Sitting in the break room at Doggie Daycare, I like to talk to myself while other people are sitting in there with me. I will mumble things like . . . “I want to go to Sundance.”
The Sundance Film Festival occurs every January in Park City, Utah over the same week as my birthday. I have been three times, and all three times have been the best birthdays of my life.
Snow, wine, movies, movie stars, exclusive parties, Roger Ebert, great food, chakra massages. Guh. I love it so. Its just so expensive, and when Danny killed himself, one of my first four thoughts was, “I can’t go to Sundance this year.”
The first thought was, “Oh my God.”
The second, “Will I have to move? Where can I put the dogs?”
The third, “Is Dora going to kill herself?”
The fourth, “There goes my chance to go to Sundance this year.”
One of the new employees there, Rachel is an actress ,too. She heard my prayer of remorse and said, “I went to Sundance for the first time this year. I loved it.”
I said, “Yeah, isn’t it great?”
She said, “Yes, one of my movies was accepted so I got to go.”
I said, “Oh, which movie?”
She told me.
With a mouth full of something, I said, “I’ve heard of it.”
Rachel, “Yeah, it got picked up, I got into CAA because of it. It was everything you could ever want and more. Now, a year later, there is nothing, no work. And I am working at a doggie daycare. “
Me, “Wow. I was going to say you are living my dream, but you are just living my life.”
Abe had seen the film weeks before and it obviously resonated with him because he kept bringing up how terrible the characters were to each other. When I told him about Rachel, he said, “WHAT!? SHE’S working at your Doggie Daycare . . . why?!”
The film made the top 15 best films of 2011 in the Hollywood Reporter. That’s a big deal. When telling Dora, she said, “Then why does she need this job?”
People don’t get it.
She probably wasn’t paid for her role. The film was made in 2008, like many of us, probably on deferred pay.
A studio or distributor most likely picked it up on a modest buy and the film’s success is in the exposure it offers the talent (actors, director, photographer). Exposure doesn’t pay right off the bat. Its like an investment with lots of potential. Its part of what you need to make it.
In the meantime, Rachel was living off of peanut butter sandwiches until pay day.
People like to remind artists of the reality that success is hard to come by and the road is arduous. They don’t have to fucking remind us, we are living it.
On that note, let me start on My Parents.
Thanksgiving morning was bad. I got the negative pregnancy test and I still didn’t have my car or any money. I called my parents and cried my eyes out. Well, I cried to my mother about how shitty my life was.
When she passed the phone over to my father, he said, “Hey, what are you doing? Why are you crying?”
I said, “Cause I am feeling sorry for myself.”
He said, “I don’t want to hear that. Bye.” And hung up.
That’s my parents.
That day, they decided that I needed to see them right away, so they planned to drive out and visit me the second week of December.
The day they were supposed to arrive, I went to Pasadena to get my phone turned back on again. I can’t float my AT&T bills like I used to. They are shutting down my phone every month now that I don’t pay on time.
I pinged Abe on GChat and asked him to tell my parents my phone was off but I planned to meet them at the motel.
He typed, “Am I gonna be able to stop by and see them? I would like too.”
I wrote back, “Only a boyfriend gets to meet my parents. Since you don’t think its a good time for me to see your parents, I don’t think you should see mine. We aren’t a couple.”
He wrote, “Oh. ok.”
Off I went to Pasadena, just because I like to go to Pasadena to remind myself of where I want to be. Old Town Pasadena has coffee shops, stores, people who have all their teeth, good food. I miss all of those things.
I have God damn tumble weeds on my street. TUMBLE WEEDS.
At the Starbuck’s, I always flirt with the male barista. I just like them. They are young, a little more educated than your average customer sales representative and the bearers of coffee.
This particular day, I was considering cheating on my vegan diet. I have no good excuse for the temptation and I am usually very good about it. I still had not had my period and with my parents in town, my teeth were grinding.
Me, “Do you have any chocolate croissants?”
Cute Barista, “No, sorry.”
Me, “Hmmm, that’s a shame.”
Cute Barista, “The Bliss bars are on sale.”
Me, “Nahhh. I want . . .”
Cute Barista, “Chocolate?”
Me, “Yeah, exactly.”
Cute Barista, “Well, you can get the Bliss bars for a friend or a roommate.”
Me, “Um . . . no she doesn’t get any more of my money.”
Cute Barista, “You know whats really good? These.”
He handed me little packaged cookies.
Me, “Chocolate covered graham crackers. I have these at home.” The 99Cent store sells them and they are vegan. YUM!
