Friday, January 6, 2012

LA Stories- Himmelschlantern

It was Thanksgiving- or at least, the night we were celebrating Thanksgiving, and Mick, Arica and Chris had invited everyone over to The Nest. The Nest is their tiny apartment in Burbank, so named because of the abundance of pigeons in constant coitus above their doorstep. It's perched at the end of a long flight of stairs, and although it's actually a fairly roomy 2-bedroom, I describe it as tiny because that is how it feels with 23 people packed inside it.

Mick, Arica and Chris are never at a loss for friends- their home radiates both warmth and madness, and is constantly filled to the brim with artists of every imaginable kind. I've never met so many phenomenally gifted people in one place in my life, and the open-door policy at The Nest meant a guaranteed warm fuzzy holiday. I picked my friend Chelsea up in North Hollywood on the way, and we headed on over to greet our friends at the dinner. Since I was moving soon, I brought the entire contents of my fridge over to donate.

Placing the Trader Joe's bags down and shedding a jacket meant a solid 15 minutes of hugging. Not the typical gladhanding you'll see at most parties, but genuine coming-up-for-air love amongst people I'll love my whole life long. One of these people, Aaron, arrived shortly after we did, and we all passed a pair of matching hamsters around the dinner table and drank wines no one's ever heard of.

The residents of The Nest had pasted a large macabre paper turkey on the wall, and Arica handed each of us a construction paper feather to write on.
"Write down what you're thankful for, and we'll give the turkey a tail," she instructed.

We did so, and then, after a round of introductions from our Hostess, we commenced to reading the feathers out loud.
I had two favorites that night:
One girl, who'd had more than her share of wine, mentioned that "she loved us, and she was coming for us."
A pause.
"Like, sexually, or like a stalker?" Chelsea asks as the room exploded with laughter.

Since most of us were too drunk to read our own handwriting, Arica took over and collected feathers from the remaining participants. Several people, independent of one another, had written that they were thankful for Batman and breasts. Arica read one, trying to make out the scrawl...
"Batman... Shit- ...Tits?"

I found this hilarious, and decided that Shit-tits was surely the most awful nickname possible.
Aaron was talking over a group of people at Aaron-volume, which is always a delightful 11.
I wanted his attention.

Still nothing.
"Hey Shit-Tits!"
He turned toward me, finally hearing. "Yeah?"
Ohhh god I almost peed.

Chelsea and I had spent most of the night trying to keep Aaron from drinking an entire bottle of grenadine, so this temporary new nickname gave us a lot of post-grenadine-passive aggressive pleasure.
At some point, John and Elissa showed up, having split their night by spending the first half at a karaoke competition to support our friend Kyle. It was a big night for Kyle, and I'd been torn as to whether to attend the dinner or the show, but somehow John and Elissa wormholed it and made it to both.

Arica continued to read feathers.
John, ever clever, deftly whipped out a rhyming ode to The Nest and our friends.
Aaron had written something charictaristically profound and touching, about how our friendships had changed him. In Latin. (Showoff.)
Chelsea had devoted hers to her love of her friends as well.
Batman and tits were touched on again.
No one noticed that my feather was omitted- I'd done so myself by folding it into a tiny square and hiding it in my pocket while Arica was collecting them.

How could I express all my love for these people on a single paper feather?
I'd written my Thankfulness down.
I could've written about the time Arica and Aaron showed up at my doorstep to tuck me in after some melodramatic post of mine on FaceBook.
I could've written about the time Aaron and Sean held me on the couch while I sobbed because no one would check my moles on my back for cancer, and how Aaron had sung the theme song to "Dif'rent Strokes" and made me laugh though my tears.
I could've written about the time Aaron pulled me aside at my own party and encouraged me to look at my friend's faces. "Next time you wanna call Jay, call one of us instead," he said.

Instead, I wrote this:
"I'm thankful that the night I put a bottle's worth of pills in my mouth, I thought about you guys instead."
I would not have been around for Turkey and stuffing that night if it were'nt for the very people I was sharing it with. They have each, in their own way, saved me from myself and pulled me out of the black.

