Here is an excerpt from my premier novel Loser Parade, available on Amazon here in:
TWENTY-SIX HOURS BEFORE I found myself homeless in a Los Angeles subway, this: After another afternoon of drinking on credit, I found myself at the doorway of a familiar apartment. I’d been crashing there lately, over at the Franklin and Highland intersection a block away from the Boulevard, and it was a beautiful summer day. May be a cliché to say so, but it was true—there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. But enough has been said about the weather in California to last a thousand elevator rides.
There were only two keys on my ring, one for the gate and one for the door, and I struggled to open the gate as the plastic golden idol keychain dangled, and then I stumbled in. I nodded to the old man who smoked on his porch, my neighbor who I’d never once talked to but we always shared a nod, and I hopped up three steps. Tired and anxious for a nap on the hardwood floor, I leaned my forehead on the door. I adjusted the keys. I shifted my wrist. I jingled. I jangled. And it wouldn’t turn. The key slid in easily enough, but it wouldn’t budge. My hand strained. No affect. Huh?
It took me a bit longer to process than it should’ve, being that I was still kind of drunk, but eventually it struck me. Like a mystery novel’s killer revealed, it suddenly seemed so obvious. The door-knob shined with fresh silver paint, like cheap jewelry, not yet chipped, brand new.
She changed the locks.
Oh Christ, I mumbled. The neighbor glanced at me, and I feigned a cough.
Trying to display calmness, I casually strolled back outside and circled around, and when I was sure no one was looking I crept in through the half-open window. I hurriedly organized a makeshift survival packet: grabbed a few changes of underwear, my trendiest Polo shirts, an extra pair of jeans, some headshots, my SAG card, dead cell phone, and stuffed them all into my backpack. I ran out the front door, didn’t look back and didn’t lock the door, and I left the window open too.
Janie wasn’t home. Probably out fucking that audio editor I’d seen her with. I wonder what I would have done if I came home earlier, caught her with the locksmith and landlord. Start an argument? Beg for forgiveness? Cry pathetically? But that’s just hypothetical. The passive-aggressive route was probably easier anyway, the path of least resistance, a goodbye both peaceful and invisible.
No goodbyes, no fight, no claims of “just friends”; no closure at all. Not unlike an elderly relative who’s been dying for years—we mourn a little, go through the polite motions, but honestly it’s a relief and you can’t really feel too sad about it.
It was a long time coming. I could have prepared better. But like ignoring the mail when you know you have bills far overdue, I found it easier to ignore the obvious.
Who knows how Janie felt about my departure. Was she expecting a note, angry or love-pleading? Or to meet me on the doorstep while I cried and begged for her love and for her floor? Perhaps a dramatic brawl with the audio editor? Well, the last gift I could give was to spare any undue drama, and I surrendered to my disappearing act.
I sobered up after a few hours and wandered across the boulevard, while the dark Hollywood sign in the distant night sky haunted me like a theme park ride’s ghost.
The hours rolled by, and I patiently gave myself until dawn for the peace of mind necessary put thought into a solution.
It’s in an interesting zoo that wanders with you on Hollywood Boulevard at 2:00 a.m. The Kodak Theater was empty of superheroes at this time of night, the Scientologists disappeared, and the check-cashing shops long closed. Gutter-punks panhandled, black crackheads in leathery skin pushed on the streetcorner, and Rastas drummed on buckets for change—and this was not my scene. A few Asian tourists were still out, snip-snapping away at the star-studded pavement with high-end Sony cameras—also not my scene. Mexican workers locked garage doors to close down shop, while scared little white girls watched their backs and shivered in the wind. As the clubs closed down more than a few posh Business insiders strolled around, drunk and high with their six foot tall trophy chicks—L.A. being to be the only city on Earth where women are on average taller than men—girls in Gucci outfits, showing maximum skin and hiding behind big white Chanel sunglasses (even at night), and their men blabbering on iPhone headsets—some of them the real thing but most no doubt waiter-actor wannabes, endlessly stuck in fake-it-til-you-make-it mode. And not my goddamn scene at all. Not anymore.