Me, “What about these?”
Cute Barista, “Chocolate chip banana bread . . . not actually very chocolately.”
Me, “Oh. Hmm. Ok. How are these?” I held up dark chocolate bars.
Cute Barista, “Very good. Your total is $5.15.”
Pause. I should mention there are four people lined up behind me during this entire conversation.
I handed him my debit card.
Me, “Does that include these chocolate bars?”
Cute Barista, (smile) “No.”
Me, “Oh . . . good.”
I walked away. That was a close call.
My parents called, they just passed Pasadena.
I got my coffee and headed back up to Sylmar.
They got lost trying to find their hotel, which they initially claimed was about a mile from my apartment. Soon, we figured out it is actually 6 miles and three freeway exits away from my apartment.
That was ideal, Dora and her mother both warned me any hotel within a mile of my dump had a lot of undesirables hanging about. Closer to me, Meth and prostitution are just down the road any which way.
I met them at the Travelodge, walking in alone, the manager, a small Asian man said, alarmed and in an unpleasant tone, “May I help you?”
I said, “I am meeting someone.”
He stared at me. Jesus, when did alabaster skin and chestnut hair hang like THIS on a meth addict? Relax man.
My father came down and hugged me. Then he ushered me by the small of my back to the front desk and introduced me to the angry, little hotel manager.
My Dad, “This is my daughter. We are here visiting her.”
I smiled and nodded. He did so back.
I wondered if my parents are the last of the generation that bothers to make introductions like that. It never occurred to me, but I liked it. My parents are small town, I forget that.
So I went upstairs to their room, where they were setting up the wine and beer station and pulled out my father’s homemade salsa and a bag of chips. I took off my jacket.
My Dad, “You look good. (pause) Your boobs are BIG!”
I said, “I know! Its a mystery.”
I embraced my mother, and almost immediately came the attack.
My Mother, “We think when April comes around, we can come, pick you up and take you back to Washington with us.”
Me, “What am I going to do for a living up there?”
My Mother, “I don’t know. Something.”
Me, “There aren’t very many jobs. I check on the web, and for every 800 a day in Los Angeles, there are maybe 6 or 8 in Olympia.”
My Mother, “But there are less people competing for those jobs.”
Me, “And those jobs aren’t me, Mom. People will hire me as a secretary because I am pretty and smart, but then they realize I am different and they fire me. That’s what always happens.”
My Dad laughed while holding up his beer, “She’s right.”
Me to my Mother, “See?”
My Mother, “Once you hit the pavement, its gonna happen. You will find a job. You and the dogs can stay at our house. We can keep them while you float around.”
Me, “Float around? Think about this. I don’t get a job. I don’t get anymore unemployment benefits because I am not in California anymore. And you are stuck with me and three dogs in your house. Don’t you think that would really aggravate you at a certain point?”
My Dad, “She’s right.”
My Mom, “NO! No she isn’t. You will find a job.”
Me, “What if I don’t?”
Dad, “Lay off, she is never moving back to Washington. Geez.” He started rubbing his face, all frantic like.
My Mother got up furious, “You can’t find a job HERE. Isn’t it better that you are home with us if you can’t find a job? You are going to stay here. This place has brought you nothing!”
Me, “NOTHING? I had a career. I worked on a documentary series. I made a movie. I got jobs my classmates would have killed for. Its just a rough time right now.”
Me, “How can you say 12 years of my life has brought me nothing?”
My Mother, “This business is so sleazy. Why keep struggling like this? (pause) I am going to die soon. I know it.”
Me, “Stop saying that.”
My Mother, “I am going to die soon and I don’t want to go with you struggling like this.”
Ok, should I note here that my family doesn’t really help that much anyway. I mean . . . they give me a couple hundred a year, for my birthday or when my car broke down. I am not poo-pooing that. But . . . they aren’t really troubling themselves with financial assistance. They just got back from Italy and were going to head out to Thailand after the holidays. My struggle doesn’t seem to interfere with any of their plans.
Me, “Can you say one good thing? Just one thing positive about me. I will give you a second to think about it. No rush.”
My Parents in unison, “Your teeth.”
My mother sat down next to my father and kicked back her head with a cackle. That moody bitch.
Mom, “Where is the coffee machine?”
Dad, “What the hell? This place doesn’t have anything.”
Mom, “No microwave. No coffee maker. That is just weird.”
Dad to me, “We got you a coffee machine for Christmas, but um . . . you won’t get it for a couple days until after we leave.”