I treasure my friends with every beat of my heart- because the day I longed for it to stop, they filled it to capacity and refused to let me quit.
But that sort of sentimentality was too heavy for the evening. Too much weight for a feather to bear. So I kept it in my pocket and enjoyed the night, basking in the warm glow of wine, Batman, and Shit-tits.

...Then my phone rang.
It was Kyle.
He wasn't calling to revel from his win at the competition, like I thought- he was actually calling with a serious concern: one of us was missing.
Kyle's roommate Erik had just gone through a really rough time and been forced to go find work in San Francisco. As he was our friend, too, and for all intents and purposes my drinking buddy, we were all sad to see him go. We'd kept in touch, but no one had had contact with him for about two weeks. He hadn't updated his facebook page. His phone was shut off. Erik had not shown up to work or come home for three days, and his SF roommates were worried enough to call the police. They also called Kyle, who called me.

I gathered John and Elissa, Aaron and Chelsea, and we headed immediately to Kyle's.
He was more than a little rattled.
Kyle had only that day begun to pack Erik's belongings to send up North to him, since a new roommate was moving into Erik's spot.
"I just feel so guilty," he explained as he paced his apartment.
Kyle didn't want to be alone with Erik's Box of Stuff. Kyle and Erik were really close, and Kyle was legitimately freaking out.
He was scouring FaceBook when we arrived.
Someone had apparently instructed Erik's ex-girlfriend to start calling local hospitals, and when that didn't pan out, she began calling morgues.
We got really worried- Erik is a great guy, but he likes to drink and he has a mouth on him. Our minds were spinning with possibilities.
Most of them bleak.

I hate to admit it, but I assumed the worst- I had a horrible feeling that Erik was somewhere in the bay- my own dark secrets sat heavily on a folded up feather in my pocket, and I was terrified that we hadn't been there when Erik needed us the most...
Kyle is a Guy's Guy- or at least has those tendencies. He'll drink beer and watch his beloved Raiders and eat his share of hot wings, but at heart he's an artist as well and pretty susceptible to freaking out, like the rest of us. A lot of residual feelings of unresolved issues with Erik, stress, and guilt were foaming up in him, and we could see it in his eyes.

Naturally, we tried our best to remain positive. There was a cigarette run and a case of beer purchased, with all 6 of us in a car meant for 5, but we were determined to be supportive.
Chelsea and I were in the middle of soliciting duck pics from our guy friends (see the "GingerWolf" blog for more on that) when Kyle stopped us.

"Can we just listen to this for a moment- just for a second?"
The Beatles' "Hey Jude" came pouring out of Kyle's computer speakers as he sat in his chair.

"It's Erik's favorite..." he explained, needlessly, as Paul McCartney began to sing.
"And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain."
As the song played, we sat motionless and silent.

"It's the fool who plays it cool."
Kyle broke down, lowering his head to his chest and burying his face in his hands.

"The movement you need is on your shoulder."
And so were we- on Kyle's shoulder, there, with him.

I don't know how the five of us bamf'd into place, but we formed this protective ring around our friend- something Chelsea would later describe as a Cuddle Puddle.

"Let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin."
As if my heart had never been broken before, it broke again that night for Kyle. Each of us had tears in their eyes as we ached for our friend.

"Take a sad song and make it better."
We held Kyle, almost trying to physically absorb his hurt and spread the burden amongst us. We all held him close and tight while he wept for his friend. Our friend. We were so scared and so fiercely protective at that moment, each realizing the fragility of life.
One of us was missing. Cling tightly to those you love.

The song repeated a few times as we held each other.
"Na, na na na na na naaaaa," came the chorus.
We all prayed for Erik's safe return.

"Hey Jude."

Since my roommate had become a creeper (please read "The Creeper- part 2: And The Darkness) and Kyle didn't want to spend any time alone where Erik used to be, I invited him to spend the night at my place with me and Chelsea. I like to think sharing a bed with a blonde and a redhead helped take his mind off things for a while.

