Chapter 19/ 2008 & 2009
Apparently, The Postman Does Ring Twice.
In the silence of high noon on Beachwood Drive, I pull my nursing books off of my Billy bookcase, purchased at Ikea in the days when I read the books lining its walnut veneer shelves. Having orphaned the biographies of my fav method actresses to my sagging dining room table to live amongst the unread magazines and newspapers, I lie in the drawn blinds blue of my bedroom, spending hours perusing various theories of childhood development. I Google autism and Asperger syndrome, the first for a definition of my patient, the later his chill mother. I forgo walking after midnight to reread my ventilator workbooks.
Working nights is brutal. After staying up four nights in a row, the nastiest of bugs crawl under your skin, much like the worms who once licked my brain. Everything, from your eyelashes to your toenails, hurts, your feet and hands are submerged in concrete blocks. Having never been able to sleep through the day after working all night, I will lose time, that is a given. It takes a full day to recover after a four night stretch, what with shaking off the concrete wrapped around my fingers and toes, while simultaneously relearning how to walk and work my universal remote at the same time. The UCLA School of Dentistry devours another day, the insurance assessments have picked up, I will spend a day or two working those.
I will have to write in the small cracks of time.
Lucky man will learn to live in them.
I break it down money-wise. After rent, I have $389.00 for the month. $97.00 a week. $50.00 for food. $25.00 for gas. $12.00 to buy cat food one week, litter the next. $10.00 spending money. The insurance assessments will cover the minimum credit card payments, my retirement pension, the bills.
I can pretty much go back to the low blood pressure diet my nutritionist put me on. I am earning food money again. Break it down. No surprises. Plan it out. Stick to the list. Deny temptations. Shop with blinders on. Weekly cost for fruit $10.00. Peanut butter $4.00. Jelly $2.00. Bread $3.00. Avocados $4.00. Four cans tuna fish $8.00. Pasta $2.00. A dozen eggs $3.00. Bag of veggies $2.00. Can of chicken $3.00. Muffins $5.00. Two bags of nuts $5.00. Apple juice is on my wish list, I can buy it if I do not need one of my weekly staples. My food budget totals out to $51.00. Not $50.00. I have learned to be exact with money. I will think something is a dollar less than it is and pretty soon–a dollar here, a dollar there–my budget is way off. A missing $5.00 can be hard to make up when it is this close to the bone.
I tape my food list to my fridge door. The kitchen window is open, but I do not feel the air on my skin.
Who cares? I have a job.
January’s rent remains unaccounted for. The money from the lost boy case will kick in for a full month’s rent and food starting in February. Instead of making the call, I jerk off three times. The Windex long gone and running low on dish soap, I clean my living room windows with laundry detergent and newspapers. I walk in the daylight down Franklin Avenue to Western Avenue very slowly, my feet not wanting to return home, I check my car’s oil and transmission fluid, my eyes ignoring the bald tires.
“Today’s not the day,” I tell Sunset when I locate her on the shelf in kitchen.
Having run out of both bleach and stainless steel pot and pan cleanser weeks ago, I scrub out the toilet with the generic Ajax I bought for .49¢ at the 99¢ Only Store.
My apartment is clean, I can not come one more time even with Viagra, Sunset is safe for the day.
There’s nothing left to say or do.
Numb with dread since the day before and unable to punch the keyboard to make the words fly, my fingers reluctantly tap the phone keys.
“Can you lend me eight hundred dollars?” I ask my friend Ann in Oregon. “No, forget it, it’s so much money.”
I am dizzy, I have become the dizzy queen everyone says I am.
“I’ve known for awhile this day would come,” her soft voice says “Of course, I’ll give you the money.”
“I’ll pay you back, as soon as I get the money.”
“It’s a gift. I want you to have it. I wish I could do more.”
I can not feel the air making the curtains dance in my living room. I can not speak.
“Have you considered moving to a cheaper apartment?” Ann asks. “Maybe to a different city to find a job?”
“It would cost so much money to move…first month’s rent…last month’s rent, security deposit. My credit rating’s shot. Who’d rent to me?”
“I’ll ask the hubby, I’m sure he’ll OK it.”
The steadiness, the sweetness in her voice steadies me, always has.
“It’s wonderful to see you doing what you like, doing what feeds your spirit,” Ann said after seeing me in the terrible play I had the lead in a few years before.
After the tedious first act, I sat in a chair onstage during intermission, centering myself for the logic impaired second act. The stage manager has pulled the curtain a bit too far to the right, allowing me to look out into the audience, where Ann smiles at me, her head nodding in approval. She likes me, the actor me, likes what I am showing the audience, the curtain I pull over my face in real life having been left backstage when places were called. The heaviness leaves my body in a second, her smile making me feel I can do anything. I remember that smile whenever I wait in the darkness before going on.