I slept a few hours on the pavement in an alley near the wax museum. It wasn’t very comfortable, and every half-hour I woke up with one eye open, making sure nobody jacked my shit. Soon the birds chirped and the cars blew smoke in my face and I was wide awake; thirsty, slightly bruised, and with ashy white stains on my clothes.
This sucks, I thought, with all the eloquence my empty mind could muster.
And so I found myself in a cold dawn walking all the way to the Western & Hollywood subway stop, and then the cold dawn turned into a warm noon, and as the weight of the California sun melted sweat droplets across my back I damned myself for not bringing any sunglasses. I stepped downhill into the underworld, by way of broken escalator. One floor up the sun continued to push thick light through an ozone hole down my back-of-neck until it burned, and the white half of me had the sunburn peels to prove it. So I hid.
I sat on the uncomfortable metal bench downstairs for hours on end, and my ass grew sore. Every little ridge intricately tattooed on my soft lazy bottom, each a mark, each a memory, branding me into the city’s ownership. Why can’t they put plush plastic benches in the subway? I thought. They know people wait here all day. Would it be so hard for the city management to invest a little money into soft-padded seating?
I watched the janitor wax the floors. I looked at the film reel art on display. I observed all the other losers with the gall to live in this city without owning a car. Some homeless kids begged for change (not a bad idea, but apparently I was still too proud for that). My neck grew weighty and I looked down at the floor and gazed at the spots the janitor missed, soda stains and candy bar wrappers juxtaposed against gleaming perfect tiles. So shiny and yet so dirty—and if anything represents the overlapping worlds of L.A. that would be it.
The Western & Hollywood station, connection by way of Red line, left me with few options of going anywhere better. Taking a train through central Hollywood leaves only one direction North to NoHo and the one other South to downtown, with only ten measly stops, nowhere near where I needed to go.
One stop East and I could go to hipster Vermont Street and hang with the trust-fund kids, drink expensive martinis, and discuss film theory. One stop West I could go back to central H’wood at the Vine stop, and see the crowds waiting in line to attend the Wicked production and jealously pine at the pro actors dancing inside. Neither option would make much of a difference.
I lay on the bench, closed my eyes, and thought about my life . . .
* * *
There’s really only one reason that anyone moves to Los Angeles.
I trained. I took classes. I read books. I went to seminars. I waited in line in hotels in Burbank. I auditioned at studios in Culver City. I was an extra on Sunset. I studied sets in Hollywood. I filled out the vouchers. I applied for SAG. I was supposed to be an actor.
Five years ago I saved up my money and moved out from my mom’s in the hope of following my dream, and like the million other dim cunts I made the Midwest-to-L.A. trek.
I worked two years at the Flighty Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard. Not the Santa Monica Boulevard that runs from ritzy gay West Hollywood to Beverly Hills, ending up in its city’s namesake at the beach past the Promenade, overlooking the seaside Ferris Wheel. That’s the nice area, and definitely not where the theater scene is. Santa Monica Boulevard also happens to run through dirty parts of Hollywood, edging into East L.A., where every crumbling block is peppered with black-box spicy entertainment.
Because if you need acting roles but you haven’t made it big yet—if you absolutely have to live a life of fantasy but nobody cares who you are—if your career goals won’t mesh with reality yet you just got to act; well there’s always the theater.
An endless parade of underground shows, and ample opportunity to stack up your resume. Shitty art plays with no structure, rehearsal space smaller than your apartment, audiences you could count with one hand and far outnumbered by the cast, and performances well worth the ten bucks fee . . .
In all the filth, in all the cracked buildings and dirty smells and soggy dreams, I was in Hollywood and it felt like magic.
Our troupe was going to take over the world. It was where I met my girlfriend, Janie.
