Friday, December 26, 2008

Leaving Los Angeles: 1985

Life in L.A. had deteriorated. It had become, basically, Mike Jeff and Me living together at Oakwood in West Hollywood (Burbank, really). I was already looking for a way out--had kicked myself for not moving down to Key West where Brock and Matt were--and knew it was only a matter of time (of telling Mike who had asked me to come out to L.A., who had given me a job and shelter) before I sped off and away from SoCal. Then Mike met some girl--the lifeguard at the apartment complex's pool--and he got a house and she moved in with him. That was the end of our stay at Oakwood, which was month-to-month, and also, by that time, Jeff had met a girl (another girl, when we first met him he was living with a woman--Sherri, common-law-wife--and had a little boy from her) who was pregnant with his child and she lived way out in some suburban area west of Burbank, she lived with her mother and some other younger siblings (no father--it was common to find no father in the house in SoCal). So, Jeff moved in with her. But he and she and her mom were gracious enough to let me stay at their chaotic place until I left town--because by that time, I'd set a date.
I was waiting to finish one last construction job for Mike, then was flying to Pensacola and going to some small town on the beach in Florida to see Matt and Holly.
I had Mike's work vehicle for transportation, so I could get around. I had friends at Oakwood and said goodbye to them. Had friends in Burbank and at the Pago Pago Lounge and said goodbye to them. I stayed, illegally, at the apartment (still had the key and it had not been rented and no one came to clean it or check it) for a few nights, but it was lonely and I felt guilty and worried someone would find me and how embarrassing it would be to get kicked out of there. So, as said, I moved in with Jeff and his pregnant girlfriend at her mom's bungalow with her other kids and these three little girls who her mother--no, Jeff's girlfriend--babysat about every day. They were funny little kids and I think that was the first time I ever enjoyed being around little kids and got me thinking that, hmm, maybe, I'd have kids some day. But I stayed there--actually a very pleasant neighborhood with a park across the street--feeling displaced and miserable and antsy and ready to leave. . . It wasn't more than a week, but felt longer.
Then the day came, or rather, the day before the day. That night, Mike took me around to the old haunts he and I had invented for ourselves. We drank. Hung with some old pals--Jeff, Bob and Brenda, maybe James (no, James was gone by then). He had some coke (yes yes, we did coke in L.A. in the 80s) and for some reason we had a cheap motel room on Olive in Burbank (I must have flown out of Burbank, but I seem to recall it was LAX) and we drank and did coke in the room and then never set the alarm and we woke up late and I missed my flight (which set up a round of problems for when I was supposed to get into Pensacola and when Matt was supposed to pick me up) and so Mike dumped me off at the airport and I got another flight but had to wait around and try to inform Matt I was going to be late--I could only leave messages. Matt had no phone--only the restaurant where he worked as a number--and there were no cell phones and I used Mike's Dad's credit phone number to make these long distance pay phone calls. And so, finally, I tumbled into the sky and flew to New Orleans. Then a puddle jumper prop plane to Pensacola--where it was night and I had not heard from matt and I still left messages and waited and waited because he was at work in Grayton Beach--over an hour east--and had to finish the shift and the Pcola airport became empty empty except for a cleaning woman who kept her eye on me and asked if I was staying or what or something (she mainly spoke Spanish and my Spanish is very poor) and finally i got a message from him that he was coming and he showed up and around 1am or so we drove out of pensacola, headed for Grayton which I'd never seen and had barely even envisioned in my head.
It was dark and in my mind it was all just one big city, Pensacola to Grayton, with some unlighted spots in between.
And then in Grayton there was some massive young person party going on (they'd stolen the liquor from some bankrupt bar that had failed to pay them) and it was quite crazy crazy crazy. And then, when the sun came up, I got to see what a fantastic place Grayton Beach was.
