The Crown featuring Ruth Popper

tom cruise teeth | Tom cruise teeth, Tom cruise, Celebrities with braces

I’m always breaking my teeth. Sometimes in the front, sometimes in the back. Lately I’ve been breaking teeth that I’ve already broken.

Which is why I’m in Marina del Rey getting my temperature taken, being reclined until I’m supine and in front of a TV.

“We have Netflix!”

I decline the offer. The x-ray tech leaves but the TV plays to spite me. It’s an Asian woman in her 20s on the balcony of a Hollywood Hills home with her mother who’s pinching her daughter’s nipples in anticipation of a photoshoot.

“Great show!” My dentist says before pinning my tongue into submission.

My dentist, who has red hair and is alarmingly upbeat, injects my gums for the sixth time. “Most patients are usually very numb by this point.” Staring into the nearly blinding light above I wonder, do I have a high tolerance for pain medication or a low tolerance for my teeth being chainsawed? My jaw involuntary snaps. “Let’s take a break!”

She brings me to my full and upright position and I pull out my phone. The first thing I see is that someone I once worked with has died.

My dentist asks if I’m okay. She was probably referring to the tooth but it’s too late before I realize that. So I tell her.

In 2012, I had just started working in TV as an Executive Producer’s assistant. One night, I made my way from video village to a room off of the soundstage floor that looked like where you might serve out detention in middle school. Linoleum floor, unforgiving fluorescent light. But it smelled like burnt coffee. Tables on each side were covered with prepackaged snacks, wilting Costco croissant sandwich, hardboiled eggs. This was craft services and I was basking in the purgatory of not being hungry but also being bored until I felt someone grab my ass.

I turned around and was face-to-face with a nearly 90-year-old woman wearing a fruit basket on her head and chiquita banana lady costume. She cocked an eyebrow and stared me down. She wasn’t tall but she was intimidating. She was Cloris Leachman.

I had never met her before despite having seen her on set countless times. I just kind of froze, as you do, when Cloris Leachman has grabbed your ass in craft services. Then she smiled, impossibly wide, laughed, maybe even cackled, and walked away. In my head she always said, Welcome to Hollywood, kid. But I don’t think she actually did. I think it was a test and I’m fairly certain I was too stilted to pass.

My redheaded dentist tells me: She must’ve liked you.

But before I can say, That wasn’t really the point. She pegs my tongue to the side and says, “We actually – sad story – our cleaning lady died. Covid.”

Behind my goggles I try to convey my condolences.

“And the sad part is – she probably got it here.”

She unbridles my tongue. “Your new crown should be ready in an hour, so if you have some errands to run, we can text you when it’s ready!”

I’ve really got to stop breaking my teeth.   

R.I.P. Cloris

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It Started with Succulents

Image result for huge bulldozer forest black and white

It started with succulents. It ended with a commercial grade rototiller and a crater between citrus trees.

It wasn’t my idea. Thumb pots with tiny cacti do not sing to me. So it was never going to be love at first sight. But things escalated quickly. Emotions ran high. And a year ago today I drove away from a plant nursery with the number of a man who didn’t want to, but was considering, doing some work for me.

He really didn’t want to do the work. It wasn’t about the money. The last time he came back to a customer’s house afterhours and did some unaffiliated work not wearing the emblazoned logo of the nursery, it ended poorly. I told him I didn’t see his planting an avocado tree in my backyard ending in violence. He said, You don’t know that.

In 2017, a man had approached him about some Marathon II sod. He ordered pallets of it from the nursery. His son was turning eight and he wanted a nice grassy backyard for the birthday party. The man from the nursery declined. It’s against the rules. The man buying the Marathon II pressed him, bullied him a bit. The nursery man figured it was just rolling some sod. Shitty, but uneventful work. So he did it.

At the birthday party, they had a flag football tournament on the newly laid sod. Then because he didn’t have sprinklers or the patience to water the grass turned to straw. So the man with dead grass showed up at the nursery, chased the nursery man through agave plants, French lavender and those weird trees that grow lemons, limes and oranges all on the same tree. When he caught him, he beat the shit out of him while landscape architects bought perennials bulbs by the pallet for houses in the Palisades.

Image result for transplanting mature treesHe declined the extra fifty bucks I had in my hand. Besides, the nursery man told me, it’s not that hard to plant a tree. Put it on its side, cut it out of the box and slide it into a hole that’s three times the size of the root ball. He got in his truck and drove off. 

It’s not that hard became the mantra of the afternoon, and then the year. Of course the root ball alone weighed about two hundred pounds so it was actually very fucking hard to slide it into the clay soil. Impenetrable soil that did not want to be dug up three inches, let alone three feet. But eventually the tree stood tall and noticeably crooked.

It was his son’s birthday party that drove a man to speedbag a nursery employee who didn’t want to roll sod for what was probably not enough money after work.

