Letter From CA
4-4-05, Part I:I arrived in New York on Christmas 2001, broke, after a very hard and cold year in Eastern Europe. An MC friend of mine, one of those who can’t hold a conversation because he’s too busy networking, holding endless non-conversations with as many other people as his attention deficit will allow, was out of town and told us to stay at his place in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Hours before we had been sunning ourselves in the Amsterdam airport, relieved to be out of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and playing with the idea of just staying in Holland.
I still wonder what might have happened. Well, aside from being broke in another foreign country where I don’t speak the language…
We took a 2 hour subway from JFK to Flatbush Brooklyn. When Belgrade looks like One Tree Hill in comparison, you know you’re in for a ride through the funhouse.
The next two years were a like being given a ride you really, even desperately need, by some jack-off you can’t deal with, who wants to play you his favorite piece of epic, metal-prog rock. You know, 20 minute long songs, totally over the drama-wank threshold of decency; guitars weedily-weedily-weediling endless 64th notes; keyboards pounding out outlandishly mighty and plodding “classical-esque-for-dummies” power chords complete with bad feux-trumpets; and a perm-haired singer wailing away horrendously cheesy lyrics in the highest registers a male can scream in while not actually viewing his grandparents engaged in erotic, anal pleasures. And the song lasts for-fucking ever. It won’t end. And it’s not even about Satan, which might give it some small, ironic bearibility. No. It’s about a clichéd, Tolkienesque world where some dark fetish queen rules and only a truly valiant male can, with his guitar-sword, win the day for the lost souls. Yngwie Malmsteen was supposed to be on it, but passed it up because it was just too cheesy for him. And you can’t get out of the car because it’s speeding relentlessly down a Midwestern highway in the middle of nowhere, and like I said, without the ride, you’re even MORE fucked.
I tried to make an album. The label who “hired” me folded, the singer flaked and my computer blew up.
I worked truly the worst jobs I ever worked in my life. After trying to find a job bartending or waitering for MONTHS, (going out day after day to drop off resumes and interview in the middle of New York winter, mind you,) I finally landed a job bartending at an UNBEARABLE family-run place (the family being long island Jews. The quintessential “can we tohk?” kind. Neurotic. Incestuous.) located on the Upper East Side. The chef had been a little cooking prodigy (according to his mother) but lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle crash in Italy. He couldn’t get work. So his daddy and mommy bought him a restaurant. He ran the kitchen, his neurotic, hiiiiiigh strung mother ran the front of house, and his father did the bookkeeping.
And they had no customers.
And they were CRAAAAZY.
I met matthew there. The only bright spot. After several months I quit.
I got a job within a week answering phones at a burrito take-out joint. Benny’s Burritos. Across the street from an actual restaurant, we were the take-out arm of the business. I actually enjoyed it, mostly because I met another friend of mine, Taylor. I REALLY loved working with him. We talked about jazz and black history and Weathermen-left kind of politics.
I made NO money, however.
My wife worked as a cocktail waitress in an R&B club in the Village for a psychotic owner. She endured screaming, drunken madness, but made all the money and kept us afloat. Came home at 5 in the morning. Liked for me to be up and in a chatty mood.
Industriously working my way up the ladder, I eventually got a job across the street in Benny’s Burritos the proper restaurant as a waiter. I even got a second job waiting tables at another of their restaurants, but it was a terrible, terrible experience. So I stuck with old Benny’s. Little did I know that was to be my best job in NY.
Trying to break out of the hole I seemed to find myself in, I decided to switch careers. I got a real estate license and became a NY real estate rental agent.
Momma, your babies are WAY better off being cowboys. If these are my child’s only choices in life, cowboy vs. NY real estate agent, I will personally run chewing tobacco on my wife’s titties while she is breast feeding so lil’ Bucky Shapera can learn the tricks of the cow trade that much sooner and be a step up.
My wife started grad school, and, new career in hand, I was poised to support us now so she could get her degree.
Now I truly learned poverty.
And finally, I learned that hell is not a place somewhere far away, it’s in a NY populated by real estate agents and ungrateful, back-stabbing clients.
Oh yeah, I made even less money. Although I learned to laugh myself to tears whenever Gil the used car salesman appeared on The Simpsons. (“close the deal, c’mon, ol’ Gil really needs this deal…”)
Eventually, after close to a year of this….
(“why did you stay that long if you weren’t making any money, you dumbass?” well, see, everybody kept talking about the busy season. The busy season. Spring and summer. I started in fall so I waited patiently for the big money season. “Oh, you just missed the busy season. You just wait, come spring, wow! Look out!” I did have one really good month. In March I made almost $6,000. So I believed. Then spring hit. It sucked. “Ah, you just wait, summer’s just around the corner!” Summer sucked. I looked around. I realized that everyone else who had been hired when I was had long since quit. Talking to people I realized the whole thing is racket. The House strings you along with carrots. “Just wait!” they don’t PAY you. You make a deal, then you give THEM over HALF the commission, and they let you keep the crumbs. They have nothing to lose. They go through dumbasses one after the other. The flow of said DAs never stops. Collectively, the dumbasses make the businesses a decent amount of money, while few ever actually make a living for themselves. Popular among Eastern European immigrants. Seriously.)
Eventually, after a year of this, our landlord, now missing 6 months of rent, decided to evict us.
I did what any sane person would do in such circumstances.
I went to California.