Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Archive for February, 2009

Forty-seven

Posted by ilbebe on February 28, 2009

I woke up feeling much as I had every morning for a while; worried about money. I made myself a cup of tea, ate a banana, and checked the balance of my finances online. I did the math and made a credit card payment on a card near its limit in anticipation of the check I’d be getting the next day, wondered about how I’d have train fare to get work the next week, showered, and walked to a hotel in Berkeley that was having a hiring fair.

I was delighted to see that AM/PM had a 20 ounce cup of coffee for 97 cents, and sent a text to my girlfriend reporting my delight. She replied that she’d found five quarters, and I spent the rest of the walk thinking about how good finding a dollar twenty-five would make me feel. The line for the hiring fair was ridiculous, it stretched out the front door of the vacant storefront, an old Ross that I’d stolen socks and pants from in headier times, around the corner and most of the way down the block. There must have been a hundred people inside, and hundred more in line. Construction workers were cutting up the sidewalk across the street, and my hour in line was marred by the hellish noise. By the time I reached the front door, I really had to piss.

A man in a suit standing in front of a “NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS” sign handed me an application, and I spent a frantic fifteen minutes filling it out, putting an asterisk at the bottom of the previous employment section to add the hotel experience I’d had five years ago. My completed application qualified me to stand in another line behind about sixty people for an on-the-spot interview. I thought about my chances of getting interviewed and still making it to the job I didn’t have enough hours at on time, and also weighed my intention of getting to the diner near my job before noon to drop off an application. After fifteen minutes, ten people had been interviewed and I had to get going. I left my application with a man wearing a red tie who shook my hand and thanked me for my time.

Waiting for my BART train to depart, I decided I didn’t want to apply at the diner anyways. The cost of taking the train across the bay into San Francisco was one of many things breaking my budget, and I tried to convince myself I was making a prudent move in limiting my search for a second job to the East Bay. A girl running to get on the train dropped her cell phone down onto the tracks and started freaking out, which made me realize I wasn’t having the worst day ever, I just really had to fucking piss. There was a Japanese guy on the sidewalk outside of BART in San Francisco wearing this amazing purple and white jacket that said something to the effect of “Mickey Mouse is the leader of the Disney gang”, and giving him directions brightened my mood a bit.

An interesting thing happened at work when a girl recognized me from my days as a cafeteria cashier in college, but walking to get a burrito at lunch my mood soured again. A woman asked to borrow my lighter, and after handing it over she said “Thank God! I’ve asked five people…people are too healthy these days. Not smoking anymore…” This led me to a debate I’d been having about quitting smoking to save money, and I thought about how backwards it was that I wasn’t thinking of my health at all. My feet hurt from all the walking I’d been doing lately, and, still thinking about that dollar twenty-five, I gazed longingly at the gum stains and broken glass on the sidewalk, imagining they were all coins, and how if they were, I could collect enough to buy myself a new life.

After work, I didn’t feel like going home, so I went to the library and sat started reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Holy fuck, if you ever want to feel worse about life, read about a holocaust memoir. It took me nearly an hour to get through the preface and the introduction alone, and as I sat crying and staring out the window at Civic Center, I thought about how to measure ten million people. The population of San Francisco is about a million, and so many people come into the city every day, tourists and workers, that I’ll estimate that around noon it’s safe to say there’s a million people there. Think about the entire city of San Francisco being killed at noon, then fully repopulated by nightfall with people shipped in like animals on railroad cars to die at noon the following day. Imagine that happening for ten days in a row, and then another million people showing up on the eleventh day, going to the bank and doing laundry and writing letters and walking down Larkin Street and whistling, do-dee-doot-doo-doo.

I went for a walk to drink some malt liquor and try and reconcile the waves of emotion passing through me, and passed a crowd of people leaving a church with a smudge of ash on their forehead. The malt liquor was putting me in a more optimistic mood, but I still didn’t know what to make of it. Does Ash Wednesday mean anything to me? Should it? Should I find other people’s faith encouraging? On BART, there was a man who looked to be in his late thirties sitting with a teenager who kept making barking noises and unintelligible utterances. I moved over to them asked the older guy if the retarded kid was his son. No, He’s My Brother. Oh. Do You Take Care Of Him A Lot? He sighed. Yeah, My Folks Are Getting On In Years. Does That Barking Ever Get Annoying? He regarded me for a moment, let out a short laugh, and said Yeah, I Gotta Admit It Does, But What Are You Gonna Do?