But what I remember most about those last weeks in L.A. was staying at the old Oakwood apartment by myself. I felt very alone--almost abandoned--and like a homeless person. I was careful not to turn on lights at night or to make much noise. Had to stay indoors because I was there past the lease, was squatting. I had known--knew--a lot of people there. I don't know why i didn't call one of the woman I knew and stayed with her or ask them to come see me. There was the Lebanese girl whose father was a millionaire living in Greece, there was the musicians daughter (who liked me but she was only seventeen and I refused to mix it up with her because of that) and there were others. But part of it was I wanted to be alone, liked my cold self-pity, and also I knew I was leaving, was going away and would not be back and that my life was no longer connected to these people. Just another transient stop with transient relationships. So, I sat alone with the lights out, listening, squatting in an empty apartment in L.A. That pretty well sums it all up. I never felt connected to the city or region, I was always fighting it, never embraced it much.
But Los Angeles taught me some things. I don't dislike it and did go back a few times. I learned to drive in city traffic there. Learned that I couldn't abandon a wife and kids if I ever had any--something I honestly thought I could do, marry and sire and leave, but seeing Jeff's life and so many other people's in L.A., I realized I did have a level of morality and duty in me that would not allow that (which was why, I guess, I was in no hurry to marry or settle and was very picky about where I invested my deepest emotions). I learned about small bars and their patrons as second families and also learned about alcoholism and lives slipping away in dark dank drinking holes. I learned many things that come with living in a city and ones specifically that come with living in L.A.
But I was glad to leave. Never had a great desire to return.
I'll leave that for others.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Leaving New York City: 1988

It was mid-March when I decided to leave. I'd been in NYC for over a month, living in Queens with Jimmy, playing in Manhattan--the East Village mainly--drinking and goofing around with new friends and old (Donna from Iowa City). But I was broke. It was winter, still, and had snowed and Jimmy and I lived on beignet-mix pancakes and cheap whatever-we-could-find-and-afford foodstuffs. I actually had a job lined up--construction--but the madhouse of NYC was already getting to me. I'd lived in L.A., Seattle, spent plenty of time--weeks--in Chicago, but they did not match the density and intensity of New York. That's not to say I disliked it--far from it, New York was like an addictive cocaine-cocktail, such energy in a relatively small package. But I was broke. I was in love and that love lived in Illinois.
Fru did come out to visit while I was in NYC. She and Don flew out for a week (or was it just a long weekend?) and Fru loved it. She told me she'd quit her job and move to the city with me, if I wanted to stay. But, after she went back home, I thought it over deeply and decided I didn't want to stay. Even broke, New York was fun, exhilerating, but the idea of finding a place to live (we sub-letted in Queens), of riding the subway each day back and forth to a real job, of scrounging in a city where mucho dinero was, ultimately, necessary made me have second thoughts. Especially compared to a quiet life with Fru in her duplex on Ivy Court in little boring Champaign. If we were to move, I'd rather live with her back in Grayton, or somewhere out West. So, I decided to leave New York City. It had been but a life-experience experiment anyway. A lark that had presented itself during a cold midwestern winter.
I'd been hanging with Donna quite a bit, learning the larger city and hitting small bars in the East Village, eating Rays Pizza at St. Marks Square, visiting museums, took a long lone subway ride out to Coney island one cold day. So, the last night--before my flight the next day out of La Guardia, (a flight that Fru lent me the money to fund because I was honestly seriously broke)--Jimmy and Donna and I went out, caroused with some poets and other ne'er-do-wells , and I got very drunk. I spent the night on the floor at Donna's little shotgun hole-in-the-wall expensive knock-down apartment on some street in the village (east, that is). I was committed to Fru and did not sleep with Donna (though had, numerous times, back in Iowa City) and I can't recall if I took a cab--yes I did take a cab--to the airport the next day, hungover like a bad vampire bat.
I never flew much in those days, but I was feeling low, broke, cold, ready to get back to a sane existence with Fru, find a job in Champaign and pay off my debts (not too much), eat big hearty midwestern meals, sleep and sex with the woman I'd come to love. And so I did. Got on the jet, said goodbye to New York (never to return until over a year ago--almost twenty years) and off I went in the sky.