“LA’s home,” I tell Ann. “I know where everything is. I’ve moved before, to start over. All that really accomplished was losing time…getting a job, finding a place to live, learning a new city. I can’t lose any more time. You don’t get time back.”
Having lived here for years before moving to Oregon, Ann hates the City of the Angels, despises it.
“Hunker down,” she tells me. “This storm has got to pass.”
The next day, Ann’s husband agrees to send the lucky man eight hundred smackers.
I begin working Fridays through Mondays with the lost boy in mid-December. He is asleep when I arrive on duty at 10 PM and asleep when I leave at 6 AM. The excitement of the night occurs every few hours, when his G tube belches gas, starting out as a loud gurgle and peeking in a deep gut wrenching explosion. More often than not, when I check his flatulent tube, his gastric fluids, mixed with tube feed, rain down on my face. Lucky man, my Alain Mikli glasses protect my eyes, reminding me of the days when I could afford progressive lenses nestled in expensive frames. Regardless of my level of consciousness, whenever I hear the tube belching, I check the lost boy out.
The mother talks for the first hour of my shift. She is chill, very chill. By 11 PM, I am a bit tired, if not hypnotized, from the waving of her delusional red flag. I make jokes to prevent her air from touching my skin. She bakes me Christmas cookies, goodies to share with Matt, which are so loaded with sugar, I have to double up on the Hyoscyamine to prevent me from belching through the night like the lost boy’s G tube.
The dad makes perennial 1 AM trips to the fridge for more lager.
“I totally like the way you watch over my boy…you’re on it, everything that happens with him…” the dad says between gulps of the cold brew.
“That’s the gig, sir.”
Around 2 AM every night, my body is taken over by the bugs of fatigue, they crawl under my skin, tickling my veins and hammering at my fingernails, telling me I am way too old to stay up in the filth of a dark room in North Hollywood. The bugs are nice to me at first. Their tentacles leave my stomach and balls alone, they never touch my jaw. Once the bugs realize I am on this assignment for the duration, they turn on me with everything they’ve got.
When I leave the lost boy in the mornings, the bookcases, chairs and tables that were on the grass strip when I parked the night before have been ripped apart, their guts shredded to pieces, as if wild dogs from a 70s horror movie have had at them. But it wasn’t dogs, mere dogs could not have thrown the torn up furniture or the smashed up sinks and toilets into the middle of the street. Truly believing I am a lucky man, I refuse to see what is in front of my eyes, instead maneuvering around everything that is broken as my 69 Chevy Malibu high-tails it out of North Hollywood.
Ann and her husband send the eight hundred dollars via registered mail on 23 December, her poor husband trudging out in a snowstorm to get it to the post office, chains on his tires, the whole backwoods Oregon thing. I take a deep breath, trying not to cry after reading Ann’s e-mail describing his trek.
Six days later, no letter, no check. I track it on the United States Post Office’s internet site, noting the letter’s arrival in the City of the Angels on 26 December. Believing my letter to be on route to the Hollywood Post Office, I call with the hope of picking it up pronto.
They do not have it, do not know where it is.
“On route means it’s on route,” a voice deep within the bowels of the Post Office informs me.
The voice tells me to check back on 30 December, which I do, a new voice can not find it either, explaining that “on route” means it could be anywhere in the state of California, anywhere except at its final destination, my mailbox.
“Guy, I’ll deposit the eight hundred in my checking account and you can sign Ann’s check over to me when it gets here,” Matt tells me.
“I’ll make sure your rent check isn’t deposited until the second week of January,” my building manager tells me. “Just in case…”
I have an insurance assessment at 2 PM in West Hollywood on 31 December. I leave a note on my mailbox asking the mailman to have the building manager sign for Ann’s letter. Halfway down Beachwood Drive, I spot the mailman. I stop, jump out of my car, the man behind me honking and screaming. Apparently, I stopped dead smack in the middle of Beachwood, in the very middle, in the spot where people in North Hollywood dump their garbage. The man behind me has come within inches of rear ending me. I give him the stare, which pushes his trembling body out of his car.
“Why’d you do that, bro?”
I look into his eyes, falling into their deep green pools and remembering all the people trying to help me, all the people who love me. I want things to be simple, to go right just one fucking time.
He is right, I am wrong, I did not need his eyes to tell me that.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I can’t believe I stopped like that.”
“Why’d you do that, bro?”
“I’ve been waiting for money to cover my rent. It’s somewhere in the mail…I lost it…lost it, when I saw the mailman.”
The water drains out of pools of the man’s eyes, he walks back to his car and shoots his own stare out of his empty but still beautiful eyes.
