After I attended an in-patient eating disorder program,“La Ventana,” in Santa Monica,* I knew I wanted to move out to L.A. I was desperate for the warmth–it felt like an endless hug–and the Pacific’s huge slabs of crystalline rock formations skirting the shoreline. My friend Andrew (now my fiance) also vowed to take the plunge, as it were, westward into the deep blues and greens of the ocean. Weeks after I returned, we loaded up Andrew’s truck, rumbling along the route he devised to avoid most highways and interstates. “There’s no free in freeway,” his finger to my nose. “No high in highway. Do you feel high? I don’t. Give my money back you fucking fascists!” I cackled. How anti-establishment he could be–his rants about the need for a socialist revolution, his love for Dennis Kucinich.
Three days later we arrived in the City of Dreams. Andrew lay his head on his friend’s dog bed until he found an apartment downtown and a gig at a high-end butcher shop in Santa Monica where all the celebs bought their filets and sausage: Emerald Lagasse, Owen Wilson, Spencer Pratt, etc.
I moved into a large house in West Hollywood shared by 22 other youngsters, most of them aspiring actors with their noses deep into various white powders, always drunk in the pool having handstand contests. I remember getting drunk one night and reciting T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Profruck,” to my housemates. They stared back in confusion and disgust: “I don’t, like, get it,” “It’s too long. I can take a shit faster than this guy gets to the point, and I do an entire word search on the can,” “You’re a weird little lady, aren’t you?” I couldn’t live in this frat house. The only two people who accepted me was my bunkmate, Charissa, who was constantly trying to talk me into high-end prostitution, and a young Latino man who I suspect feigned alliance so I’d give him the oxys I was prescribed for chronic pancreatitis.
At the AA meeting a young woman approached me after the meeting, explaining that she lived in a shared house in Hollywood with only nine tenets. “So much more calm. You’d like it.” I moved into the house a few days later, minutes away from the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre and one of L.A’s top ranked Thai restaurants.
I had interesting roommates. One was an actor, Dave Vescio, who looked like Mike Maron and had co-starred with actors such as Black Lively and Penny Marshall. He sat at the kitchen table all day, promoting his films on Facebook and copying inspirational quotes off various web pages. We had long, profound conversations about art and acting and purpose. A kinship awoke. I listened to him complain about the rank fetor of his roomie’s shit. He had a strange routine of eating only in his car–never in the house and never in front of others. Until he started dating a new tenet who harvested and sold weed. She despised me for our friendship, ordering him to sever all communication. So he did.
Did you know that most of the audience members of talk shows are paid to sit there? This was my gig. I appeared as an enthusiastic audience member on shows like The Doctors,
Dr. Oz, Lip Synch Battle, and Judge Judy. I loved it. But the pay was little and I eventually had to move into Andrew’s apartment in a primarily Latino neighborhood saturated in gang violence. But the worst thing about staying there wasn’t the violence or lack of English-speakers, it was the old Mexican woman who parked across the street selling tamales out of her trunk, yelling “Tamales!” (with her accent I first thought she was shrieking, “Tom Collins!” which I felt was a little early for a cocktail–she began wailing for customers at seven, sometimes six in the morning.
Eventually I moved to Pasadena in an old craftsman shared by five others: a British tea blogger, An artist, a Pacific Islander named Jeff who, slightly younger than me, was the manager of the house and whom I would eventually shimmy into a dysfunctional relationship with (ladies, anyone who believes the lore that Asians have small penises is sorely, and I mean literally sorely, wrong.)
I worked as a tutor and taught SAT Prep courses in neighboring Alta Denta, a population over 90 percent Asian. Business thrived, because it’s true that most Asian American parents breed high-achievers, millionaires, arrange for them to marry into a prosperous Asian family. One mom cussed me out in Mandarin for letting her son nod off during our history. In English, she instructed me to hit Wong Chu, “Just smack him. Use ruler. Run over with car. Keep my kid awake you...butthole!” I stood up and looked Mrs. Chu in the eyes. “Would you also like me to keep him alive?” I said flatly. With that she abdicated, storming out, her knock-off designer purse circinate around her tiny body.
When I broke up with Jeff he punched the wall beside my face. I scampered away to Andrew’s, picking up a fifth of whiskey on the way over. Drank half the bottle when Jeff called and we began to argue. I stepped onto the fire escape so as not to subject Andrew to our battling. When I came to, I was being lifted onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. Andrew rode with me, told me I fell down the fire escape stairs. Twelve rib fractures, a punctured kidney, broken cheekbone. They had me see the staff psychiatrist; what I told her is a blur of intoxication. Next they put me in a big room, the patients sequestered by a measly curtain. They pumped me full of narcotics for two days. Next to me was a former NFL linebacker who acquired a traumatic brain injury. Every few minutes he’d yell “Get me a sandwich, bitch!”
The psychiatrist put a 72 hour hold on me. It was the worst psychiatrist hospital I’d ever seen: big white room, cots lined against the wall, two stern-faced guards glaring from across the room, clipboard crossed against their thighs. You couldn’t talk, stand, walk, or fart. The woman next to me was manic, had frazzled hair with gum clumped to the base of her skull. She ranted about dick sizes and ate all my food. “Shhhh..!” The guards would caution. “You can’t shut up someone who’s having a manic episode, guy. It’s inhumane.’ I said. He told me to shut the fuck up.
My Dad flew out to help. He told me my mother’s Alzheimer’s progression was advancing rapidly and thought I should come home. So that’s what I did. Andrew and my dad packed my things (since my body was broken) and I took the next flight out, wheeling around L.A.X., red-eyed from Oxy. But I did have one clear thought 7.2 miles above the Earth: I had been in love with Andrew the entire time. I laughed, laughed so hard I cried. The lady beside me asked me what was so funny. I swiped the tears from my eyes and looked out the window. “The clouds. They look like boobs!”