If you are new to my blog, you can start here or go to The Full Tale page, where the chapters of my memoir are posted in sequence.
Chapter 31 / 2010 – 2011
My Heart Belongs to Daddy.
I hit fifty-eight when I entered the third year of the New Depression, arising each morning to a life I had never lived before, never imagined living.
I have survived by listening to my father’s notes.
I pay my rent with Unemployment Insurance and the settlement I received from Worker’s Comp.
I haven’t been to a movie in years.
I don’t eat much, but I have moved on from tofu to spaghetti.
There are new rules, but I cannot say I lost the past year and a half. I cannot say it slipped through my lucky fingers when the flu clinics went south. I finished the tale my bud Steven encouraged me to tell, pounding out a hard-boiled memoir I titled “I Didn’t Sign Up For This,” its staccato notes playing out our lucky man’s free fall into the belly of the New Depression. I am well into my novel about a wannabe be comic, whose day job is working as an AIDS nurse in the days when nursing jobs were not only plentiful, but paid a living wage.
In the quiet of the still afternoons on Beachwood Drive, I have read through the piles of books, magazines and newspapers on my dining room table.
I was in two plays, I performed a few monologues.
I spend my mornings applying for work online, my afternoons writing the tales. Like the nauseating dread that comes of waking up to a room spinning hangover, every morning I stagger through the application process, each one taking anywhere from a half-hour to well over an hour to complete, all having to be individualized to fit the specifics of the particular position. At least once a day, either my computer or the job site crashes when I click “Submit.” I apply all over again. I hear nothing. From anyone. To let me know they had received my memoir submission, literary agents have the innate courtesy to instruct their assistants to e-mail me or drop my self-addressed stamped postcards into their out-boxes. Health care professionals? Nada. Rien. Nothing. I make follow-up calls to the places I have applied to. I am polite. I got beaucoup laughs in the plays, pensive stillness followed by applause at the end of my monologues. I know how to hide any traces of the anger I am feeling.
I relearned the looking for work mantra faster than my Malibu guzzles through a $3.10 gallon of gas: “Our protocol is for applicants to apply online.”
“I have,” I say.
My voice is humble and boyish. No one would think I am almost sixty.
“We’ll contact you if you’re a match for the position.”
I have reapplied to every hospital, nursing home and medical facility in the Los Angeles basin to which I can drive, walk or crawl to. I have reapplied to the VA Hospital in Westwood and its satellite clinic in downtown LA. I have reapplied to the Los Angeles Department of Corrections for a job in the jails. All online. I never hear a thing. I call. I get the mantra.
Yet again, I cold call agencies in the “Yellow Pages,” the majority of which still have difficulty stringing together a coherent sentence in English. The remaining ones continue to spit out a hybrid form of English which drips like hot wax onto my eardrums.
“What is your area of expertise?” they ask.
I pull out my experience calling card, telling them I worked on the AIDS/Oncology Unit at San Francisco General Hospital for seven years.
“Why did you do that?” they ask.
In the New World, expertise means you’re old.
The fruit eating paraplegic gentleman on Wilshire emerges as the only constant in my job search, his pleas for a new nurse, on whose mothering lap he can lay his head, appearing monthly on Craigslist.
The New World is not all bad.
A few months into my hunt for a gig, I received a call ten minutes after I faxed my resume to a home health agency on Wilshire.
“You’re a perfect fit for us,” the agency’s owner says. “We have home health visits in Hollywood and a couple of hospice cases throughout LA. Come on in and apply.”
“The woman you spoke to on the phone just stepped away from her desk,” the puffy red lips of the young woman before me say. “Can we have a Nursing Supervisor interview you?”
I am escorted into a tiny office, whose windows are dressed with Venetian blinds, through which the light of the City casts thin stabbing shadows onto the stained yellow carpet.
I sit on a metal folding chair across from a woman in her mid-thirties.
“I envision you doing home health visits for us,” she barks. “What are your salary expectations per visit?”
“You know, I never thought about that,” I answer.
The woman stares at me, my fingertips pulse, the slightest tinge of yellow haunts her eyes.