I didn’t remember that until 9 p.m. last Friday night when it was pointed out to me that I wasn’t making the sort of progress that I needed to be making if we were going to have a lawn by my son’s birthday party on the following Saturday. It was also pointed out to me that I had been railing against grass for over a year. She quoted back to me: We live in a desert by the ocean, and lawns in Orange County and golf courses in Palm Springs are draining our reservoirs for people who live in Nevada for six months and one day of the year to avoid residency anyway. Now I was going to put in something that needs to be watered three times a day for the first week and two times daily the next and then semiweekly until the end of time?

Yes, I said, knee-deep in dirt. I cut the engine on the tiller, which I had learned how to use from watching a few videos on youtube.

There were questions that I hadn’t considered. There was mention of needing to haul out “cubic yards” of dirt, leveling the ground, installing a sprinkler system, and maybe buying some sodcutters because our yard is shaped like a kindergartener tried to cut a maple leaf out of cardstock. And what were my qualifications? A membership to the Writer’s Guild West?

I had been inhaling exhaust behind that rototiller for all of the hours of daylight and a few after. My brain was starting to flicker in and out. I saw stars not above me but right in front of me. And then there was the question of my commitment to a sod supplier in Chino.

I’m happy to stop now, I said.

The moon hung crooked and she tried not to laugh. The thing about my ears, which were recently drilled and are still thick with ointment and congealed blood, is I didn’t hear most of what she had said. In fact the only thing I could hear was the same Slauson Boy album that my neighbor has been playing since Nipsey Hustle died.

I don’t know what would’ve happened if the man at the nursery would have agreed to help me shuffle my Hass into the ground. But I don’t think I would be standing in a cavity of pulverized clay and compost that had pipe dreams of being a misshapen, poorly laid and likely short-lived patch of grass.

Anyway, there’s a guy with a truck and a trencher, decomposed granite, drought tolerant plants and native grass coming later. I’ll probably just pay him more than my car cost to make it look like the patio of an Abbot Kinney coffeeshop. That’s what the kid wants for his birthday anyway. Grass is for cattle, baseball fields and Walt Whitman poems.

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Me, a Would-Be Arborist

Image result for cutting down redwoodsIt’s seven a.m. and my neighbor is shirtless. From his porch, he greets the children walking to school. Most of the men in my new neighborhood don’t wear shirts in the morning or the evening. But my next door neighbor is the only one who is committed to going topless all day. I imagine his closet is forty pairs of tan shorts on the bottom, forty pairs of Adidas sandals on the floor and where shirts would be it’s completely bare.

I leave home, wearing a shirt and hoping the other men on my block won’t judge me for it, to meet a novelist. He’s an ex-Angeleno who is also an ex-New Yorker and is now a Texan. From what I can tell he’s living in Texas as a sort of social experiment. He’s interested in America. He enjoys the novelty of eating brisket. The weather is torture but that too seems to be part of the experiment. Sure, he could move back to LA, live in perfect weather and eat Persian food whenever he wants but instead he tells me he might buy a ranch, acres and acres of open land. There he’ll build a recording studio. And as for the rest of the land? Frankly, he doesn’t give a shit. This is the thing we need to understand – he might do it. There’s not a callus on his hands and he might buy a fucking ranch. In Texas no less. You could probably buy a ranch in the valley, but that won’t do. He’s going all the way. He’s committed.

He’s heard rumors of my new way of life, my forays into the world of doing shit I’m completely unqualified for and doing it poorly. He wants to join. I tell him there’s one rule: we don’t wear shirts down here, and I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing. He’s in. Of course he’s in.

We go to Home Depot because that’s how I begin every day now. We’re there for a chainsaw. I ask a twenty-year-old woman in orange if she’s knows anything about stump removal. She laughs it off, which is weird because I’m being sincere. Try aisle 2, she says.

Along the way we flag down two gentlemen in orange.

The easy way to do it is to get some root killer, drill some holes, dump it in and then take it out in 6 weeks. The other way is gonna be a shit ton of work.

Say we want to do it the hard way.

It’s gonna be a pain in the ass. I wouldn’t do it. It’s no joke, back-breaking work.

Tell us more about this hard way.  

We never find the chainsaws. We find some other saws. I won’t even venture a guess at what they’re called. They look terrifying. I’m scared of losing a leg. I don’t want to 127 hours myself. I buy a pick axe and some gloves.

Chainsaw Pack, Black, 1000D Cordura(R)

It’s about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we start the work. The sun is blazing but apparently it’s nothing compared to Texas. Luckily we don’t wear shirts. I can’t because I live here and this is the way of life and I want to fit in. My neighbor is likely snoozing through the afternoon but I know he has eyes everywhere. He once saw me putting my surfboard in my car and he said, “you like to surf, eh?” I mean, nothing gets past this guy.

We have two pick axes, a shovel, a crow bar, a hatchet and a drill. Most of this stuff was in the shed when I moved in. Now the backyard looked like shit before we started but two hours and six beers later, the once impenetrable ground is splattered fence to fence. The dirt is made of concrete. Concrete and clay. We dig about six inches deep on all sides and that feels like a miracle. And the roots? They’re as wide as La Cienega.