What I recall about the flight is that it's the first time I ever had that sinus-afflicted headache you can get as the jet ascends or descends--that shift in cabin pressure. And it was so painful. Man, it hurt on top of the hurt of the hangover. But I landed--in Indianapolis. (One rarely flies into Champaign--adds $$--usually it's Indy or Chi-Town.) And there Fru and some pals picked me up. I recall, they took me downtown and we went to Union Station, a cafe there, and I ordered a pork tenderloin sandwich--a midwest thing, really an Iowa-and-Indiana-only kind of sandwich. It was huge but I was hugely hungry. I ate it up. The waitress came out and asked if I'd eaten the whole thing, and I said yes--the cook was looking at me from the kitchen--and she said no one ever eats the whole thing. I was actually surprised, because I probably could have eaten another one after the time of almost starving in New York.
After that we wandered Indy a bit. I was disinterested. It seemed small, pedestrian. Some old homeless guy stopped me in the street, was trying to tell me something that was important to him but I interrupted, asked if he wanted some money (by then, I was quite used to panhandlers--a lot in Seattle, some in L.A., even a few in Santa Fe, and of course many many in NYC). The old man, unstable, began to shed tears, accepted my dollar or so, but still tried to tell something (I can't recall what it was he said, exactly or even inexactly) so I listened a little more--it was more interesting than the city of Indianapolis--and then moved on . . . Eventually, we drove back over the barren landscapes to Champaign.
And in Champaign I readjusted. Hadn't spent much time there, really, since I came up from Florida to stay in January. I looked for work. Finally found full time employment at a nursery just east of Urbana. Later I got on a concrete construction crew. 
Sure. It was but a foray. It was a smidgen of a moment of a drop-in-the-bucket when it comes to knowing and understanding New York. I don't know the city. Yet, I do. Sort of and almost. I was more traveller than tourist. One and a half months, not working, living in Queens. A short stay but not a weekender, not a one or two week tourist. Sure. I'm a novice when it comes to the Big Apple. But New York was with me, is with me. The true Big City was and is part of my brain pan. And I'm glad for it.
Allow me this, at least.

To Whom It May Concern #3

Okay. No one still reads this blog--out of what, a million readable blogs out there--but that's okay. I have done no work--no links or self-promotion--to get anyone to even take a peek at this site. And--as said--that's okay. But I'll just pretend. (Eventually I'll do some groundwork, maybe, to get a few readers.) 
Anyway, 2009 is a-coming. So far I've stuck to the 1980s for subject matter; pretty much anyway. My plan is--come January or February--to shift the focus, to open it up to a real scramble of scattered little trivial memories. By no means have I "wrapped up" those wandering years--have barely scratched the surface on the places and people, the internal understandings of it all--but it's time to get on, get back further to childhood and high school years, and on to the 90s, maybe the Ought-Oughts. Yes, yes: no one cares but me. But that's kind of the theme, the point, of this memoir blog. Trying to be honest. Can I help it that I never did anything interesting or earth-shattering? (Okay, don't answer that.) It's all nuance and interpretive. How do I take the mundane and make it interesting?
The answer to that remains to be seen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Leaving Des Moines: 1987

Throughout the Eighties I'd always kept my Iowa drivers license and kept Iowa plates on my car (when I had a car). Officially, I should have had a New Mexico license, a California one, a Washington State one, Illinois (maybe even Alaska and New York), definitely Florida. I never did switch until Montana in late 1988. But in the summer of 87 I was back in Des Moines trying to find work. I did my usual temp jobs--at warehouses and offices, a stint moving things around downtown where I showed up the first day still drunk and everything swayed and shimmied as I toiled). But then my old friend Kevin got me a full time job mowing lawns with TrueGreen and I was set until I left--heading back to Florida once again.