I had been giving a lot of though lately to the sentience of people who I can’t communicate with, because some friends of mine had had a son a few weeks earlier. I found myself looking at their baby and being driven nuts wanting him to grow older so I could talk to him, find out what he liked. I asked the guy, Do You Ever Wonder What He’s Thinking? This he did not appreciate. I Know What He’s Thinking. He Can Communicate Feelings, And He Has Them, Feelings And Desires And Fears, Just Like The Rest Of Us. I felt like an idiot. I took a seat at the other end of the train. The night before, I’d been riding the train home from work with my friend Chris, who had told me his eighteen year-old cat was in declining health, and he was wrestling with the notion of putting her down. His opinion was that since he’d never had any damn clue what the cat was thinking, who was he to think she’d be happier dead than alive and in pain?

That night, I stood and looked at myself in the mirror, alive with my feelings and desires and fears, and thought again of the guy in the Mickey Mouse jacket, and Elie Wiesel and the ten million, and the Catholics, and the retarded kid and his brother, and of Nolan, my friends’ baby. No need to make sense of it. I slept on it all.

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Forty-six

Posted by ilbebe on February 10, 2009

After leaving Arcata in December of 2004 and spending the better part of a month in Seattle, where my plans to start a new band and tour for a while fell apart, I wound up back at my Mom’s house in Brentwood and started sleeping the clock around. It was borne of a lack of anything to do and a growing numbness inside, and it didn’t hurt that by moving my waking hours to 7PM to 6AM, my Mom only had a three-hour window in the evening to berate me about doing something with myself. Such cycles of sloth are self-reinforcing, though the constant self-doubt I felt about when considering applying for jobs online at four in the morning was just a small part of the reason I didn’t apply for any. After a month of watching cable in the middle of the night and staring at the ceiling, I moved out to my Dad’s studio apartment in Alameda.

My Dad had essentially been living with his new girlfriend for half a year at that point, so it was no big deal to let me stay there. It was a definite improvement over my Mom’s house simply because it was in the Bay Area, instead of the far suburbs, though having to cook for myself was a drag and I soon started eating mostly pretzels and drinking lots of Steel Reserve. It remains the only time in my life I’ve lived alone, and while it was nice at first it didn’t do much good for my vocabulary, which started to noticeably diminish after a few months of the hermit life. I was miserable. I went days without showering, took long walks in the middle of the night when the island was as dead as I felt, and laid in bed thinking about all the mistakes I’d made in the last year of my life. One night I bought four tall cans of Steel Reserve and a big bag of Fritos and consumed all of it while driving from Alameda to San Jose and then back via the peninsula and San Francisco, crying. The next day my car wasn’t where I remembered leaving it, so I was ecstatic when the following day I canvassed the neighborhood a little more thoroughly and found it somewhere else with a parking ticket and a flat tire. This qualified as a good day.

I started living for Wednesdays, the day the new free weeklies came out, and I anguished over whether to do the new Bay Guardian crossword right then, or to save it for later to have something to look forward to. I’d get anxious when I knew I was going to hang out with friends, wracking my brain to come up with at least one interesting thing to say, and when I tried to say it, I tripped over my words and said ‘uh’ a lot more than I ever used to. One night I wandered through an abandoned grocery store that had been half torn down and disturbed a guy who was trying to sleep there, who appeared out of nowhere and seemed really jittery, asking me what I was doing there in broken and mumbled sentences. After reassuring him that I wasn’t a cop, he retreated to the dark corner he came from, and I found myself wishing he wanted to talk some more, he seemed to be on my level. I tried to read, but had trouble focusing. I slept about sixteen hours a day.