Let me start at the beginning. This tree, what’s left of it, people are saying it’s the biggest tree that ever grew in Los Angeles. Luckily, a man named Bob cut it down before I moved in. But Bob died of heart attack while playing tennis so he never removed the stump. He tried. God, he tried. There are slashes and chains to prove that he attempted to drag it out but it’s simply too big. From what I’ve been told by acquaintances who haven’t seen the tree but who have heard me describe it, the roots could go down as far as a hundred yards. Maybe even hundred meters depending on which is farther. (Personally, I’m too much of a patriot to fuck with the metric system.)

kevin garnett GIF

We’re about a quarter of the way through a root, one that has been bludgeoned with a pick axe, hacked with a hatchet, speared with a shovel and kicked for good measure, when the man from Texas via NYC via LA concedes that it can’t be done. He’s sustained an injury. My injuries are more of the emasculating variety. Tomorrow he’ll get on a plane with a catastrophic hangover to go see a girl in Arizona who he’s never met but who I gather has fallen in love with him. But tomorrow for me means I wake up and have to watch a guy on the Celtics scream “Anything is possible” just to get out of bed, then go about digging a hole, wrestling a root, jumping on a crow bar only to discover that these roots go well beyond the earth’s crust and maybe even its mantle.


Update: It’s been a week. The stump is still in my backyard. I’ve hacked through three-quarters of a root the width of a Mini Cooper. This is maybe my greatest accomplishment. All around me my dog is eating dirt and for some reason onions. Or maybe they’re shallots. While I haven’t successfully removed one of the fifty-seven roots, I’ve apparently discovered a graveyard of shallots. Or maybe a bed of shallots. Maybe that’s how they’re grown. How should I know? I’m not a gardener. I’m an arborist.

Two Week Update: The stump is still there. So is the dirt around it. A friend recommended a bulldozer. Tragically all I have is a Mazda 3 hatchback.

Three Week Update: I’ve decided that the tree is part of the land. Would we take the redwoods out of Northern California? Would we take the Joshua Trees out of Joshua Tree? Then why would I even consider taking a tree of unknown origin out of the clay parading as dirt in my backyard?

Four Week Update: I think I’m going to hire a pro but I’ll have to do it while I’m out of town. I can’t face the guys who are going to take this out. Or maybe I’ll lie and say that the last owner left it like this. What an asshole. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.


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The Greenest Thumb

Image result for farm romania black and white

Almost every nine months I pick my head up and there’s no one bringing me lunch at 12:30. I’m just alone, at home and over-caffeinated, wondering what the fuck I’m doing with my life.

So I start to plan for my future. I think about cutting back. In 2010 I sold my truck to pay my rent. That actually didn’t work out terribly other than not having a car in Los Angeles. That was problematic. What got me there was a couple weeks in Paris, then Spain, then a jaunt to the bullet-shroud coastline of Beirut. Unfortunately, I came back and well—what I’m saying is I know feast and famine. Famine more so than feast, but today I came up with a plan: self-sufficiency.

But in achievable doses. There’s a small team of small men who wear safari hats, cut down the weeds that constitute our lawn and then they blow it onto the cars parked nearby. That, I think to myself, is a job I can do. And the money that I’ll save? Come on, it’s a no brainer. Sorry Safari Silvio, I’m unemployed, grappling with what to do with my days and I’m coming for the $40 bucks you’re raking in like a bandit and dividing 3 ways every 2 weeks.

Image result for home depot mexicoSo I go to Home Depot, as is my practice, and I walk the aisles quickly, having no idea where I’m going for an hour. I work methodically through lumber, then power tools, door handles, combination locks, toilets, bathroom cabinets, sliding glass doors, 37 types of refrigerators, washing machines – this place goes and goes – and so do I from aisle 20-something to the far wall – ah, gardening shit. Succulents for me and my sucker friends who can’t keep anything alive. There are also shovels, the thing I used to dig a hole for a fence post, really too many tools to account for. I stand on the edge of the aisle for 7 long minutes trying to wave down someone in orange. They blow past me on scissor-lifts, motorized carts and on foot. Finally, I stop a 15-year-old girl with the name “Grissy” etched on her vest.

Hi, I’m looking for a weed whacker.

Like an edger?

Um, maybe. It’s for a lawn.

Lawn mowers are on 2 at the end of the aisle.

No, like a hand-held thing that you see guys sort of hacking away at ankle high stuff.

She waves me over – These are the lawn edgers. You’ve got gas, which have the most juice, cordless which are the next best and then this kind you plug in.


You probably want a battery operated one.

She darts off and I pull out my phone. I log into my uncle’s Consumer Reports account and read reviews of about 70 different “Edgers/String Trimmers.” All the best ones are out of my arbitrarily pre-determined and based on nothing price range. I pick up the cheapest one. Black and Decker. Yes, good old, maybe American… steel? I guess I’ll find out when I open it.