The next day was my last day to pack, and my next-to-last-day in town. Erik was on my mind as I gathered up my belongings and said my "see ya laters." I couldn't bear to tell anyone "goodbye."
That night my core group was meeting at a bar, but since Aaron was 20 at the time, he couldn't go.
I scheduled some time for him to meet me at my place so I could get a one-on-one chance to say what we needed to say. He showed up, right on time, like he always does, wearing his long black coat and his cake-stomping boots.

Aaron has dark black hair and even blacker eyes, which absorb everything and spit it back out with some sardonic twist. He held me tight and I wondered if he knew that he'd saved my life.

A while back, a Cinematographer had given me a Himmelschlantern, which I'd refrained from packing several times to have it at the ready- it's a candle-lantern, which fills up with the hot air from a candle, and lifts up, glowing away into the sky. I'd been saving it for a special occasion- first, for an LA Anniversary with Jay that never happened. Then, perhaps to send my wedding rings off in style. But no, tonight was the night- to convey the things I could not say, and to send off a message of love and hopefulness into the sky.
Aaron and I carefully removed the packaging, careful not to tear the blue paper which made up the skin of the lantern.

"Making to two pieces the candle and hands," the German-to-Chinese-to-English directions read.
Okayyyy. We went outside onto my North Hollywood sidewalk and readied ourselves with the Himmelschlantern and a lighter.

"Prepare special parings for friends," was the final instruction.
We attached the candle to the frame.

"I'm making my paring for Erik," Aaron said.
"Me too."

As Aaron held the lantern skin ready, I lit the candle. Or at least, I tried.
The damn thing would NOT light.
We tried again.

"Maybe we're not paring hard enough," Aaron suggested.
We par'd the fuck out of that thing, and tried every possible way to get the candle to ignite, It simply wouldn't. Time and bizarre engineering prevented the wax from doing anything other than scorching.

"Hmm," I said.
"Hmm." Aaron said, then "...Wanna just set the Himmelschlantern on fire?"

It was a great plan- but the damn fireproof (for obvious safety reasons) paper would not ignite.

"Got any lighter fluid?"

Yes, yes I did- my super-sweet ex, Paul to the rescue again, from thousands of miles away. When you live with a fire-poi juggler, he leaves you with lighter fluid. This is the natural order of things.
I found Paul's stash in the garage and we tested a spot on the Himmelschlantern. It looked good to go.
We took turns dousing it and blazing it, as cars passed by unphased by the destruction in the street.

As the embers flew up and away into the chilly night, we made our parings.
Whatever the fuck a paring is.

Finally, it had charred and crisped to nothing.
We kicked the ash into submission, him in his famous boots and me in mine.
The black soot still sits on my suede, reminding me of that night and our scorched-earth policy.
"Well, that's that," he said.

It was and it wasn't.

I clung so tightly to him- we were both scared and sad and completely assimilated. I knew I'd leave a piece of my heart behind with each of my friends, but Aaron has a sizeable chunk and it physically hurt to watch him walk away. I hate saying goodbye when the future is uncertain.
I hated not knowing where Erik was.
I hated... leaving.
All I could do was trust that the fibers of my intentions had made it through the smog layers and up to where the dreams go in LA. The glittering stratosphere where stars are made.


The next night, while driving with my brother through Arizona, I saw a shooting star. It may have been Himmelschlantern fragments because I wished with all my heart on it for Erik's safe return.
Within an hour I heard the news: he was alive and safe, checking out of a hospital.
Feathers and Himmelschlanterns. Sleepovers and Shooting Stars.
I miss you friends- but you're here safe in the embers of my burning heart.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

LA Stories- The Creeper, Part 2: And The Darkness

After all the drama with Uche, I had plenty of sympathy for Andrew- he had been played for a fool and now we were all paying the price. I tried to give him some extra care and show him some love by inviting him out when I'd be with friends, and he began tagging along frequently- even guilt tripping me when I didn't include him in my plans.