It didn’t work out. The Flighty lost its celebrity sponsorship, as Miles Samson decided to fund someplace bigger, and nobody else wanted to hire me. My college credits useless without a B.A., I fucked around with temp agencies and worked part-time at a coffee shop in WeHo, but refused a nine-to-five that would cut into auditioning. My landlord hardly empathized with my plight, and soon I was evicted. Janie set me up under supposed temporary status. Then my car broke down, and one by one each friend gave up on me, favors all used up, and at last even Janie got sick of my mooching.
I dragged my boulder up the mountain for five years. For all the strife, it wasn’t so bad as long as I kept the faith. I didn’t care when they shut off my electricity and I couldn’t afford Ramen noodles. It was all part of paying dues, I thought, and remained naively optimistic for as long as I could hold out. My big break perpetually just around the corner. Once or twice I truly thought I came close. It turned out that I was just too lazy.
First the car, then employment, then shelter; and the girl was the final thread. One after another they fell through. Surviving without a car in this city was tricky enough these last few months, but I made do with busses and carpools and even these empty subways. When the coffee shop management no longer tolerated my perpetual tardiness and the job evaporated, I sustained myself on credit cards and freeloading, and it seemed a sustainable survival. But nothing lasts forever, and my bag of illusions eventually ran out, and fake-it-til-you-make-it was no longer a viable mantra.
There was nobody left to ask for help, I drained them all.
“I’m getting a new job tomorrow,” I told her.
“Yeah?” she sighed.
“I have an interview coming up,” I lied the next day.
“Okay Fenton,” she tolerated.
“Please honey.” One week later. “Just a few more weeks and I swear I’ll be back on my feet.”
She answered with silence.
“One more chance. Please. One last chance.”
She shook her head, and went back to reading Variety.
I guess she hates me, I thought. I was too dead inside to be angry about it. She was right to hate me.
Our relationship was in the euthanasia stage. I forgot the last time we slept together. Our only interactions left were the fights. Who could blame her? My presence, a human-shaped scab just hanging around to bother her, was a novelty quickly worn out.
Mostly we avoided each other, and the few times we were both simultaneously home and awake I had nothing to offer but constant bickering.
“Why don’t you look for a job today Fenton?” she politely asked.
“SHUT UP!” I screamed.
I refused to accommodate, I refused to be fair. I wasn’t a very good stay-at-home spouse. Why should I be housewife and clean up? Why should I pay my own cheap way in chores and sweeping, vacuums and dishwasher soap, cooking and shopping errands, trash bags and laundry? No straightening up necessary, only the endless hum of a television in the background as I stared at the ceiling and forgot the date as I sipped my beer and the credit card late fees accumulated. It was my world for those final weeks, and I was getting pretty used to it.
Janie was a busy actress, jumping from one project to the next, and mostly came home only to sleep (of course, never with me). My space was the living room couch, or the floor; her bedroom long ago off limits. I missed the soft blankets, and I missed her soft skin underneath it even more. I missed the scent of her hair, the taste of her face, the heat between her legs, the feel of her skin up and down her bendable body. She was only in the next room over, but those memories were in another time zone and long distance charges are steep indeed.
It’s not my fault, I thought. I’m just unlucky. I’m the most useless of ethnic groups. I didn’t ask for that. Nobody wanted to hire hafu Asians. Barring Keanu, nobody cares for that kind of role. Casting directors never knew what I was supposed to be. Asians thought I was white, and whites thought I was Asian. I couldn’t pull of the hip black-haired white boy, eighteen-to-look-younger, and I couldn’t pull off the comedy-relief nerdy chink sidekick either.
It’s all my fault, I thought. I should have worked harder. I should have auditioned more, got my degree, networked smarter, made more contacts. I gave up too easily. I was weak. Made excuses.
Stop thinking, I told myself. Shut up. Stop wallowing. Take a nap or something. Turn off your brain.
I tried the Zen approach and that didn’t work much either. Hours passed and still no ideas. Should I go camp out at Skid Row? Hang out with the gutter punks and smoke meth in a squat-house? Turn tricks at the Sunset Strip gay ghetto? Steal money from a gas station? Mug a tourist?
Or go back upstairs and hang the street corners until a producer discovers me, and instantly be famous?