“Got it, bro. I’m being evicted next month. Happy New Year!”
The mailman does not have Ann’s letter.
“The building manager can’t sign for the letter,” the mailman says. “Only you can.”
I tell him the deal.
“Here’s the direct number for the manager of the Hollywood Post Office,” he says as he smiles and clears his throat. “Happy New Year…oh…and don’t tell anyone how you got this number.”
I arrive at the assessment early and call the manager, who does not know where the letter is.
“It will show up soon,” he says. “Most likely by the end of next week or the beginning of the week after that.
I look at the apartment building I am scheduled to interview the applicant in, the blue water of the pool reflecting up off of its glass like surface on to the two story townhouses wrapping around it, the numbness of my fingers wanting to soak in the water’s warmth.
“My rent money is in that envelope,” my throbbing jaw tells the manager.
My fingers curl around the black plastic of my steering wheel. I am crying, my body shaking, my heels unable to burrow into the softness of the floorboard’s black carpet beneath them.
“I’m sorry,” I say to the manager.
A middle-aged woman, following the staccato yaps of her leashed dog walks past my car, the woman’s hair streaked several shades of blonde, the thick de rigueur black sunglasses unable to stop her cold gaze as she aims her peppers at my skin. The dog’s nose up against my bald left front tire, the mutt, like Sunset, sniffs out that I can not feel the air, let alone the warmth floating off of the pool.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m sitting here shaking like it’s twenty below,” I tell the manager and quite possibly the woman and her dog. “I’ve never not paid my rent on time. I’ll have to get it covered another way. It’s a nice day. A nice day. I don’t know why I’m shaking…”
“When will you be home?” the manager asks.
The manager will look around and call me back. A moment after arriving home at three forty-five, there is a knock on door. A woman from the Post Office, her blonde hair streaked the same shades as the woman I saw earlier, hands Ann’s letter to me. My lips tremble, my face flushes, the insides of my eyes want to cry again, but I am too tired, my cracked lips can barely move.
“It’s OK,” the woman says. “Take it easy, breathe. I can’t tell you how many people on my route are waiting for letters from friends to cover their rent with. They stay home all day until the mail comes.”
I ignore the pain embedded in my jaw and give her a fancy bag of peanuts Ann sent me for Christmas. She refuses. I insist.
The phone rings as I close the door. The deep accented voice of the manager from the Post Office tells me they found the letter, it will be delivered today. I tell him I have it in my hand and thank him so profusely, one would think he has outthought Paul Krugman and discovered the way out of the new depression.
“Make a New Year’s resolution for me,” the manager says. “Slow down and take it easy.”
Surprisingly and without thanking him for the third time, I promise to do what he requests.
“It’s like you turned the ocean around,” I tell Ann. “I can breathe. Thank you. I love you.”
Without hesitation, without thinking or strategizing, I have started to tell my friends I love them. Pushing aside the meanness drilling into my jaw, the L word pours out of me, my lips and tongue knowing it is not the money my friends have given me, but the dullness they lift out of my body, the torn up shards of psyche, bone and muscle their words put back together whenever their voices break though the pain clanging against my eardrums.
To save on gas, I walk to the ATM on Sunset Boulevard to deposit the elusive and tear inducing check. Back home, my eyes have run out of tears as they contemplate the 2008 wall calendar, hooked by a tiny nail to the inside of the broom closet door in my kitchen, the cold fear of my hands refusing to hang its replacement, a free pint-sized one from Amoeba Records I picked up after going to the ATM. Being a Virgo, I know in my bones this most minor of tasks needs to be carried out before midnight.
Like the destitute and lonely daughter Amanda Wingfield is afraid her daughter Laura will become, I live in my apartment like a relative welcome only until things go south. I no longer touch anything in the five rooms I exist in, as if every object I own in my glass menagerie would shatter immediately upon the slightest caress from my fingertips. My hands do not replace the worn out mat in front of the kitchen sink, they refuse to rearrange the stacks of magazines and books on the dining room table or consider placing a different chair at a small table in the kitchen. The simplest change, the least inoffensive of gestures would tell my impotent hands this is actually my apartment, this is the cage where I sing myself to sleep with a song about eating a bottle of Extra Strength Vicodins, these are the walls whose unblinking eyes will soon witness the exit of my Gentleman Caller Matt to Sacramento. If I derive the slightest shred of joy in repotting a plant, experience a moment of pleasure in rehanging a picture on the bathroom wall, every piece of polished glass in my home will crash to the floor.
In total silence at 6 AM on 5 January 2009, with Sunset watching from the shelf in the kitchen, I belatedly hang the new year’s calendar.
It is still dark outside, only Sunset will know we have crossed over into a new year.