Against this backdrop, I was completely unenthused about taking a trip to Hawaii to see an old friend that I’d booked on New Year’s Day, when the world still seemed bright and appealing. My Dad was excited for me, I’m sure he hoped the trip would help snap me out of the doldrums I’d been in, but I almost broke down when he handed me a twenty on the way to the airport and said “Have a beer on the plane!” His tone just didn’t sync with the dread I was feeling. I had one suitcase with some clothes and toiletries, a book, two cases of Pabst and a Blue Raspberry Mad Dog. The PBR was because I had asked Benji if there was anything he couldn’t get in Hawaii that I could bring him, and the Mad Dog was because introducing the new flavor to him would be one of the few joys I’d had in the past four months. That eighty percent of the weight of my bag was alcohol was telling.

Benji met me at the airport, and things started out on a good note as we rode the bus back to the UH campus where he lived in a residence hall. He was duly impressed that I’d flown twelve bucks worth of cheap beer across the Pacific for us to enjoy, and initially there was a lot to talk about because I could reach back further than four months and tell him amusing stories from when I was still in the process of losing my mind, albeit with the slower pace and diminished flair that resulted from having lost it. The first night was jovial, we drank a few beers and he explained at length his studies in Polynesian anthropology, which really interested me, though a sinking feeling of doing nothing with myself started to cloud how well I was following him. I started having to ask him to repeat himself more and more frequently and got quieter and quieter as the evening progressed..

The next day I walked into the middle of Honolulu and caught the bus that made a circuit of the entire island. It left the city heading northeast through a valley which became increasingly misty as the highway narrowed to two-lanes shortly after cresting the pass en route to Kailua. Enormous banyan trees were mere feet from the side of the highway, and I couldn’t believe that forty-five minutes earlier I’d been in big, dirty Honolulu as we passed small, modest houses with amazing flora all around them. After being on the bus an hour, I found a beach that seemed ideal to relax at for a while. That is, it was completely empty and had a 7-Eleven right across the street where I could get something to drink. Beer was tempting, but I opted for Gatorade and figured I’d try to clear my head and think my depression through.

The sky was a patchwork of clouds as I sat on the beach for a few hours and read Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil’s account of the early days of punk in Detroit and then New York. I’d look up every once in a while to take in the expanse of the ocean in front of me, and try to draw the contrast between it and the miserable lives I was reading about, and ask how I could feel so bad sitting on a beach in Hawaii. I waded out into the ocean about a hundred yards where the water was still only about halfway up my thighs and looked back at the beach, and it was very quiet and it didn’t make sense. I walked through the ocean down to the end of the beach where there were some houses. I stood looking at these houses and wondered if anyone was looking at me, wondered if I was anything at all. Back on the beach a short while later a light rain began to fall, so I got back on the bus. As the bus rounded the north shore and approached the miles of brilliant red soil at the Dole pineapple plantation, I tried to focus on the serenity of the beach and ignore its emptiness, but I couldn’t. I tried to feel an emptiness that focused on simplicity and contentment with the beauty of the world, but I couldn’t. The rest of the week, as Benji and I walked around Honolulu and climbed Diamond Head one day, I tried to be good company, but I just couldn’t.

A year later, I saw Benji at my friends Josh and Bethany’s wedding at Mad River Beach in Arcata. He gave me one of his band’s shirts and we caught up, and I was able to thank him for being so patient and kind with me that week in Hawaii. The following year I went to Benji’s wedding at his wife Kate’s grandmother’s house on Cape Cod and had the time of my life. At the reception, I got so caught up talking to people and dancing I forgot to eat a proper meal, and as the sun set, the imbalance between the food and drinks in me had to be addressed. As I lay puking on the lawn, Kate’s mother came over to me and asked me if I was okay. I adopted a lighthearted tone and yelled Get Off My Lawn!!, and she laughed. When the puking was done I looked at the sky and laughed until I cried, knowing it was the same sky over Hawaii, and Oakland, and Seattle, and the rest of the world, and that our entire lives take place under this sky. In New England, in the summer, the sky can change from blue to thunderstorm grey in as little as twenty minutes, and we can change as much and as often as we will ourselves to.