An hour later, I make two shocking discoveries: the first – it’s pink. The second, it’s neither gas nor battery operated. It plugs in. Fine, I’ll make do. These are the moments when I’m most resilient.

The device, which is apparently not a weed whacker, but still looks like one to me, doesn’t have a blade at all. Instead there’s a little green string with a pink hood around it. For the next five minutes I walk around my front yard like those old guys running metal detectors down at the beach. I don’t really have a technique yet. Swing and hope for the best. Weeds seem to be getting cut, some higher than others. Occasionally, I miscalculate and grind down to the earth flinging rocky dirt into my shins and Vans. I’m inching along when the extension cord rips out. It’s apparently about 45 feet too short to get the other half of the lawn. While I’m looking for another outlet, I pick my head up and notice two Mexican guys across the street. They’re smiling at me and I smile back. They toast me with their Tecates which they’re keeping in the bed of the truck they’re leaned up against.

For the next hour, I massacre half of the lawn. I kick up dirt and fill the walkway with all manner of plant shrapnel. I leave myself sprinkled with prickly plants, Bermuda grass and dirt. My once white Vans are now anything but.

But when I look across the street and I see the two hombres crushing Tecates, laughing until they’re crying at the hatch job I’m doing to my lawn, well, it brings a smile to my sunburned face. There are only so many moments when we can provide this thrill, this pure-unadulterated joy to a stranger. And you know what? I did that this morning. I made two guys, who apparently know the right way to use the thing that I’m using that’s not a weed whacker, basically piss themselves with amusement.

As I finish up, they guzzle the last of their Tecates, open the bed of their truck, wheel out a lawn mower and a blower – a fucking blower – I knew I forgot something at Home Depot. And they proceed to brilliantly mow my neighbor’s lawn. When they finish there isn’t a speck of dirt or grass on the walkway. Everything is blown directly on my neighbor’s recently washed and waxed Cadillac.

I’ll tell you what, those guys did a hell of a job and earned every drop of those 10 AM Tecates. And if I contributed in any way to what they accomplished across the street, well, I’m grateful to have played my small part.

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Victor Charlie Locksmith

Image result for lawrence of arabiaWe go for a leisurely walk. We celebrate the gift of a breeze and a sunset after a day so hot that the neighborhood dogs can’t work up to snarling at me. The stroll ends with me jiggling a locked door to which I do not have the key. It’s not in my pocket, not in my car, it’s inside the house, which as I’ve mentioned, is locked.

I scale the fence, confirm that the back door is locked, then sit down with a six pack  meant to be consumed in an air-conditioned house but will instead be drunk outside and slowly. The locksmith says it’ll be a 2 hour wait.

Between slugs of an increasingly less cold beer, I pick up limbs of the mutant cactus that haunts my backyard. I’ve been trying to get rid of the remains of it for weeks. After my fourth beer, the job is finally done. A small victory.

Victor Charlie shows up at 10 pm in a black low rider. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with the logo Frequent Rocker and sports a black pony tail that tickles his ass. He starts by trying to pick the lock. This means he pushes in a pin then grinds a tool in the keyhole. It’s like he’s playing a very short xylophone and the chorus is, “Dammit! Goddammit!”

After 10 minutes, he switches from picking to –  I don’t know what to call it but he sticks in a random key then bangs it with the butt end of a screwdriver. This last for 45 minutes. I’m beginning to be concerned he might not be good at his job.

He switches to picking then back to pounding the shit out of the door handle. He smashes his finger with the screwdriver, “Fuck!” He sucks the blood from his pointer finger then keeps banging. Every five minutes he flings his ponytail back and whips me in the face with hair and sweat. I’m not standing behind him because I’m especially curious but rather because my iPhone is the sole source of light out here.

So here we are, like a prom photo, with my arm around his as he bangs and bangs and bangs at the lock. It’s loud work so I look around for concerned neighbors who might be alarmed by the sight and sounds of a break-in. I figure someone might even call the cops. I have no way to prove that I live there. They never come. The locksmith never asks me to prove that this isn’t an elaborate break-in.

Covered in sweat, Victor Charlie tells me it’s been one of those nights. I imagine that as a shitty locksmith he probably has a lot of nights like this. Finally, he gives up. He’s out of ideas. He can’t pick it. He can’t do the thing that he bloodied his finger doing. He only has one choice: rip off the fucking handle. His words.

And of course, sell me a new one for $100 plus re-keying fee. Naturally, the lock won’t be as good as the one he’s hellbent on destroying but it’s decent. And if he ever needs to crack it again, it’ll be much easier. This is supposed to be reassuring, but I assure you it’s not. Yet I agree. Let’s rip off the fucking lock and put on a shittier one.

It’s now midnight. In about two seconds he cracks off the lock. He pulls out the new, lesser knob and starts the re-keying process by immediately dropping the lock. This sends springs flying everywhere. Fuck, goddamnit, damnit, fuck! I put my iPhone down and invite Victor Charlie in to use the kitchen table and indoor light. I offer him a water, and because I’m sort of drunk, I almost offer him a beer. But because he’s already a horrendous locksmith and I can’t imagine he would be better with a buzz, I decide against it and drink the last beer myself.

