Somethin’ in the night
Just don’t sit right,
Looks like I’m gonna be up all night, yeah…
— Ric Ocasek
By the end September, I finally scrapped the idea of returning to New England. This movie thing I had planned was drifting farther and farther down my list of priorities, and my last phone conversation with Fred told me that his thinking on the project was no longer compatible with mine. Our talk about Realm Of The Crystals was also becoming contentious: I was beginning to think about the idea of trying to pitch the idea as a screenplay. Fred was dead-set against it–he wanted us to do it on our own, as books we would write, then as films we would make ourselves. He was unwilling to surrender his/our ideas to someone who would, as he presumed, not remain faithful to the vision we held. That idea–seeing as I still wanted to be a film-maker someday–still held some attraction for me, so I relented and let the issue drop. I continued, however, to develop my own ideas on Realm, whenever the inspiration struck me. I still did drawings, and went right on fantasizing about ultimately joining Spielberg and Lucas, among the ranks of the so-called “Billion Boys.”
I took a protracted walk home after work one day, walking down past the shops of Main Street Seal, glancing through the windows of the boutiques at things with price tags that I could never afford. I walked down to the pier and sat at one of the benches that lined its length, watching the surfers riding the small breakers as they swept in with a regularity that I didn’t know whether to describe as comforting or mind-numbing.
Returning to Boston was simply not a possibility at this point: I had saved no money–I wasn’t making enough to save anyway. Not enough for paying for a film to get made; not even enough to pay for a plane ticket back.
Besides, I was developing a life here. Not much of a life, granted, and mostly solitary, with the exception of my developing friendship with Kim, and my nights out to movies with Eric and his drama friends from school (who had adopted the unlikely moniker of “The Theater Fuckheads” for their little group). But this erstwhile life was mine–my own independent existence. Wasn’t this what I had told myself I was here for? I still felt the same old paralysis regarding making things happen in a substantive sense: no thoughts of college, unrealistic thoughts of creative success. But going back east at this point felt like a step backwards. I would be giving up the small portions of freedom and possibilities for self-reinvention I had gleaned from life in Seal Beach up to this point.
I took off my ball cap and let the wind tangle my hair. I turned the cap over in my hands. It was one I had bought up in Hollywood: a recreation of the crew hats they wore on the Nostromo in Alien. I had given up the old Ozzie’s visor in favor of this as my work hat; just one small way of expressing my new individuality. The choice of the Alien hat, though, reminded me of my ties of friendship back east: mutual love for the Ridley Scott sci-fi horror flick brought many of my senior year friends together–including bringing Fred and Sarah together romantically. I made a mental note to remember to buy another one of these caps and send it to Sarah for Christmas. That small token, I knew then, would be all that the old gang would be getting of me this year.
I popped the cap back on and walked home, turning around in my head which movie I would see tonight, and looking forward to another visit with Kim.
Back at the apartment, Frank and Mom were home from work, as was Eric, though he was gearing up for another shift at Taco Hell. I made my announcement public.
“I’m not going back to Boston,” I said, as soon as I had closed the door behind me.
“It looks like that’s a great load off your mind,” said Frank, after I explained my thinking. “Look” he added to Mom, “his face has even cleared up!”
Everyone laughed, including me, but Frank’s dig at my persistent acne bothered me, even though he said it in jest. It drew into sharp relief my awareness of the fact that my decision to stay had almost nothing to do with my life at 142 7th Street, Apartment A, Seal Beach.
Despite my seeming satisfaction with the way things were going in my new life, living in that apartment with my new “family” began to cause me greater and greater discomfort. Tensions continued to climb between my “side” of the family and the Barger contingent, Frank and Paul. Mom’s mental and emotional frailty continued to increase. Eric dealt with it by staying active with school, theater and friends. I found shelter in work, movies, my own few acquaintances, and my music–I frequently “hid” under the headphones in front of the stereo when at home.
Frank was still high-flying from his recent graduation from the est Training, so he was at this time, very much afire about complete, open and honest communication–and insistent that we should all be happy, and want to be happy, living together in this kind of family unit. Mom, I thought, was grasping at straws, trying to salvage something from this situation, of what she wanted–or trying to see what she ever really wanted from a “normal” family life anyway. I felt so disconnected from events at home that I couldn’t even tell whether Mom and Frank even got along. Actually, I never even thought about it–it never occurred to me that they might not be. Although I knew they got into fights, I couldn’t fathom why Mom would stay in a situation she was unhappy in.
For my part, I had lived my whole life in non-traditional, single-parent households and, especially during my years with my dad, had grown accustomed to fending for myself, emotionally and logistically. I was completely unfamiliar with this nuclear-family “Father-Knows-Best” kind of scene, with family dinners together and the like. Not only was it unfamiliar, but it felt forced–inauthentic. It felt like insisting on taking a nice drive in the country, when the car is up on blocks and the country has been strip-mined. Mom and Frank—especially Frank—were trying to impose a structure on our grouping, and I think the tension between their expectations and the fact that some of us really couldn’t stand each other (I felt nothing but contempt for Paul) was playing hell with the psychic space in the family and even within the apartment itself. The place began to feel “bad” to me, to stink, contaminated by spoiled agendas, fractured lives; it began to feel–in a word–haunted. My frequent retreats to the UA6 and Fosters felt completely justified.