He had no car, so since I was working nights, I'd let him drive my car to run errands or do whatever it was he did- he definitley wasn't an audio engineer like he'd told me, and he wasn't in real estate, like he'd told Taz. In fact, to this day, I'm still not quite sure what his job was- but it always provided him plenty of money for weed. (Another thing he'd lied about when I first moved in.) When he wound up blowing my car's speaker, I decided not to say anything. Poor guy was going through a breakup, he probably just wanted to rock out and cranked the volume up a little too loud. No big deal.

Taz and I even went to go support Andrew on the night of a big stand-up comic competition. This was the one job we were both fairly certain he hadn't lied about, but when it was his turn to go on and he started to choke, we got worried. Hadn't he been telling us all along that he was a comic? He delivered his opening line, got lost, tried to read his notes, then spontaneously gave up. We were stunned- we wanted to support our roommate, but we weren't really sure who he was any more...

Andrew and I had jokingly said that "as soon as Paul left for the cruise ship job, we'd make some caramel babies." I'd started the joking, so I'm to blame for that, but after Paul left, Andrew ratcheted it up to flirting pretty hardcore and I became uneasy about it. Also, I caught him in a bizarre lie- he told me and Taz that he'd hurt his ankle stepping down off a curb, but then I overheard him on the phone telling a friend about how he'd gotten into a fight on Halloween night, then come home to find the same guy he fought with lives on our block. I was sad that he'd lied to us, but I didn't say anything to Taz at that point. Point is, I started getting serious weird vibes from someone I trusted.

Over the next few days, Andrew became almost possessive and jealous if I went out, and would question who I was going out with or when or if I'd be back. For a while, I felt sorry for him and continued inviting him along to group activities, but then this happened:

Andrew was stretched out on the couch (our only furniture) when I came down to wait for my friend Mark. I sat down on the floor with my back to the couch, and Andrew said "come sit on the couch." I told him I was fine, but he insisted, so he slid down and I sat down, then he slid back up and put his head on my lap... okayyyy... I pet his hair and was talking about baby sheep when he asked how long it would be until Mark got there. "5 Minutes," I said. "Perfect," he says. "Just enough time for a blowjob."
Then he takes my hand, and even though I'm pulling away from him, puts it on his crotch. Like, wow.
I said "Wow, no, that's really not going to happen," and at that exact moment Mark showed up thank god and we went to go get wings.

Over a dozen hotwings, I told my friends how weird Andrew had acted, and how I'd sensed that he'd been watching me sleep.
They told me to be careful, so that night I asked Mark to stay over and sleep between me and the door.
The way my room was laid out, the door was right next to the bed, so Mark would act as a buffer between me and any creepiness.
I had to keep my door open just a crack for my cats to come in and out, but it would take a solid effort to physically SEE into my bedroom from the hallway.
The next morning, Andrew definitely was looking in my room because I heard him (at 6AM) pause by the crack in my door and comment "Hm! One head, two heads!)
The door was only open just a sliver- not even enough for a cat- but enough for a Creeper, apparently.

I decided to tell Tazzie, and she told me that Andrew had told her that he was falling in love with me, but that probably it was just a reaction to me leaving. She also told me that he'd confessed to her about the Hollywood fight, but told her it had started because some guy on the train had accused him of being gay. Go figure.
She and I began noticing different inconsistencies with things he'd told us, and the more we spoke, the more uncomfortable we both got. She also told me that he'd told her his brother was in jail for life because his brother had murdered 5 people. Andrew told me he didn't talk much with his brother because of an age difference. Hrm.

A few days later, my friend Aaron and I were watching TV when Andrew came in and scooted Aaron over to sit next to me. Between us. He then pressed his body against mine and made some weird groaning noise, ao Aaron and I made an excuse to go upstairs.
"So, you ready to watch this?" I said, holding up a random DVD.
"Let's do it," says Aaron, catching on.
"Where are you going?" Andrew asks.
"Upstairs," I say.
"What are you gonna do," Andrew asks.
Ummm. Yeah. Tazzie came home a few minutes later, and after she, Aaron and I corroborated stories, we all became seriously creeped out.
"You guys wanna get out of here for a while?" Aaron asks.
Yes, yes we did. So we wound up at a Valley party for a model on her 21st birthday. But that is a tale for another time.