He can’t do the job alone so he solicits my help. I hold the knob steady while he attempts to rebuild the lock. I’m also tasked with holding a flashlight because he keeps saying, “Well I can’t see a fucking thing!” Maybe it’s his eyes. Maybe it’s his lack of dexterity. But he is a truly awful locksmith.

Finally, he finishes assembling the lock, re-keys and installs it into the metal screen door. One of those nights, man.

He has me pay through Square. I’m surprised when it prompts me with the option to tip. How much to tip your locksmith is not something I’ve ever even thought to google. But I figure he’s not long for this trade so I tip him 20% and consider it a contribution to his future unemployment fund.

Before he goes, Victor Charlie asks if he can use the bathroom. I tell him that our main line is clogged, showers are backed up, toilets are brimming. I can see he’s hurt. The two of us have worked hand-in-hand destroying my front door and now I won’t even let him piss in my non-functioning toilet. He’s disgusted with me so he takes his 20% tip, urges me to write a positive Yelp review and then drives off looking for another door to decimate for a fee.

I crawl into bed and wonder how long I can get by showering at the gym. Probably pretty long.

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How do I know if my neighbor is a gang member?
Do felons in California have to register their address?
Concrete vs cement?

But before I can dive into my google search history, I have to dig a hole. Three holes to be precise.

The ground is hard, nearly impenetrable. Jonathan Swift said, He was a bold man who first ate an oyster. But I say, He was a self-loathing man who first dug a hole. I have a myriad of tools: a shovel, a thing that requires two hands and looks like it could be used to serve an enormous salad, and something like a jackhammer that’s not a jackhammer which weighs as much as a Shetland pony.

Unskilled Laborer.jpg

Around each new turn I realize I know nothing of hard work. Last time it was a Jurassic Park-level cactus in my neighbor’s backyard. But that freakish plant is no more. Thanks to some version of hard work, it’s been slain and laid to rest in four trash barrels, each weighing three hundred pounds. Three hundred pounds of cactus gut and spikes. Some of it is still on the ground. Some of it is harpooned in my hands, legs, nostrils. I can’t sneeze without discovering a new alien spike lodged in me.

The mutant cactus is what brought me to the holes. Over time, presumable from when crack ravaged this community until last weekend, it flourished. It ate the fence between myself and my neighbor, just swallowed it whole. And since I now live in an area where people set off fireworks around the clock and the dogs never stop barking, I have taken to believing good fences make good neighbors. Or whatever Robert Frost wrote that people interpret for whatever case they’re attempting to make. So that’s what I’ll do. Misappropriate Robert Frost.Related image

A fence is a good thing because I don’t want to see the toilet that’s been sitting in my neighbor’s backyard for a decade and I don’t want my neighbors to see the toilet that’s been sitting in my backyard since Saturday. Also, my neighbor, who I’ve yet to meet, is allegedly a bipolar schizophrenic who I’ve been warned to not talk to. And he isn’t even my crazy neighbor.

It’s all new to me. Digging holes, a backyard full of toilets and cactus innards, seeing dogs with balls. The only thing that is familiar is not talking to my neighbors. I have that down pat. Other than a guy in Hollywood who I shared a hallway with for half a decade – who I’d drink beers with and talk about how we should find some place nicer to live than section 8 adjacent but we couldn’t beat the rent – I’ve not met one. I’ve just gone about my business not giving a shit about other people except for when it comes to institutional change. There I care. Here, in real life, I’m a bit more self-involved. I have holes to dig, walls to paint and a stack of New Yorkers that aren’t going to read themselves.

But lately I’ve wondered about meeting my neighbors. There is a new version of myself where I am a stranger in a strange land. I’m curious about this other way of life that exists south of the 10 freeway in places that people know from Mack 10 songs and documentaries about the Rodney King Riots.

Last week I was on set in what was supposed to be Columbus, Ohio but was actually the city of Hawthorne. East of the airport, most famous for the abandoned mall where Chris Brown shot “Party” and where gangs shoot each other as often as they can. While the location was being lit, I saw a police officer taking advantage of an ice cream truck that the production bought for the crew. She was 5’2 and her bulletproof vest came up high enough that she could rest her chin on it. While she ate a banana split, I asked: Had development from Inglewood overflowed into Hawthorne? No. Any shifts in the population? What? Any signs of gentrification? Um, we have a brewery now, she said.

I cut to the chase: I have a neighbor with the kind of face tattoos that you can only get in Salvadoran prisons. Should I be worried?

She shrugged, He’s probably a gangster.

Should I introduce myself? How does one exist with a gangbanger as a neighbor?

Under no circumstances am I to do that. Give him a head nod to show that you acknowledge and respect his presence, but then go inside. Stay in your lane.

I keep hearing this. Apparently, that’s how one maintains here: keep your head down. But also on a swivel. The cop tells me I shouldn’t do anything that people aren’t already doing. So no running up on cholos with blueberry pies and smiles.