“Whenever I did visits before, I was paid by the hour.”
“How much do you want?”
My opponent is approaching obesity, her double chin wiggles as she speaks, her body encased in a dull brown pants suit, its inseams straining against the weight she has taken on.
“Twenty-five dollars a visit.”
“In a few weeks, we’ll have an opening for a case manager here in the office,” she hisses. “I can offer that to you. What are your salary expectations?”
Unlike the young woman in the front office, the woman across from me wears no makeup, her skin is pale, the Marilyn Monroe mole on her left cheek appears suspiciously raised and dark.
“Thirty thousand a year.”
“Thank you for coming in. I’ve enjoyed meeting you. We’ll be in touch.”
I look at my reflection in the elevator’s silver door as I descend to Wilshire.
I am clean shaven, my gold pinstriped Rat Pack styled suit and matching slacks fresh from the cleaners, my white shirt ironed that AM.
My pants are not pee stained, my zipper is up, my shirt tucked in, my hair is slicked back Don Draper style.
I sniff my pits.
I cup my right hand and inhale my breath.
I walk down Wilshire. No one can see me.
My skinny black tie tightens itself around my neck with the mean fingers of the money I owe and the money I need to survive.
The fingers have been on me for years now.
This is the only interview I was called in for during the next year, a year in which I received not one response to the over five hundred applications I fed into the internet.
No matter who refuses to see behind my eyes in these New Depression days, I will never stop telling the tales.
The light of the City of the Angels has taken so much out of me since the year of the fires that the jabs and left hooks of the New World barely touch me these days, my hands waving them away with the absentmindedness of a William Inge leading lady shooing an insistent fly away from her disappointed face on a hot summer afternoon.
I left the Friday morning circle when the furtive senior bro informed us that, in addition to having sex with his nephew when the man was a teenager, my bro was seduced by not one, but two thirteen-year-old boys when he was in his early thirties.
It will go like that. Two young boys will up and work their sexual magic on a defenseless adult.
“I can’t sit in a room with a child molester,” I say. “That’s something I will not do.”
The circle’s silence stiffens my spine.
“I’m not in the world you guys live in,” I tell the bros. “I have to make a living. I’m writing a novel.”
“You swim in a different pond than we do,” is the one response my anomie earns.
The line is a keeper, I immediately write it down, it will fit nicely into one of my tales.
I have gone out on the occasional insurance assessment, asking the fifteen pages of qualifying questions, while sitting at antique dining room tables covered with hand stitched lace or at granite kitchen countertops, the emptiness of their shining surfaces reminding me that I get my nutrients from bananas, spaghetti and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches washed down by cool tap water.
As if they were swatting at the insistent fly, the applicants list their leisure activities as taking a vacation at least once a year, going weekly to a movie or a play, hiking in Joshua Tree and, what with the traffic and all, reluctantly honoring their season tickets at the Hollywood Bowl.
I smile. I nod my head.
I remember that world.
Each punch curated in alphabetical order, I have neatly filed, in a blue accordion folder I found in the recycling bin next to my building’s laundry room, the eighty rejection letters I received for my memoir.
Several agents liked my tale, in fact they loved it, but in the end the notes I played were too depressing, too real, too dark.
And where, they all asked, was the happy ending?
“It only takes one agent to say yes,” Matt said from his garage in Sacramento.
The smoothness of his voice has vanished, in its place is a scratchy whisper, his words choking against the rawness of a throat kept awake by the clouds of his crystal pipe.
“I know…I know. I never wrote anything like this before baby, it felt so real, it’s me…how I really am.”
“No one is interested in what happens to people like us, guy.”
I don’t hear much from Matt anymore.
With the stillness I gain in lighting Yartzeit candles for the friends who grew me into a man, I find myself lighting a candle at bedtime, which sits in the blue glass holder Matt placed on my dresser when he said he couldn’t sleep in a dark room.
Where is that happy ending?
When I accepted that the New World did not want me, I opened the dull black case my father had left for me on the cool brown tiles of his last summer, my fingers loosening the leather straps securing his flying machine to the case’s thick purple velvet lining.
