When I moved from Long Beach to my old stomping grounds of Atascadero in 2009, I was like, "Screw this rock 'n' roll stuff. I'm going to learn banjo." Suddenly, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, and Loretta Lynn were singing directly to me.
I had a lot of tears in my beers.
City life had it's fun, but the fun ran ragged. Here are the things that lead up to this longing for the "simple" country life, after about six years down south.
1) Drama don't = Love.
I had (finally) sent my on again off again boyfriend of forever to jail for "damaging personal property" and "unlawful restraint." As a result, he had lost his job. I didn't feel bad about it, but it had gotten really overboard by this point.
Note: This was a long time coming, as he once set fire to my clothes and sent my guitar (yes--my precious cream Hamer) through the window of my 1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88, the only possession I ever loved. He then replaced the window, which was extremely hard to find and took intense searching throughout the US. This is a perfect example of the absurd and tragic cycle that was this ongoing relationship, which actually started off as innocent rock n roll fun when I was 14 and he was 16.
2) A lazy person thought he could steal my dignity. And my purse.
I was on my way to an interview for a writing job. I walked down the steps of my 4th and Walnut apartment (deemed defiantly as "The Cunt Castle" by myself and my roommate Jenny) with my large, black writing portfolio in my arms. My $12.99 Ross purse dangled from my hand as I fumbled for my keys.
This is what happened.
A kid rode by on a BMX bike, and--just like you would reach for something as banal as a bran muffin or a pen-- outstretched his scrawny arm and grabbed my purse. Confused, I hung tightly onto my purse and let out a surprised "Hey!!!?"
We had a strange sort of standoff.
"Give me your purse, bitch!" he growled.
The weird thing was, he did not even have the decency to get off his bike. He thought this was a drive-through mugging situation. Was he the two-wheeled bandit or just really lazy? My blood boiled.
I don't know why I didn't just give it up. I felt something inside would just wither and die if I gave in to this scenario. My nine-year-old self would have disowned me for giving into a mugger who wasn't even really trying that hard.
It was a lot like my generation's beloved feature film, "Clueless."
Except, he didn't have a gun and I didn't lie down on the pavement. I just yelled as loud as could muster. I screamed for the frustration of my life and for the injustice of this recent development. I screamed for the crumpled $3 in my wallet and the fancy red Chanel lipstick my friend had bought me as a birthday present that I wasn't willing to part with.
Red lipstick, as we all know by now, is crucial for morale during wartime.
The scene, looking in, must have been hilarious: I was wearing my "nicest" interview clothes from Forever 21 (all I could afford) and had styled my hot pink hair in as "normal" a way as possible.
I was proud of my news clippings as I clutched them to my chest (I was editor in chief of the Long Beach City College Magazine as well as 2008 Journalism Student of the Year. Did he not KNOW who I was?).
If he didn't know then, he knew soon enough. At the very least, he learned that I was someone not to be fucked with.
My neighbors, who were hanging out on a nearby stoop, heard the yelling. They chased the kid down and beat him up terribly. I felt bad about this, never one to stomach violence, even when it is warranted. I found out later the lazy mugger was only 17.
Note: Another neighbor once threatened a person trying to break into our apartment with a gun. It worked out in our favor, but how many close calls would we get?
3) The corn man died. The. Corn. Man.
I came home from a party one night to see the small square of stained concrete in front of The Cunt Castle blocked off with yellow do-not-cross police tape. Jenny notoriously had friends over from the bar, but this couldn't be her doing.
I knew, immediately, that I actually had to grow up.
There was a body bag.
I soon found out that the corn man, who would ride his bicycle-cart filled with delicious corn covered in mayo, cheeses, and spices, had been shot dead in the street. On our street. Where we chose to live out our bohemian 20something lives.
4) Punk Rock Conformity.
Like all human beings alive on earth, I wanted to feel connected to my tribe. I loved my friends more than anything. Most of these older pals are still good, loyal, awesome friends that I am proud to call my own.
But at some point, the way I presented myself and who I felt I was inside began to skew and splinter. The scene had also splintered, and each clique became increasingly insular.