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Forty-five

Posted by ilbebe on February 5, 2009

Towards the end of my junior year of high school, I was caught stealing a bottle of brandy from the restaurant I worked at and fired. The summer that followed was awesome, Ryan started playing drums and our band, The Amish Playboys, practiced every day at Garrett’s house. Writing songs has started getting a lot easier since I had started obsessing over the Mr. T Experience and their steady diet of power chords, and we were making up new songs weekly, many of which I still feel are pretty good. Other than play music, we mostly lazed around Garrett’s house harassing him about his burgeoning internet addiction and went on aimless drives around East CoCo County in my Studebaker. Shortly after the lazy times of summer ended, the money I had saved before being canned ran out, so in order to keep up with gas and insurance I got a job at a Papa Murphy’s take-and-bake pizza place.

Starting with the interview, I knew the job would be vastly different than my last. A highlight of my employment at the restaurant was one Christmas Eve when the owner swaggered up to me and palmed me forty bucks, saying “Merry Christmas. I’m sorry you have to work tonight, on Christmas, work is for the blacks.” My interview with Hank, the manager at Papa Murphy’s, was about five minutes long and mainly consisted of Hank telling me about his recent trip to Nashville for a country songwriting workshop. The assistant manager was his brother Rein, who quit three months after I started to take a much more lucrative gig as a bartender, but not before telling me about his half-decade long battle to get out of less than a thousand dollars of credit card debt. He’d come very close to paying it off earlier that year, but had failed to pass up a sale on VCRs at Sears and was back in the vortex again. Hank was not much more sophisticated.

Rein’s departure put him in a sour mood, and more than once he talked enviously about Rein, working at a TGI-Friday’s-type place somewhere in the Tracy Mall, was “making like thirty bucks a night, cash, and hanging out with hot chicks all the time.” By the end of January, Hank had broken up with his girlfriend of a few years and was making severely unwanted passes at one of my coworker after failing to get with a girl that worked at the Baskin Robbins next door. On Super Bowl Sunday, as I licked my wounds from having been broken up with by my girlfriend the previous evening, he said “Landon, I really want you to hear this,” and played me his two-song demo tape (awful), and his favorite Genesis song (slightly less awful, but mercifully at least not ‘In The Air Tonight’. I think I might have exploded if he played me that song.) The day after Valentine’s Day he told me he had gotten up the previous morning before dawn to watch the sunrise and realized how happy he was to be single, so I was not surprised when he was fired a few days later because the female coworker of mine he’d been terrorizing finally called the owner.

The owner made the specious move of hiring a new manager rather than promoting from within, his justification being that the assistant manager Dan was nineteen and not ready to run the store. Marlene was in her forties was a bit of a hard ass, and I quickly fell into the uncomfortable position of being made an example of in a positive way, i.e. Landon’s Working Pretty Hard, Maybe The Rest Of You Could Step It Up? After her first week there, Marlene hired her friend Patti, who was also in her forties, and you have to realize how weird this was because besides Dan, the rest of us were under eighteen. Patti was a fucking wreck, constantly late because “You don’t even wanna know how long it takes to walk here from my other job”, which was at a McDonalds about a mile away, and always complaining about her bad back and sore feet. One time she indignantly snapped “I know how to talk proper!” after Dan made fun of her horrible grammar, and her finest moment was one day when she showed up and told Dan that she couldn’t be asked to bend over at all that shift because he uterus had “fallen out.” By the grace of a God that may not even exist, Marlene went AWOL for four days less than a month after starting. Patti was canned alongside her, and the golden reign of Dan the Manager began.

Dan lived in the first neighborhood my family had lived in after moving to Brentwood, so I had known him since I was eleven, and used to cover his paper route sometimes. I am to this day impressed by his skill at shitting on demand when material is needed to Shitbag someone. We did all the usual stupid stuff that bored teenagers do at food jobs; shaking up 2-liters of soda in the parking lot and throwing them up in the air to watch them explode on the pavement, taking the phone off of the hook when we didn’t feel like taking orders, seeing who could fit in the dryer in the back, putting “experiments” on top of the walk-in to see what weird colors they would turn, you get the idea. Our only outside supervision under Dan’s steed was the owner’s son Todd, who had failed to graduate from Chico State after nine years and been given the bullshit job of regional manager by his Dad to check up on the whopping three Papa Murphy’s he owned. Todd was easy to ignore.