This charade reached its apex when Frank and Mom signed us all up for counseling. Family Therapy. We were to go once a week, every Wednesday night, to an office space in Garden Grove (or, as I was learning it was known, Garbage Grove), where we met with two counselors, Russell and Sara, who facilitated supposedly honest discussions of our “family” issues. It was a farce. Eric stoically retained his stance that nothing was wrong. Paul remained ever-sullen, and did nothing but complain about whatever thought dangled around in his feeble little brain. For the most part, I abstained from the discourse. This was not my situation, not my issue. I was new to the household, I had my own priorities, I had a life, an identity to find, and I was fairly convinced that this was not the way to go about it.
Our counselors were young, well-scrubbed professionals, so articulate and “present” for everything that we reluctantly brought to the table that at one point (one of the few points where Paul and I came into agreement), we decided that Russell and Sara had to be est grads. It turned out that they weren’t, and it hardly seemed to matter that most of us were. All the est vocabulary of honesty and transformation seemed impotent against the frictions and contentiousness that infected us. It was wasted effort.
Russell and Sara’s determination that we were living more like guests in a hotel, than like members of a family, struck me as monumentally anti-climactic.
“And your point,” I wanted to ask.
Of course we were: how else were we going to interact, when each of us had different sets of priorities, different individual needs? I certainly felt that way–but calling it to light did no good. What happened at home was hardly real to me anymore. The things that counted, as I stood on the verge of my eighteenth birthday, lay well outside the wood-paneled boundaries of the apartment. I slept there only because I had to–I wished to God that I had a girlfriend to sleep with, not just for the sex I remained starved for, but so I would have another place to go at night.
Like my so-called work with Jack Horner, we stopped after about a month. I refused to continue, as did Paul (another of our common points). I got more solace from the movies, my music, and from my commiserations with Kim. Life dragged on at 142 7th Street; tensions remained unresolved, and continued to grow. I started to look harder outside the house for my own answers. Considering the futility of the whole effort, one of Werner Erhard’s quotes, one of my favorites, struck me as appropriate:
“There’s no cheese down this tunnel.”
I was visiting Kim up at Foster’s almost every night. We had become something of a highlight of each other’s day. She granted me free access to the the last of the day’s inventory, which I took advantage of, along with my customary large hot chocolate with a big dollop of half and half from the coffee creamers (I had yet to discover the caffeinated joys of coffee). Most nights, we would sit on the small counter between the deli-cases, she with her back to one case and me with my back to the other, facing each other; sometimes we would talk for hours, other times we just shared a comfortable silence.
I was more at ease with Kim than I was under any other circumstance at that time. Over time, our confidences became more and more intimate. One night, sitting across from each other, she confided in me a dream she had once, in which she saw herself, with a gaping black hole in the center of her chest; she was looking up, and seeing her own heart taking flight in the heavens, leaving her heartless flesh bound to the earth. She told me she did a detailed drawing of it. The strain in her voice told me that she was seeking hard to find something beyond herself, to put her own life in order–just like me. She was a kindred spirit. I understood her.
That I was falling for Kim, there was really no question. I had yet to see her socially, outside the donut shop, and the prospect of asking her out terrified me, because I had so little experience in dating and all that. I was fairly sure she didn’t have a boyfriend, but she did make offhanded references to boys in her life, and I was intimidated by that. Kim fascinated me with her contradictions: the Seal Beach girl who didn’t surf; the stoner chick who taught Sunday school on the weekends.
We were periodically interrupted by customers who, after midnight, were frequently police officers. It was at Foster’s where I discovered the intrinsic affinity for donuts and coffee held by most cops. Kim offered them free fare as well, in exchange for the frequent late-night visits. The local police knew Kim and were protective of her. They told us, one night, that she was usually within sight of at least one cop car at any given time throughout her shift–and that if anyone should try to hold her up, all she would have to do is throw up her hands, in that very visible fish-bowl of a shop on the corner, and Seal Beach’s finest would be there in seconds. Their protectiveness made me a bit nervous at first: here I was, this guy in a ratty old army jacket, loitering at the shop all the time. I thought they might get suspicious of me. Quite the contrary, I learned. They valued my presence. In my pursuit of Kim, I was performing a public service.
I rarely left Foster’s earlier than one or two in the morning. It was altering my sleep habits, but fortunately I never had to be at work earlier then 10AM. It was routine now, and I valued Kim’s place in it. I would return home, long after the others were asleep. Sometimes I would go straight to bed; other times I would sit down by the stereo, back against the unsanded wood wall, pop on the headphones and listen to music. One full-length LP was usually enough to knock me out. I would doze through the final tracks, much like I used to do when I smoked pot, although I hadn’t gotten altered once since coming west. I would think of my friend, the donut girl, and I would doze off, dreaming of those big green eyes of hers.
Cliche? Absolutely. But that’s just the way it happened.
Next Month: Chapter Five–I’m The Guilty Party And I Want My Slice