But I was down, felt rotten inside, but was writing. Living in the basement but working, seeing some woman--women--I knew and had met that summer in the bars. The difference, this time, was that I was using a computer, was rewriting about all my stories and my novel and starting new stuff (some of which eventually showed up in scenes of my third novel--the one that got published many years later). But my parents--though I didn't quite see it--were a bit dismayed. 
Here I was, a grown man in my late twenties, a college grad and a capable human being, romping about and returning to the parental nest and, basically, going around in my own static circles. 
But I worked the summer, got physically fit and saved a chunk of cash, got back on the writing trail. I got back in touch with my longest of friends, met new ones, stayed in touch with Matt and Brock (to some degree--these, my deepest friendships of those years, were beginning to fray) and with some people in Iowa City.
In fact, Roger--from the first Grayton days--was living in Iowa City (as he had when I came back for grad school in 86) and I went over to see him a couple of time, him and others I'd met less than a year ago. But eventually the time came to move on and that meant going back to the panhandle, to south Walton County FL.
So I made my plans, let some people know. I was going to drive straight south--take small roads down through Missouri, down through Arkansas and Louisiana and over: see some new country. But then I heard from Margaret--out of the blue--a letter or maybe a phone call and she was living in Champaign, Illinois and wanted me to come out and see her. Margaret was a friend, she had been Cin's roommate in early Iowa City college days. So, I decided I'd go see her, which meant a different route to Grayton, which also meant a stop in Iowa City.
All of which I did.
(And in Champaign I met her friends and co-workers, one of which was Fru; but that's a longer, different and involved story.)
But before I left, my mother came to me and wanted to talk to me. She seemed nervous, concerned, a little grave. She said, "I don't think you can come back here. You can't keep coming home."
That was all. And in many ways, it was a big statement. My father had always run a rather open family home, raised us to take our time and be practical to some degree, but mainly that our lives were our own yet the house would always be our home. But I quickly surmised that they had been discussing this--not exactly kicking me out (I was leaving on my own free will), but that this avenue of my indirection was now closed to me. I knew it had been a topic of deep concern and contemplation between them and that my mother had been sent to give me the bad news. But I didn't take it as such.
"Okay," I said. Was all that I could say. I mean, I interpreted it that quickly and understood it and thought it was--really--a good and necessary policy. So I had no complaints or quibbles. It didn't shock me and maybe even pleased me or satisfied me in inner ways. And we never discussed it further, never said more than those few words. It was understood and accepted and not an issue.
So, I left. Drove away. Left Des Moines for the last and final time--as far as living there goes. Of course I came back and visited, even stayed at the house for a few days, but never worked and lodged there again.
I really hadn't lived in Des Moines--saw the city as my home--since I went away to college and spent my summers in Iowa City in the early 80's (if not 1980 itself). I really wasn't even an Iowan anymore by then. I was just some itinerant gypsy vagabond nomad wanderer writer driver kind of strange guy, living mostly in my own head. . . Yet, that's not entirely true, because in my mind Iowa was still the center of my world, and Des Moines the center of that center. It was my home port, my pinpoint of comparison from which everything else was judged. So leaving it--essentially for good--had its profundity. It was--or should have been--a watershed event.
And it probably was.
But I refused to recognize it as such. Maybe I still refuse to do so.

I returned to Des Moines just a month ago for my Mother's 80th birthday (my father passed away in 2001). I spent about a week there, some of it on my own. My three brothers and my lone sister came into town for two to three days. I stayed on Grand and hung out on Ingersol, just west of the downtown core--even saw Scott and Larry, high school pals who are still there--and then downtown itself, east of the river near the state capitol, and got to see, re-learn the city while I was there. I was strangely impressed. Des Moines has grown up. It has its own level of sophistication yet still retains its Iowa-ness--a good Iowa-ness. I like it.