Then she pulled up a map and systematically relayed the areas that I’m to avoid. All of Imperial. Most of Century Boulevard. Oh and stay out of Lennox. She said, You don’t go to Lennox.

Besides the homicide rate, a quick search revealed that Lennox has an air quality problem (thanks to LAX) that’s Flint, MI water level bad. But it’s in the hood, so apparently no one cares. My own air quality isn’t great. I’ve been huffing paint fumes every weekend for as long as I can remember (read: 2 weekends).

At the end of the day, there were three holes in the ground. Then a post was set. Then concrete that was mixed in a wheelbarrow was shoveled into the ground. I used to be stunned by One Last Poem for Richard. Now a dent in the earth, filled with concrete to support a fence post blows my mind. I think, this must be how they built the pyramids. Me and the Egyptians. We get it.

Of course I didn’t build the fence, but I was there. Across the street, my gang affiliated neighbor lit fireworks then rolled them under unsuspecting cars at the stop sign. I think I might go out of town for the 4th of July.

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Moving: A Survivor’s Story

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Moving, like meditation, is full of long pauses, reflection, catching your breath and recognizing when you simply must have a cigarette. At least that’s the way it seems to be with the movers I’ve hired. Between each box, a new cigarette, a drag for every step walked, every stair climbed. And not just today’s steps. Not just here. They’re making up for all the time spent rushing around. The constant go-go-go of life is too much, and what better time to take a breather than when someone is paying you $90 an hour?

I see their point. I understand their technique. I too know the hourly wage and that there’s no prize for sprinting. Efficiency is an abstraction to be contemplated while on the clock but never practiced.

But I like these guys. They don’t want to be here. They tell me they’ve had a long day, I have many stairs and even though I live in a one-bedroom apartment and own about ten shirts, they say I have too much stuff.

Oh yeah, and they’re seven hours late.

At 8:30 p.m. they pick up their first box. Well, one of them does. The other walks inside with his phone charger. The second guy doesn’t have a charger but asks if I might have an extra for a Samsung. I explain to him as patiently as I can that I’m actually in the process of moving and all of my belongings are in boxes, so no, I don’t have a charger. I guess I could have also said that independent of the move I don’t own a Samsung charger.

Another box, another cigarette, eventually I take to just moving the boxes myself. It’s easier than asking them to work. Each time I urged one of them to get off of the floor of the truck where they were sitting and smoking, they would tell me they were very tired. Didn’t I know that it was late? How could I be so unreasonable?

By the third hour, they don’t just smell of cigarettes. There’s a certain, eau du vodka that’s wafting through my living room. They’re sweating it out and replenishing and sweating it out again. But mainly they’re replenishing.

I do not confront them because I have a Russian friend who recently told me why Russians drink so much. One of the great tragedies of their nation is their terminally terrible soccer team. They love the sport but they lose and have almost always lost, so they must drink. I assume this to be the case tonight. There is little time to work because they are mourning their soccer team.Related image

In the fourth hour, after breaking a table and declining to bring a few other things, the van is packed. It’s after midnight and I’m eager to begin the second part of this journey at my new home in the City of Champions, as no one calls it. But I am wrong. The Russians are tired. The Russians are hungry. The Russians need a meal break. It’s not my character, but I say no. We must complete the move. This isn’t a union gig and they did 90 minutes of work in 4 hours so we’re not exactly on a record breaking pace. The Russians tell me that the break is non-negotiable. They have all my stuff. I am powerless to their whims so I agree.

While they’re on their break, I drive to the new house and in rapid succession drink six beers. This is not pleasurable. It’s an act of self-preservation. The fifth hour passes with no sign of the Russians.

Finally, they return with a bang. Specifically, the sound of the truck jumping the curb, then bottoming out paired with the steady beeping sound that these trucks make when driving in reverse. I scream for them to stop just inches before plowing into the living room.

While the first part of the move took four hours, the second takes about fifteen minutes. They dropkick, toss, catapult, heave, roll, slide and dump our belongings. But I don’t care. It’s 3:00 am.

When they finish tossing my stuff they ask, Why did you move? Your other neighborhood was much nicer. I tip them too much, shake their hands and wish them luck in the World Cup. They wish me many years in the new house. I tell them because of the trauma of the move I’ll be here until I die. I am never going to move again. They laugh apparently unaware that I’m being completely serious.

The next morning their boss from QShark returns my call about the whereabouts of his employees. He apologizes that they were six or seven hours late, but he’s sure I can understand how these things happen. He asks about the work of the guys when they did arrive. He tells me Dima is one of his best guys. A hard worker. I pause for long enough that he asks again: Hard workers, right? They did a great job?

I think of the 200 cigarette breaks, the hour meal break at 1:00 am, the tortoisean paces with which they moved and muster, Yeah, they’re great.

5 stars?

5 stars.




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Me, a Would-Be Caulksmith

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Picasso painted, Pollack painted, guys who hang outside Kelly Moore in white overalls have painted. But me? I do not paint. I prime. I want to paint. I claim to be a man on the verge of painting, but it’s just not that easy.