He laughed and rubbed the back of my neck. At least they were happy to see me.
Mom, “Where is the fridge? What the heck?”
Dad, “I don’t know whats going on. I have to look at the website again.”
Mom, “I would be surprised if they had shampoo. Beautiful furniture, though.”
Dad, “Yeah, the furniture is beautiful but you can’t eat it.”
Me, “By the way, this salsa is really good.”
Mom, “Your Dad always makes really good salsa.”
Dad, gesturing to the shelf, “What’s up there?”
Mom, “Up where?”
Dad, “Up there?”
Mom, “My hat and gloves. WHY?”
Dad, “Jesus Christ. Just asking.”
Mom, “We were driving in and this girl pulls up next to us and just flips us off. No reason. We were going to the speed limit-”
Me, “That’s probably why.”
Mom, “-we weren’t behind her or in front of her. She just flipped us off with a big nasty frown on her face. Why type of people live out here?”
Hard and fast. That’s my parents.
We decided to see my place and the dogs. Abe cleaned up the night before.
My parents came in, sat down and I saw them exchange that secret glance. The, “Wow, this is worse than we thought” glance.
They said, “How much are you paying for this?”
I said, “We agreed on $450 when I moved it, but after Danny died, I offered $500.”
My Dad said, “You got stiffed on that deal.”
My Mother said, “You could afford a one bedroom in Washington for that much.”
I said, “Its not that bad. I have everything I need . . . except for running water.”
They gave a slow nod.
We walked the dogs. And I just didn’t want to talk to them anymore.
I know I should have a house by now, and babies and assets and a career. Its just not happening that way for me.
After the walk, my mother said, “You know this is like dorm living. You aren’t a kid anymore. You are going to be 34.”
I said, “I know.” And her eyes widened when they caught mine, as if to say, “Do you get it? Do you really get it?”
YES, MOTHER, I DO!
She said, “By the way (struggling to pull up a bag) St. Nick dropped this off and wanted me to give it to you.”
I looked through my Christmas bag, “How did he know I needed pink socks?” I held them up and smiled at my Mother.
She only offered a half grin. She didn’t want me to think any part of my life is ok, so she refused to be happy until I gave her what she wanted; a promise to move home.
I said, “Look, Dora’s lease is up in April. You are going back to Washington in April. If things don’t change, I will move back.”
She nodded, “Ok.”
That night I finished the bottle of wine and called Abe, “I can’t handle this. I need you to come and buffer my parents.”
He laughed, and said, “OK. I work the next couple days, but will go up as soon as I am free.”
The next few days were better. They came over at 7:30am with my coffee maker and played with the dogs.
They refused to go upstairs. I wasn’t sure if that was because I prepped them for a dirty apartment or because it was Dora’s space.
When my Dad had to go to the bathroom, it became clear he was reluctant because Danny hung himself in there. Its funny how people are.
I said, “Its ok. Do you want me to come with you?”
My Dad paused then said, “Ok.”
I escorted him upstairs and waited outside the bathroom while my Dad tinkled. Much like my mother used to do for me as a child, when I was too frightened to use the bathroom alone in the middle of the night.
Our roles are already reversing.
My parents didn’t want to go anywhere, and they didn’t want to spend any money.
So we drank coffee. Then we drank wine. A bottle a day.
We lounged around their motel room with MSNBC on and they stopped bringing up my future or my life for a couple days. They must of spoken about it after my Dad accidentally saw my status update on Facebook.
Family has a very special way to make you feel like a complete and utter failure. I really wish they never came out.
I told them I hadn’t had my period in a month and my mother’s eye grew wide.
She whispered excitedly, “Do you think you are pregnant?”
I said, “The tests say no.”
She said, “Well it could be the stress. Just relax and wait and see.”
Dad, “Women during the war wouldn’t have their periods. That is why often women get pregnant after giving up on conception and adopting a child, because they are happy and relaxed. Just relax.”
I said, “Yeah, Dora hasn’t had her period yet either.”
My Mother said, “We will buy you another test.”
We drove around and little and they would mention things like, “If you become a writer, you can do that while having another job.”
I said, “Writers need time to reflect and think, you know . . . process. Not to mention, live life and find things to write about. Think about all the great writers, none of them had a comfortable life. They all had a modest living. And Kafka worked his ass off every day, and I will never be able to finish Amerika because someone needed personal injury insurance.”
Dad, “We went to a few of Kafka’s houses when we were in Prague.”
Me, “Yeah, how’d they look?”