In a sea of non-conformists, I felt like the odd man out. Where is the space for the wanna be-intellectual writer obsessed with typewriters, classic country, old L.A. punk, Prairie Home Companion and miniature ponies?
There were warehouse shows where everyone was "a train hopper, or whatever," complete with crusty patches sewn poorly over every inch of the body. A surprising bunch of them had embarrassingly rich parents.
There were the "drunk punks" who, although sometimes fun to hang out with for a show (they could pick you up onto their shoulders at a moment's notice), never left the bar for fear of shriveling up in the daylight. In the sun, all their wrinkles--and the wrinkles in my own young life choices--were glaring.
I noticed I was hanging out with people 10-20 years older than me who acted like they were my kid brother/sister. This at first intrigued me (could there be a way to AVOID growing up altogether?) but then it frightened me to my very core. You know, there is a reason why people say Long Beach is where punk rockers go to die. It is true.
Life is about choices. I had to make one.
5) No way to live.
The last place I lived, under the stairs at a party house, left me yearning for a patch of land not covered in broken bicycle parts and moldy cigarette butts.
I am thankful for what happened there. I only stayed six months, moving back in with my mom in Lomita during my final semester of school. Still, I am thankful I saw what I saw and experienced.
There was a knife fight and subsequent stabbing at a Halloween Party (which led to police ordering everyone out of the house while still in-costume the day after), touring bands sleeping on every inch of the floor--including the back yard, hard drugs handed round like the T.V. remote.
Even more alarming: I was physically sick, eating nothing but bean and cheese burritos from Del Taco, as they would give out a free coupon for a bean and cheese burrito every time you ordered one.
Everyone in the house feasted for a few months, until one transient "roomie" appeared one day and attempted to steal and entire roll of coupons while the Del Taco employee's back was turned. He had to be a big shot.
The larger tragedy: Just trying to get by, I could never muster the inspiration to start another band. Going to shows lost their luster. Why were we all here? What was the common goal? Who was I, anyway? I have good parents and a good family. A good heart. I had good intentions...for the most part.
All the while, I was studying for school, driving 2 hours to Culver City in traffic every day for an unpaid internship at a radio station where I wrote political news/ads, freelancing for a local LGBT magazine that paid 10 cents a word, and picking up hours at my Aunt's property management company. There, I wrote very well-written violation letters to people not conforming to their HOAs. I wish I still had some of those letters about dogs pooping on other neighbors' yards!
After six years of community college and three different schools in three different cities, I graduated with my Associate's Degree in print journalism in in 2009. Ah yes. Print Journalism. What a shining future it had before it. I jest.
Now self-employed, I make all of my money through the mighty printed word.This, above every other thing in my life, has been the most shocking. I am thankful, heart and soul.
With degree in hand and a desire to write, I considered by ramshackle existence. What was life going to be?
Was it living in a city so smoggy and so ugly that no one cared about throwing plastic cups out of their cars on the freeway? About lowering your eyes so you don't see the tragedy in the homeless faces outside CVS? Or worrying that those same homeless faces would sneak in through your window and kill you in the night (then feeling guilty about it)?
Living so physically close to "the haves," yet so incredibly far, that it could drive you mentally insane?
Parking ticket after ticket after ticket? I mean, where to park a 1968 Olds?
Soon, I would be living at my Dad's house in Atascadero, waking up to the beautiful swish of oak trees and feeling, to my very core, like a free spirit. I had a newspaper job. I had family. I knew absolutely no one else. It was OK.
I had a weird lifeline. I decided, out of the blue, I would learn banjo.
And so, amazingly, I started writing songs again.
I would risk my heart again, too.
I was going to open mics and trying not to show how incredibly nervous I was. Waiting for my name to be called while sitting at The Pour House in Paso Robles, Creekside in SLO or my fave, the Sanitarium, my whole body would sweat and ache.
NERVES. If you don't know what they are, you've probably never lived.
Those nerves would flood my brain...but some tiny voice deep inside would say, "You can do this. You HAVE to do this."
Sometimes, I barely even believed this whisper of confidence, but I followed through. It was an authoritative voice, albeit faint and fuzzy.
Looking back, I think it was the 9-year-old me. The girl too proud and stubborn to get down on the pavement.