One cannot simply paint. You can’t just waltz into Dunn Edwards, buy a gallon, a roller and merrily take on a wall. Why? Because what they don’t tell you is walls are flat as a rotten honey comb and as filty as the floor at the Cha Cha lounge on Sunday morning.

For the first time the word caulk rolls off my tongue. I don’t smile or laugh like a twelve-year-old because I’m now a serious person who has a tube full of the stuff that needs to be magnanimously doled out to each of the walls.

Before painting, I must prove myself as a caulksmith. Where there were once curtains, there are now holes and those holes must be caulked. That’s where I come in. Or I will. I can’t right now because I thought I was going to paint so I’ve got this fucking Home Depot one-and-done kit with a roller, a brush, a tray and some other shit, but all of it is useless to me because what these walls need is a good caulking. But I can’t give it to them.

I can do a half-ass job. I am in the business of that. I don’t mind skipping steps. I love it in fact. So today we shall not caulk. Along with my rookie painter’s kit, I’ve got a baking powder looking container of something called TSP. The directions say to mix it with hot water and to not rub it in your eyes, snort it, chug it or let it touch your skin. Most of that isn’t a problem for me. I can resist the urge of doing a line of what probably gets cut up in off the Las Vegas Strip cocaine. What I can’t do is wash the walls without it touching my skin because, you see, I have no fucking gloves. My plan was to paint, not to exfoliate walls with over the counter napalm.

So I skip that step too. I wash the walls with water. Cold water because there is no hot water and you’ve got to be out of your goddamn mind if you think I know where the hot water heater is or how to make it so hot water comes out. And I refuse to watch another youtube how-to video. I’ve watched 15 on painting today. There was much talk of “cutting in”, starting at the top, two thin layers being better than one sloppy thick one. But there was no talk of caulk. No mention of gloves. The walls get a quick cold water rinse.

When they dry – which takes about 15 minutes because even at 11 pm, it’s hot as fuck – I’m ready to get down to the business at hand: painting. Like the old masters used to. With brushes and by candle light because it’s dark outside and there isn’t a light bulb in this room.

But first, we prime. I crack open a plastic vat of the good stuff. Well, not really the good stuff, I think that would be the two-in-one paint and primer which for some reason I didn’t buy. So it’s not the good stuff but it’s stuff I’m slathering on walls and it’s a different color than what’s there.

The second the brush touches the paint and the paint touches the wall all attempts at technique go out the window. It’s just mad rush to catch drips as they stream down the wall toward the floor. I sideswipe them as they come. I’ve never been one for defense but this is the best man-on-paint stream coverage that I’ve ever mustered. I catch almost everything and what I don’t hits the canvas drop cloth that has gone from being perfectly flat to balled up at my feet in a matter of seconds.

The primer takes an hour to dry, but my arms are exhausted and I’m once again delirious from forgetting to put on a mask and not opening enough windows. I’ve primed one small wall. It’s the literal width of a shower. And from the time I opened the door to when I’m sloshing the brushes in a bucket calling it quits three hours have passed. At this rate, I’ll be able to prime the bathroom by the end of the month, prime the house by the end of the year and I can start painting in no more that 7 months.

But that’s a problem for the next seven months. Tonight I go home and bask in the victory of sanding less than I did the day before, of having scraped almost no paint and my crowning achievement: just one trip to Home Depot. Mainly because they were closed by the time I realized I’d forgotten many necessary items, but still, we take the small victories where we can, eh?

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In which I Do Two Days of Hard Work

I’m thinking about writing a book: My Life as a Moron. The trouble is that I’m too busy living it.

There are many things that I know nothing about and I’m all too willing to accept this and return to the stuff that I do know and enjoy. But not everyone in my life accepts my shortcomings. So this weekend I bought a sander and alternately crouched, lay, sat, squatted and bent to sand baseboards.

This was, at the very least, a stupid thing to do.

I spent the weekend punishing myself because a professional casually recommended to the person in my life who refuses to accept that I know nothing about paint or paint-stripping or paint-scraping that I sand every baseboard in the house. In retrospect I recognize that this idea came from someone who speaks English as a second-language and my information was second-hand yet I took it literally. I bought a sander and boy did I sand.

It did nothing.

For ten hours, I exhausted myself while huffing lead-based paint and accomplished absolutely nothing. As I tirelessly made no discernible progress, I thought about all the times I’ve come home exhausted from a day of sitting in a room on a studio lot talking about how to make and execute episodes of television which would be produced, financed, acted in and directed by other people. And yet I thought I knew exhaustion.