The next day, tired from getting my ass kicked at flipcup, I decided to take a nap. Big mistake. I woke up and found Andrew in my room, WITH HIS HEAD ON MY PILLOW, stroking my arm to wake me.
"Honeeeey, wake up," he whispered.
"Dear God what are you doing?!?"
"I just wanted to make sure you didn't oversleep."

After waking up the following morning to him legitimately staring at me through the crack in my door, ("just to see if I was home or not,") I decided that I wouldn't stay another night there by myself. My wonderful LA friends Kyle, Mark, Chelsea, and another HHN pal, David, all either put me up at their place or crashed with me the remaining nights. In a way, it was fun because it created some epic sleepover fun. I have zero regrets about that. There was nail painting and eyeliner application- and that was on a Kyle night!

Aaron gave me some very sweet advice regarding the matter:
"Jaime, do me a favor?"
"When you move back,"
"Stay the fuck out of North Hollywood."

Tazzie had had enough by this point, and decided to relocate as well. The two of us quicly realized that it was no coincidence that Andrew's prior two roommates had both bolted at the same time.

The day of the big move approached, and on my final night there, James (my brother) spent the night in bed with me- at my insistance.
At 3:30AM, Andrew opened my door- a last, looming black shadow in the darkness.
James awoke feeling Andrew's eyes on him.
For a moment, they just watched each other. Then:
James said "Hi."
Andrew said, "is she asleep?"
James said, "yeah."
Andrew said, "Oh. OK," and went away.
The very next morning, we were out- never again to worry about The Creeper of North Hollywood.
Until he stiffed me out of $100 of my return deposit.

Goddamn you CraigsList LA.

LA Stories- The Creeper, Part 1: The Ghost

After escaping The Wizzard and crashing with Paul, the good people at CraigsList LA revealed to me a potenial new place to live! In NoHo, cats OK purr, rent reasonable, blah blah. There were even smiley faces on the ad! How could I resist? The ad said they were looking for roomies with interesting jobs, so I called up and introduced myself as a Stiltwalker. I was in.
Andrew, the guy renting the rooms, explained over the phone that both of his roomies were moving out at the same time and he was looking for more of a "family" atmosphere, where we could hang out and be comfortable around one another. After living in a domestic violence situation, I was all for this. We set up a time to meet and I headed over.
Judging from his voice over the phone, I expected a small gay dude. What I got instead was a large, muscley black gay dude! Surprise! He seemed really laid back when we met in person... like, TOO laid back... I asked him if he was into partying, and he told me that he didn't do drugs. Another point in his favor. I asked him if he was dating anyone, if I should be expecting a lot of fellas over late at night and he got confused.
"I'm not gay," he explained.
"Oh," I said, still unsure.
Even though he seemed really out of it, Andrew let me fill out an application as if it was a done deal. The room was TINY- but it was a room in a safe place- and the other roommate moving in was to be a girl named Taz! Taz (short for "Tanaaz") is from Australia, and works as a nanny while auditioning for films and commercials. Andrew explained that he was an Audio Engineer and a stand-up comic.
"I walk on stilts, so... with our powers combined..."
Done and done.
Tazzie and I moved in the same day.
My friends Paul and Todd helped me move in, but as soon as the bed was loaded into my room we noticed a problem: nothing else would fit in there.
I held back the hot tears of an impending panic attack while the boys figured it out- if they stacked my remaining furniture on top of itself, completely blocking the window, we could fit my clothes in the room. Maybe.
There was no overhead light fixture, so as the pile of furniture eclisped the last escaping light of the sun, I held my breath and suppressed my screaming internal OCD... "It's OK. It's fine. I'm safe here..."
And thus I was moved into my tiny dark hole.
Due to a scheduling mishap with his cruise ship job, I was able to return the favor Paul did me by letting him live with me- Andrew and Taz, after meeting Paul, very graciously invited him to crash with us since he was in-between homes and had been so kind to me.
Everyone got along famously- until Uche happened...
The very first week Taz, Paul, and I moved in, Andrew spontaneously invited his brand new girlfriend Uche to live with us. Uche seemed quirky and high-maintenance, but since Andrew had been so kind with Paul's situation, I wasn't about to complain.
Uche (pronounced "Ooo-chay") had just been mysteriously fired from her job as a cold-caller finding financial backers for a film project, but she was planning to rebound quickly and got a part-time job as a hairstylist. Andrew, with a huge kind heart, was allowing her to live with us rent-free and chip in when she could. Uche wound up working an entire 2 days at the salon before she realized it was easier to stay home and do nothing.
In her spare time, she enjoyed talking loudly to the TV and eating my food.
Not just some of my food- ALL my food.
Paul and I went grocery shopping our first week in, and came home from work to find most of it gone by the end of the night. She and Andrew would drink an entire container of juice, leaving only a thimble's-worth at the bottom. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be the end of the world, but I was so poor at that point an empty container of food made me want to cry.
Then the night terrors happened... Not theirs- ours.
Paul and I shared a wall with Uche and Andrew, and it was at night that Uche's (legitimate) Bipolar Disorder came out. Born without the skill of an "inside voice," Uche would lecture Andrew for hours- HOURS- about how awesome she was, to the point of mania. Here is a direct (and my favorite) quote:

Uche: "I gave you my pussy- that's right- I GAVE you my power- and that was MY mistake- that was MY fuckup- and now I've gotta sit here with YOU? Do you even KNOW how many people are DYING to be my friend? There are hundreds of people on my phone right now who would DIE to be with me, and I'm with YOU."
Andrew: "Please go fuck yourself."

Uche was born in Africa, and has had a tough life. She claims that her dad tried to kill her. She's a people person, and very skilled at getting people to give her things for free (like living rent-free with Andrew, for example) but her gift comes with the hefty price of being bat-shit crazy. Since she is a Scientologist, she doesn't believe in medicine, and would berate Andrew for being "weak" and depending on Paxil for his Anxiety and Depression.

After a few weeks of sleep deprivation, Andrew caved and broke up with her, but he did it by placing all of her belongings outside in our building's shared garage space. It was behind the gate for our cars, but still, he pretty much dumped her out on the street.
This drama happened while I was working Halloween Horror Nights, so I was pretty much out of the loop- Paul had gone to train for his cruise ship job in Vegas, so for a few days, the house was quiet during the day.
Then Uche hopped the gate and bum-rushed Taz when the garage door opened, just long enough to run upstairs and STEAL ANDREW'S PAXIL.
Cops were called, the usual drama ensued. Thanks LA.
Then, I came home after my Horror Nights shift (at 4AM) to find Uche, who again hopped the gate, sleeping, blocking the doorway to our house. Rising like a zombie, she lurched towards me in the darkness and scared the shit out of me- which was fair, because really, that's what I'd been doing to other people for the previous 8 hours. Uche claimed that she and Andrew had made up, and that I should let her in to sleep on our couch. I wasn't buying it.
Taz was awake, Skyping with some Aussie friends, and she and I woke Andrew up to deal with the situation.
Andrew let us down, big time- he finally answered his door after we knocked and knocked, then told us he was too "over it" to deal with Uche. This left me and Tazzie with a crazy woman on the other side of our door. Neither one of us wanted to let her in, but we couldn't let her sleep out in the cold either, so BOTH of us got in my car and drove Uche back to her Hollywood apartment. During the car ride, no one brought up the fact that it was fucking insane. We did, however, as a group, enjoy spotting hookers on the way to and from Uche's place. We even saw one get arrested. Oh, the places you'll go! Dr. Seuss has nothing on me.
The next day Andrew didn't want to deal with it either, and the subject got dropped. Naturally, we assumed they'd broken up for good.
Until about 2 weeks later when she came over at his invitation, spent the night, and STOLE A HOUSEKEY.
Goddammit, Andrew. Bitch played you for a fool.
So she came and went at odd hours, like a Bipolar ghost. Taz and I began to sleep less easy, but little did we know: Uche was not the problem...