have your regular spots.  I was ruminating on the porch when Danny the Lion moseyed on out to smoke a cig.  He went into a story that made me realize I had to fight for this residence.

Earlier that day Danny heard a knock on the door.  Opening it up, he saw the boyfriend of the screaming sister, Dallas, that shares the back room with her.  Except he looked a little different…wait…it wasn’t Dallas at all:

“Is Dallas here?”

“Uh…I think so, hold on” replied Danny as he started to retrieve him, stopping after a step.  “Who should I say is asking for him?”

“His brother”

Danny went back to get Dallas, thinking it was a routine visit.

“Did you tell him I’m here?!” Dallas panicked.

“Uh, I don’t – no.”

“Tell him I don’t live here anymore.  He’s no good, you don’t want him around here.”

This was the exact thing Danny had no interest in hearing, but it was exactly what I needed.

The day had come when the Sitcom of the house I live in adopted an element of a very different genre: the Soap Opera.  Dallas was about the nicest guy you could imagine.  A former marine, he was the sort of guy that smiled while he engaged in lively conversation with you, always letting you know he enjoyed the conversation before parting ways with you.  He said “yes, m’am” and “no sir”.  He was for me a source of joy in the house, always having a positive outlook on things and a genuine interest in what people had to say.  And he also apparently had an Evil Twin that was looking for him…

We never got another visit from the Evil Twin, but I realized that where I was living was a truly phenomenal place.  I had met some incredible people, whether they were intentionally incredible or not.  And I’d be damned if I was going to let one little Police interrupted Christmas ruin this place for me.

I had found my home, and regardless of how much I hate changing my address, this was where I knew I needed to be.