Dad, “Not much better than your apartment.”
They came over and walked the dogs for a bit, but my father grew tired fast. The cartilage in his foot is gone, so walking is difficult.
He stopped at a house with a city notice taped to the gate.
Dad, “(reading) Notice to shut off water due to lack of payment. (to me) Well, you are in shared company here.”
Around noon, they cracked open another bottle of wine back at their room. All the sugar in wine had me amped up and restless.
Mom, “Honey, do you want to go for a walk? Just you and me? (to the TV over my shoulder) Why don’t you drop dead, you Cuban bitch!”
Me, “Sure, let’s go for a walk.”
While we were walking, I said, “I know I am the only creative person in the family, so its hard for all of you to understand, but I need you to take this very seriously, if I don’t create, I will go crazy. I will get depressed and lose my mind.”
Mom, “We are trying to understand. Its hard for us. You’re my baby.”
Me, “I know its hard. You are all academics and (my sister) is a teacher. You understand that. My life has more risk, but its my life. Its part of the whole deal.”
Mom, “You can write anywhere though.”
Me, “I need inspiration and I really want to document how someone makes it in to Hollywood. even if I never make it, at least I can write about it.”
Mom, “Its such a God damn sleazy business. I would rather you have no part of it.”
Me, “I am not a 20 year old off the bus, Mother. I have worked in the industry. I have studied for this field. I mean, we are talking about 12 years of my life and you want me to throw it away because I can’t get a job during a recession? What if I was a teacher who couldn’t get a job or something else. Everyone is having trouble right now.”
Mom, “I realize that.”
Me, “What if I was a boy? Would you still harass me to come home?”
My mother thoughtfully paused. “I think I would.”
Me, “I am on a journey here. Just let me trust my gut.”
Mom, “I just don’t want to watch you struggle for whats left of my life.”
Me, “I will come home in April if things continue like this.”
I wish in a way, they were the type of parents you could take places. We could explore the tourist places in Los Angeles, maybe go to Roller Derby or see Griffith Park. They didn’t want to do anything. They just wanted to sit in a room with me and drink wine.
They hate Los Angeles.
Mom, “That Kim Kardashian is divorced already? They just get married and then say oh, Irreconcilable differences. Its too easy.”
Me, “It was a money making scam. She got paid for interviews, photos of the bachelorette party, to wear a certain type of wedding dress, to serve certain restaurant food at the wedding, the post-wedding interview, the wedding photos in People magazine . . . in the end they made a couple hundred thousand dollars, I am sure.”
Dad, “Is that right!?”
My Mother, “Here, let me take a photo of you so I can put it with your phone number in my contacts. How do I do this, ok, wait . . . “
I bent over my father’s foot and posed as if I was going to eat it.
My mother laughed and let out a fart.
We both giggled. Dad looked at us mystified.
I raised my voice so he could hear, “SHE FARTED!”
Dad, “Oh, geez, irreconcilable differences.”
We went out for Thai food and I took a bath in their room when we got back. It was kind of nice.
Mom to me, “I think you have my colon. Its 7 ft. long.”
Dad, “I thought the doctor said its 8 ft. long?”
Mom, “Oh . . . I don’t know. I was so out of it after that colonscopy. He said most people’s are 3-4 feet long. Not your mother’s!”
That morning, Abe was supposed to come by and he was running a couple hours late, of course.
I told my mom, “The pregnancy test was negative again.”
She said, “Its not the right time.”
I nodded . . .
We took the dogs to Petsmart for Santa Photos which made me ridiculously happy.
When Abe finally arrived, we mobilized my parents to another hotel in North Hollywood. You see, they got some kind of coupon deal if they stayed in two hotels during their trip instead of just one. Everything is about saving money, even more so than comfort.
After getting them over to their hotel room and cracking open another bottle of wine:
Mom (looking out window), “I am trying to figure out if that’s a bird or a cat.”
Dad (coming up over her shoulder), “It doesn’t matter, it’s dead.”
We decided to go check out a few apartments I could afford.
My mother said, “But can you afford to move right now?”
I said, “My therapist says I should look so I can keep an optimistic view of my future.”
So off we went to all the housing that would allow dogs and cost less than a grand a month in rent. It all was section 8 housing, with mariachi music blasting, garbage in the street, and buildings that looked like they were falling down on their own already.
As I said to my therapist, “Its better to live in poverty in the country than to live in poverty in the city.”
My Dad retires at dusk, so we dropped him off at the room.