I did not. I thought I knew tedium. I knew nothing of tedium. When people talked about back-breaking work, I thought it was a metaphor, hyperbole. And sure, I’m not so soft that I’ve never had a sore back but that was all done in good fun. Hell, I’ve even gotten a few calluses from deadlifting a couple times a year to remind myself that I’m not just a person who sits in front of a computer all day amusing myself with words. I can also pick up weights and drop them in an air-conditioned space surrounded by other people who spend their days hunched over keyboards alternately drinking coffee and La Croix (and don’t want to look like it).Image result for bad before and after jesus painting

As I lay on my stomach on a skateboard with a paint scraper digging into first 9 layers of paint and then because I’m unskilled: wood, I laughed. Probably from inadvertently snorting paint chips. It was the end of a long day of making a fool of myself in an empty house while my new next-door neighbor sang Drake, Shakira, Outcast then switched to a Spanish language radio station and listened to that for so long and so loudly that I learned the words to a Cal Worthington Ford dealership ad. In Spanish.

At this stage, a smarter person might retreat. They might beg the bank to take the money back – all of it – because really, what was so bad about renting a guest house in Silver Lake where I literally didn’t change my own lightbulbs? But I’m not a smarter person, so I’ll go back. I’ll change into an old t-shirt and strap on a pair of knee pads. I’ll put in ear plugs, don some safety glasses and I’ll run a sander aimlessly while wondering: where did my life go so wrong that I thought I could operate a power tool?

Next door Rampage will bark, my neighbor will blast Cardi B and in between battles with the apron of a window sill, I’ll watch youtube videos where people with tools that I don’t have and knowledge that I certainly don’t possess confirm that what I’m doing is futile and time consuming and should probably be left up to a professional. And yet… and yet.



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Welcome to the Neighborhood!

She told me her name, but I’ve forgotten it. She told me her dog’s name and I can’t forget it. Rampage. After the MMA fighter.

I can already see myself, on the ground, trying to pry Rampage’s slobbery jowls and shark-sized chompers away from my jugular. Rampage is sweet though. My new neighbor tells me he’s friends with the owls, squirrels, cats and mice that all live in her yard. She doesn’t feed the mice. They don’t bother her though so she doesn’t bother them.

And she wants me to know that she doesn’t have a problem with white people. She has no issue with white people all of a sudden moving in while families who have been here for a long time move out. But I shouldn’t be surprised if not everyone is so happy about gentrification.

For example, she tells me, she has this white friend from Venice who came over once and they were walking from her house to the park, which is about half a block and they somehow got separated, and some people were not very nice to her white friend. And well I’m not sure how this ties in, but her friend was also pushing a stroller – it’s unclear whether a baby was inside of the stroller or not – but anyway, my new neighbor was about to have a word with whoever it was who was not so nice to her white friend pushing the stroller half a block to the park, and she was about to say something, because she is not cool with anyone mistreating anyone else. But then she didn’t.

Why? She stays in her lane, she says, if I get what she means. She raises her eyebrows like, six times before continuing. She doesn’t make trouble for no one. And that’s the way she likes it.

She tells me she works as a mentor now that her long-haul trucking days are over. There are some kids, rough kids, the kind who don’t like white people on the block. She suggests I might know the type and I nod that I do because I’ll apparently concede to anything. Anyway, where these kids get in trouble is they’re always smoking weed in the park. But not my neighbor. She kicks the grass at her feet – I smoke right here on my own property. I hope you don’t mind.

I assume this is a test about staying in my lane, so I nod. Fine by me. Smoke weed in your yard. Hell, mainline heroin in Marco Rubio’s bathtub for all I care, just keep Rampage on your side of the fence.

She offers her number; says she can tell me a lot about the neighborhood. Her knowledge of the neighborhood and surroundings runs deep. So deep apparently that at first she thought I was an ATF agent.

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She tells me why. Four days ago: a van pulls up, a bunch of guys get out and go inside. Did I know the man who used to own this house worked as a Corrections Officer? He might be the type to narc. He might’ve been the type to not stay in his own lane and call ATF. It wouldn’t be the first time. ATF had been there before. She wouldn’t say which house, looking directly at the white house across the street, she wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing information with me or anyone for that matter about who might’ve been running around with unlicensed assault rifles. At this point her entire body is pointed in the direction of the white house with a Cadillac in the driveway. She’s not the type to say anything. Anyway, she’s glad I’m not ATF. Because if I was ATF I would have to tell her.

I explain that the van was an electrician’s and the guys didn’t speak to her because we went with the lowest bid which means we hired guys who have no professional credentials and speak an indiscernible language. She tells me I’ve hired good workers. Not the chatty type. Guys who know how to keep their mouths shut.

I wonder if I’m not making myself clear. I’m about to explain when she tells me she sells oils. She says this like I’ve just won the lottery. She’s noticed that I have a termite problem in the shed and she has a solution: peppermint oil and alcohol, but not too much alcohol because you don’t want to start a fire.

I tell her I’ll think about her offer to spray my wooden shed with a flammable substance for a fee as we inch toward summer. Then I head toward my house, which we now own. It’s full of holes and surrounded by termites, extremely virile pit bulls, and someone who was once hunted down by the ATF.

Before I can get to the door she tells me not to be alarmed if I periodically hear screaming next door. Her father-in-law is deaf. And by the way, welcome to the neighborhood!


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