There was a great parade of memorable co-workers; Stinky Crotch Girl, the girl with huge boobs who LOVED horses, Doug who would always let the floor drain overflow when he was high, the dude who got fired after he gave another guy methadone when that guy asked if anyone had something for a headache, and Tre, who stabbed himself in the leg while trying to slice a tomato he’d thrown in the air, drove himself to the hospital, and then came back to finish his shift. Customer service highlights included an incident when a guy who was pissed off said “Come on, buddy, the first thing they teach you in business school is that the customer is always right,” to which I replied “Eh, sir, if I’d gone to business school I don’t think I’d be working here.” Another one I’ll never forget was a guy who called after getting home and complaining that we’d forgotten to give him his breadsticks side order. I apologized and said he was welcome to come back and pick them up, and he got irate and demanded that we give him something else for free to make it worth his while. After I said no, he blurted out Look, I Just Got Back From Mexico And I’m Really Sunburned. After a lengthy “Uhhhh…” on my part, he hung up.

I was planning to quit at the end of July because I was moving away in August to start college, but the store was abruptly sold at the beginning of the month to new owners who owned the two other Papa Murphy’s nearest to us and were looking to consolidate their empire. Their first order of business was to call a meeting and introduce a corporate type they’d brought into re-train us, and after that meeting ended I told them I’d just as soon quit. Their ludicrous plea to get me to stay, since I was by then one of two people over eighteen working there and thus “legally” qualified to touch the dough mixer, was that if I stayed home and went to community college, they’d pay for my books. I laughed, took my shirt off, and left, and he only time in my eighteenth year of life I felt more superior than then was when I told an army recruiter that his plan for me to drop out of college and then return with the GI Bill was fucking retarded, click.

Having nothing to do with the fact that I had turned eighteen and graduated from high school during my employment at the Papa Murphy’s, I felt that it was one of those experiences where I went in a boy and emerged a man. A man who was only learning the delights of ten-dollar jug vodka.

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Forty-four

Posted by ilbebe on February 3, 2009

A partial list of the people still living I want to get drunk and/or high with:

Dustin Hoffman
Bill Murray
Danny DeVito
Sean Connery
Michael Irvin
Dr. J
Sean Astin, but if he starts talking about Rudy, I might have to bail out.
Eddie the Eagle, that crazy British ski jumper from the ‘88 Olympics
The dude who invented the Snuggie
The dude who invented the Pet Rock
NOT the guy who invented the Segway
Joe Millionaire
Alex Trebek
The RonCo guy
Anthony Bourdain. This guy ought to have to come to mind sooner.
Jeff Bennett, as soon as I have money to visit Oz.
The guy who owns the Time Traveler in Arcata
Thomas Kincaid, so I can beat him up
Matthew Lesko, but I suspect he gets high solely on life
McCoy Tyner
David Lee Roth
T. Great Razooly
Steven Seagal
Matt Sharp, the original bass player for Weezer and founder of the Rentals
Shane MacGowan
The chick bass player from White Zombie
Barbara Walters
The guy who does the voice of Homer Simpson
Leonard Nimoy
William Shatner
George Takei
Robin Williams, he’s bound to fall off the wagon again soon.
Mr. Blasi, my wacky high-school Chemistry teacher
Mrs. Phillips (no relation), my awesome high school history teacher
Mr. Dodson, my awesome high school health teacher and cross-country coach.
Mr. Vargen, my high-school video production teacher, in 1982. (There’s this fucking awesome picture of him from 1982 wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates hat and looking really tough)
The cop who, while releasing my recovered car to me last September, recommended the new Metallica album to me.
Conan O’Brien
Dennis Richmond, the recently retired channel 2 news anchor, whom a friend told me they had heard he was a total asshole
Joe Biden, that’s gotta be interesting
Meaty, Rob and Big’s dog
Miss Manners

The two dead people who I most strongly would want to get as fucked up as possible and hang out with:
Rodney Dangerfield
Sammy Davis, Junior

Famous person I most strongly want to take mushrooms with and have sex with for hours:
Winona Ryder

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