My mother, Abe and I went out to Thai food, and at first my mother was conversational and happy.
I mentioned that when my parents had trouble finding work, with me and my sister depending on them, they moved to Milwaukee, WI to get help from my grandmother (my father’s mother).
My father was adamant, “Its important we get this straight. She didn’t help us at all. We lived with her for a few days, but she kept nagging me to do what she wanted, so we moved out and into that first apartment. We were on our own.”
I remembered that first apartment. To my parents, it was a small, run down place they had to move to out of desperation. To me, it was a small place next to a big field where I captured grasshoppers.
I learned I couldn’t keep grasshoppers alive in my glass jars, no matter what I did. So, at four years old, I decided everything should live free in the wild and wondered if people should eat animals at all.
My Grandmother was still lingering over dinner conversation and Abe asked, “How did your grandfather die?”
My mother said, “He died from complications due to a motorcycle accident.”
I said, “Why don’t we just say what it is? He hung himself in a mental institution?”
My mother’s face fell.
I said, “Why should we pretend its anything but what it is?”
My Mother said, “We don’t know if it was suicide. They think maybe he broke his neck during shock therapy treatment.”
I said, “Then why did his mother blame Grandma for it? She told me she showed up to the hospital and his mother kept saying, ‘Its your fault. You did this.”
My Mother, “Well, we will never know.”
And from there, my mother stopped talking. She politely forced a smile while slurping her noodles.
It was uncomfortable. I felt like she was being rude to Abe after a while, so I offered to just drive her back to the motel.
Abe refused to get out of my bed early. He usually sleeps in late.
I said, “My parents are going to stop by any minute.”
He said, “They will call first.”
I said, “No . . . no they won’t.”
He rolled over and covered me in that sublime warmth of hot breath and bare skin while the cold morning air pinched my ears and nose.
I crawled out from under him and said, “No, we have to get dressed. They are gonna be here.”
He retreated under my blanket.
My parents came in, “HELLO!?!”
I held back the dogs and squeezed to the side so they could sit down and have some coffee.
Abe reluctantly got out of bed and had to get dressed in front of them, since there is no wall to separate us.
My Mother, Abe and I walked the dogs.
This morning they were going to leave, and I know, that my Mother would give me the silent treatment, cry then they would both take off earlier than I would want them to. That is usually the way it plays out.
So while walking the dogs, Abe got a little ahead by a couple paces since Esther usually runs and pulls harder than the other two.
My Mother said, “You know, you can’t count on him. He is never going to move in with you. You should just move on now and save yourself the time.”
I said, “Mother, he is right there. Don’t be rude. Think of other people!”
Mom, “Don’t you yell at me.”
Then she stopped talking.
Silent Treatment: CHECK
We walked down to the park and I suggested we go to Starbuck’s. She rolled her eyes and looked up at the sky as if to say, “How could she suggest such a thing?”
I said, “Or not . . . whatever you want to do.”
I said, “Don’t try to curb things with tense silences and over the shoulder eye rolls. Say what you mean.”
She said, “Don’t talk to me like that.”
Abe acted as though he was lost. He always seems to think I am being too sensitive and inventing problems, when usually, I am just picking up on someone’s passive aggressive communication because of some problem they are having but refuse to communicate using their words. Call it a talent. I call it a fucking pain in the ass.
We shuffled home.
Dad, “Ok, I uploaded some virus software on there. What’s wrong?”
Mom, “She yelled at me.”
Me, “She is being rude to Abe.”
Dad, “All right! We gotta go.”
Tears fill her eyes.
I said, “Well, I hope I don’t die before you see me next.”
My Mother nodded her head as the tears lit up her dark, wide and knowing eyes and she croaked out a dramatic “ . . . yeah.”
My Father shook Abe’s hand and off they went.
Early Leave: CHECK
Abe, “I don’t think your parents like me very much. I think they are disappointed in me.”
Me, “Don’t let them get in your head. That’s what she does, she makes you feel guilty until you do what she thinks is best. It never occurs to her what she thinks is best may not be best!”
Abe, “I don’t think your Dad wanted to shake my hand. I am good for nothing. I am only good for smoking, fucking and fixing. That’s it.”
Me, “You are good at those things, but you have other good qualities, too, baby.”
Me, “Seriously, don’t let her get to you.”
Yup, my mother made a Jew feel guilty and worthless for an entire week after that. If only there was a trophy of some kind I could give her . . . alas, just the reward of laboriously trying to boost my ex-boyfriend’s self esteem seems celebration enough.