Like my father, I have gotten into the ring, my fists hitting out onto the keyboard every afternoon, after having spent the morning searching for a gig. I can see where people are weak, but, already knowing what taking a sucker punch feels like, in my ring I do not hit anyone, leaving that to the senior bros and the undermining friends to move in for the crowd pleasing kill. I observe the slick and not so savvy moves made on the sound stages I live on, I listen to the false stories, I fly with the understanding that the most insignificant detail holds the key to the souls of the actors I gaze at. In the tiny Marble Memo notebooks I buy at three for 99¢, I take notes on how the light hits the sidewalk at high noon, I write down the words I hear, I study the way the palm trees sway above the action, I watch as the anger beneath the actors’ skin punches into the air of the City I live in.
This is what artists do, this is my gift to the world I have woken up in.
Within an hour or two at the keyboard, I am under the influence, the cries and whispers I have witnessed, the names I have been called, the resentment that tingles beneath my fingertips, the hands of my dead friends on my shoulders, the stories I have seen while sitting in dark living rooms, the first touch of Matt’s tongue on my skin, all of it pulses through my bare feet, up into my bones and muscles as I type into the keyboard until I am lifted off the earth, until I live in the sky.
After over a year of cold calling, I was asked to apply for what appeared to be an upright gig, a downright ongoing job at a home health agency.
Despite having to pump a half-tank of gas at $3.40 a gallon, I hightail the thirty miles out to Tarzana. I am placed in a six foot by ten foot windowless room, out of whose ceiling cold air blasts onto the table I sit at.
For three hours, my fingers fill in answers to questions on the same nursing tests I have taken for years, both online and in light deprived offices like this one, my captivity interrupted by a Filipino caretaker sitting across from me, the monotony of his voice asking me the answer to the classic Old World question: “Where do you see yourself in the next five years?”
“This is the New World, bub,” I answer.
Leaving the Old World gent in the dust, I bring my paperwork to the front desk.
“We don’t hire people who are unemployed.”
The receptionist has blonde hair, long and and a bit wavy, her nails are bright pink, her white linen blouse cut low, what with the air blasting out of the ceiling.
“Couldn’t you have told me that before I spent three hours taking tests and filling out forms?”
“I was called away from my desk. I didn’t have time to go over your resume.”
The snarkiness of her answer and the deadpan gaze of her green eyes, coupled with the stomach quivering tuna fish sandwich sitting on butcher paper next to her cell, bring me to ask: “Are you a Christian?”
“I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”
“Wouldn’t the Christian thing to do in this situation be to hire a guy who’s out of work?”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“I’m asking you to be a Christian and help a person who’s out of work.”
Her fingers make a grab for her sandwich’s sliced in half pickle.
“I bet you live with your parents, what are you twenty-three?”
“Twenty-five, but why…how do you know I live with my parents?”
“There’s no way you can make it on your own working this job.”
Her too white to be real teeth clamp down on her defenseless pickle.
“When I was your age, I was already a nurse. I’d been supporting myself for years.”
“What do you want?”
“I want a job. I have thirty years experience…”
Her eyes look away from me, her fingers pick up her sandwich, put it down, then pick it up again.
Like watching Bette Davis agonizing over whether or not to chomp down a bonbon in “All About Eve,” the receptionist at last takes a healthy bite, washing it down with a Diet Coke.
“Your experience is not relevant. You don’t have a job. We don’t hire…”
“I’m asking you to be a Christian and see me, I’m right in front of you…all I’m asking is for you to see who I am.”
“You’re scaring me.”
“You need to be scared. People who tell people they can’t work need to be scared.”
Her fingers, slippery from pickle juice, tap onto the screen of her cell phone.
“Don’t worry, I’m not coming back. I can’t afford the gas.”
I have heard “No” for so many years now, in so many rings.
Sometimes, you have to hit back.
Many, many, many thanks for all the kind words and encouragement I have received over the past year and a half. You will never know how much it has meant to me.
It’s been a blast!
Over and out for now from the City of the Angels.