Who knows, maybe I'll go back someday. Back to stay?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Leaving Seattle: 1987

Spring came to Seattle and I was doing better. It was still gray and rainy most of the time, but there were days of sun, days of seeing the Olympic range out our window and towering Mt. Rainier from the streets. I began to write. And draw. And go for runs along Puget Sound at Seward Park where the big ships came in to unload grain and whatnot.
I was still depressed, but it was a more positive depression.
When I'd first come to the Emerald City, I worked as a busboy at Dukes, not far from our crazy apartment/house in Queen Anne on 1st Avenue West near the Space Needle. Then I'd worked for Brock's dad at his print shop next door (ADSCO Printing). But then I'd gone to Bellingham and failed and came back and then Matt had convinced Brock's dad that we should remodel the apartment (which he owned--a house really with upstairs and down, the down used as storage for the shop, the up a great place because it looked out over the Sound and was in a newly hip part of town), so I went to "work" doing just that.
You've got to understand the living situation. Brock had a room and Matt had the couch and I had the floor. There was one bathroom with only a tub. There was an attic, which we eventually made into a new bedroom, which Matt took and I got the couch. The only kitchen was downstairs among the stacks of printing supplies, so we'd cook downstairs, go out the front door and then in the second door which led up a narrow staircase to the door which led into the bombed-out apartment. When I say bombed-out, it's because the place was old and a wreck and was a complete toxic disaster when we started remodeling it. Matt had worked construction but didn't really know everything he was doing. We had walls torn down and sheets of plastic up and bare floors and dust and debris always everywhere. We lost half of our living space on day 1. But we muddled through. Matt and Brock worked days somewhere else (Brock for his dad) and I stayed at the "house" setting my own hours, drinking lots of coffee and writing. When I came back from Bellingham, I set up Brock's card table in a corner, got out his typewriter and began a few stories. I also began to draw a lot. Not that I'm very good, but I'm a decent sketcher and I drew a series of nudes--many of them funny--and began to post them on the wall each day or so. (Brock's father came in once, glanced over, glanced again, looked, and was embarrassed by the many nudes, some quite graphic, some cartoonish.) But I was doing better, but it became time to leave.
I wasn't broke. I loved Seattle. Was still friends with Matt and Brock (though the relations were starting to strain, Matt was starting to head into troubled substance abuse). But, it was time. Was going nowhere and when I'm going nowhere my urge is to go somewhere different. I knew I'd end up going back to the panhandle in Florida, but first I thought it best to go back to Des Moines (not exactly going somewhere different, but you get the idea). So, I said my goodbyes, packed and got in my ugly powder blue Ford Maverick and drove east, to Montana.
I must have spent the night somewhere, but from Missoula I headed south, down I-15, past Dillon and the state line and into Idaho where it became dark. Dark and lonely. A night at a very cheap motel in Pocatello. From there I drove to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, looked around, hit the road on little highways under clear skies. Took my shirt off and drove, school bus full of girls drove past, they all staring at me smiling and I so lonely and horny I stared back even though I was virtually an old man to them. It was a long drive. Took the route through Sundance into Nebraska and that groovy country around Scottsbluff and back into the familiar farmlands of the midwest and to Des Moines.
Once again, I lived in my parent's basement, worked weird jobs, saved some cash and caught up with my old buddies and women (those left). But I also wrote. Used a computer for the first time--borrowed from my older brother Michael, an Apple--and made some headway on that front. But I dreamt of Seattle, put it in perspective, and also dreamt of Grayton Beach, Florida.
I chose Florida by August or so.
But that's a different story among many piecemeal stories that all have connective tissue and a similar ring when put together. Sure, I returned to Seattle--as a visitor--when I lived in Montana with Fru. We were even married in Seattle. And though my times there were a comeuppance in a way, a demarcation from the fun days into more serious ones, a taking of stock as to who I was and where I was headed and what I really wanted to do, a bad time masked in good--maybe a good time masked by bad--I still love Seattle.
It's my favorite American city.