Instead, I left the station to go pee at the Ralph’s supermarket upstairs, drink from the water fountain, and lunch was free samples at the deli. Soon the sky shifted from day to night, and by the last toilet run it was dark, or as dark it gets on a Hollywood corner lit up by streetlamps, and still the trains kept passing me by.
The hours sank away into the void, like a plastic boat with a small crack that won’t directly sink into the bottom of the bathtub but ever so slowly gravitates towards the drain.
One seductive option intrigued me. Just before each train arrived a feeling of wind would anticipate it. It’s so easy to predict, I could have timed it so perfectly.
I thought of the stories my mother used to tell me, about the Tokyo subways in the 70s when the trains would run late because some poor student couldn’t pass the tests to get into Tokyo University, and in the end there’s only one true Nipponese way to save face. Fail a test, shame your family, and hara-kiri a-go-go.
How easy, how simple. Time it just right, feel the gust, peek over the edge, watch for the headlights turning round the tunnel, and let gravity take over. Wouldn’t feel a thing.
Who was I kidding?
You don’t have the guts.
Sometimes it’s fun to fantasize . . .
* * *
Four hours later and still no escape plan. Bored, I emptied the lint from my pockets and played with my keys, twirling the useless ring around my index finger, and numbly studied the fake little medal. If I had the energy I would have screamed at it. Instead, I tossed it into the deep black tunnels and listened for the clink sound effect.
Feeling sleepy, high, and hollow, I began to mutely stare at the passing commuters. My inflated sense of ego had been chipped away these past months like marble rock at a waterfall. I was invisible, and this gave me the freedom to people-watch.
All sorts of people take subways, and none of them like being stared at by a stranger. The plump Mexican mothers with baby-carriages looked away right at eye-contact. White people in suits stared back at first, as if to challenge, sneered, struggled, and then broke away in defeat. Punks with tattoos on their faces and loud metal on their ears, short Filipino girls in miniskirts, slim black street-performers ready to breakdance for spare change, naïve big-bellied tourists who never imagined how gruesome Hollywood could be, small children of questionable ethnicity left to navigate the city on their own, slews of kids on skateboards, gangbangers tagging the walls with thick Sharpie markers and making no attempt to hide it; the city’s pot melted before me, and all looked away.
Though eventually one particular Hispanic youth didn’t seem to appreciate my people-watching. I observed as he tagged the wall, trying to impress his crew of four teen kids with gelled spiked hair. They were laughing about something en español. I don’t habla. The tags were pointy geometric angles with abbreviated wordage, the Jewish star hexagram kind with letters in orbit, anagrams for ‘The-Latino-Kings-And-Queens-Of-Something-Or-Others.’ One can spot gang graffiti by how terrible it is; no style at all. Those beautiful artistic colorful fonts underneath the highway overpass are usually done by the suburban good boy skaters. The crap symbols, on the other hand, purely tribal pissings to mark a crew’s territory.
“You got a problem essei?” he said.
Ah, this is what I need, I thought. A challenge, a goal, a motivation for my character.
I thought of the worst things to say. You asshole. You street trash. You wetback bitch. Your mom’s a slut. She sucked my cock last night. And your art sucks too.
“Wha— what the fuck?” was all that came out. I got up and stretched my back, and walked forward.
He laughed at me, ready to perform for his audience. “Shit!” one of the others yelled.
“What up,” the main performer said. “You better back out, motherfucker.”
“Is that so,” I continued straight ahead, and stopped short up close to his face, backing him against the grey wall as his unfinished tag hanged in the backdrop. I could smell the sharpie in his hand.
“Chinese faggot, you best back the fuck outta my way.”
“And what if I don’t?”
Before I knew it hands pounded against my shoulders and shifted me around until I was pinned against the wall. The Sharpie fell to the floor, and as I banged against the cold tiles the wind knocked out of me. It took a second to comprehend it and to catch my breath, and when I could I laughed at the absurdity of it all.
“HA! You guys are fun.”
They laughed in return. “Ha ha! Hommie thinks you funny!” But the kid who shoved me refused to budge from his stiff expression. I wished my improv comedy training was more up to date, I could have done better.
The others taunted: “Man, he wants to start some more shit.”
“Don’t let him get away with that.”
“Crazy-ass fool, you better wise him up Jésus.”
I smiled, and spread my hands out, palms open like a politician’s speech. “You know what? You fags can all go fuck yourselves.”
They stopped talking. In the foreground the ethnic families and business-class whites encircled us, perplexed by the show and maybe even compassionate, but definitely not willing to intervene. The kid grabbed me again, wrapped his head an inch from mine, his dark eyes on my face, and I could taste his smelly Tapatío breath.
“What’s your problem man?”
I lifted my arms to twist away and scraped his shoulder against the wall. I jumped back and balled my fists. My heart was racing. It was incredible. I should have done this more often, I thought. Fuck it all, tomorrow no longer exists!
I hopped up and down, and my heart rushed, and adrenaline raced through my veins as white blood cells competed in a hundred-meter dash. My breath like music at a 90s rave, pumping faster and faster. Fighting is a bit like learning sex when you are young; that nervousness and excitement and confusion all at once. And, like a kid learning how to fuck, I had no idea what I was doing and it was over before I knew it.
A fist was headed to my face, and I ducked in what felt like a slow motion scene in a movie. With his torso wide-open I pushed him into the wall again and my elbow jabbed his chest.
The scene didn’t last long. Faster than I could react, he recuperated and threw another fist. The next punch connected. Bang! Flash of pressure into the middle of my face and lightning behind the eyes, I could feel his ashy knuckle against my bone and cartilage, with pain creasing down from brow to the mid of my nose.
I grabbed my face and fell back. In what was no doubt a comical addition, I fell down on my ass—an already a sore area. “Ow ow ow ow!” I yelled, as blood already began trickling down my face to my fingers.
“Fuckin asshole!” I heard, my eyes shut tight, and then felt a kick to my ribs inside the darkness. My lungs stopped working. Breath left me for a full minute.
But they were merciful enough not to add anything else. And their train was coming anyways; we could all feel the wind. With the breeze, my breath returned, and I gasped a deep one.
“Fuck this guy. I’m getting out of here.” That was the last I heard. I opened my eyes and watched the crowd back away from the crew as they boarded; due South to Union Station, to some destination unknown to me, and I could have cared less.
The hot iron red continued to drip down my fingertips, spilling onto my neck, and staining my good shirt. It had a metallic taste, reminding me of a hot wet wrapped aluminum foil lunch.
Wash it all away, I thought. The past and future and most importantly wash away the present. I didn’t want to exist in this. It was doing me no good. I plugged my nose and tilted my head up and closed my eyes, and pretended I left the planet Earth, to a better place of colors and light and no rules.
It hit me in a delayed reaction, and I began to cry. Pain forced the realization that I was here and I was real and all these years have been waste. Tears mixed with blood mixed with snot, and that tasted like the ocean. My heart rotted and I bit my lower lip, burying my face in my hands, and I sobbed until I was completely dehydrated.
Out of tears and out of blood, and then I was finally thinking straight.
Was I so sinful? Did I deserve such a punishment? All I wanted was a better world. A world where I could be famous for nothing, and everybody loves me.
It didn’t work out. Deal with it.
I understood what I had to do. There was nowhere left to go but backwards. No choice but the obvious one.
When I opened my eyelids back to the world of vision, disappointed I was still here but finally ready to face reality, and I looked back to my familiar seat from across the echoed landscape. Surrounded by a new round of patrons—the next batch of Northbound sitting to the left and Southbound to the right—and I saw my backpack at their shoes. Safe and sound, no fear of theft. Nobody wanted my ripped-up bag. My clothes and headshots and SAG card, all left secure.
One last thing buried there: deep at the bottom, useless and almost forgotten. My cell phone, uncharged by with about two days left until they shut it off for bills unpaid.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I guess I have to give in, I thought. I have to call my mother.
With more to come…