In the beginning the opportunity was a breath of fresh air. February was spent in the Shady House, March and April was spent at Brooklyn's transition spot, and now, with May just around the corner, my mom's sister was offering me to stay at the house she just bought in Long Beach...for free. Obviously, I'd pull my weight with the house chores and with it being a bit of a fixer-upper, I was gonna do my share in that sense as well. I also agreed to split the utilities with her so it technically wasn't "free" but it was rent free, and with me finally having a steady income at Gamestop, it couldn't come at a more opportune time. I finally had my own room again and even though I was leaving Brooklyn's house, which was a 10 minute drive from work, to move into a place where I had to leave 2 hours in advance just to get there on time, for the first time I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders.
"You can stay here until you save up enough money to get your own place," my aunt had told me. So after doing the math, I figured since I'd be saving all my money, I could be out of her place in four months, which was September. "Perfect," I thought excitedly, "My birthday present to myself would be my own place!" Which meant, absolutely no unnecessary expenses.
So I left Brooklyn's house, which, oddly enough, I found to be a little sad. There were five of us who had moved there from the Shady House and because we had gone through so much crap in the past three months together, like soldiers at war, we had formed a bond. We had shared stories, laughed, and ate together like a family. The guy whom I shared a room with was, Foster, a guy in his thirties who had recently moved from the east coast to also pursue a career in film. We had spent a lot of hours talking about our goals in the industry and how we're not gonna stop until we accomplish them. Dauntez, Brooklyn's brother, was there as well. He was like the big brother of the house: always crackin people up and cooking for us. Late one night when we were high and hungry, we concocted this burger we called a "Juicy Lucy" which was two hamburger patties cooked together with the cheese INSIDE so as to create something similar to a jelly donut. Lemme tell you, that thing was the bomb! Tia was a struggling masseuse. And Paul worked in construction. We were all struggling in our own way and somehow managed to stay afloat.
Right before I walked out the front door for the last time as a resident, we said our goodbyes and it felt like I was a child leaving an orphanage. I was happy to finally find a "home" and they were happy for me that I was moving on to "bigger and better things". I knew I'd have to come back and make one more trip for the rest of my stuff so it wasn't too bad. As I walked out, I gave Foster daps, "I'll see you on other side, braddah!" I told him. He laughed and replied with a "I'll see you on the red carpet." And that was that. I jumped in my car and drove the 2+ hours through LA traffic from the San Fernando Valley down to Long Beach.
By the time I got to my aunt's house, the sun was down and it was almost 8pm. I began unloading my car, placing the eight boxes in the corner of my new room. The house was empty since all my aunt's stuff was still in storage and that made it much easier transporting the boxes through the living room. As I began pumping my queen size air mattress in my room, I could see that my aunt was also sleeping on a mattress on the floor. She had moved out of her dogsitter's house earlier than she had expected on account of my being there and I knew that it bothered her. Why? I figured she'd be glad to have me around since she now had someone to help her move into her place.
To give you an idea of how she is, growing up, my cousins and I would tease her because whenever we'd eat something, she would be the first to comment, "Eww! Do you know how many calories is in that?! Why are you eating that?! You're gonna get fat!" She's my mom's older sister and it not that she's completely vain but it was no secret that she loved her material goods. I mean, what normal person has a Landrover AND a BMW. Is that really necessary?
She was born in the Philippines but, along with my mother and the rest of their siblings, was raised in Wailua, HI. She was Ms. Hawai'i Filipina back in the day and moved up to the states to pursue a career in entertainment. Needless to say, things didn't pan out since she is now a flight attendant. She had just gone through her umpteenth divorce and had moved back down to Long Beach after staying with her husband in Oregon for I don't even know how long. I wasn't sure why her marriages ended, but after living wither her, I had an idea. Up to that point, all I heard, was that her and her husbands fought a lot because she would talk down to them like they were children. Great. When I told my mom that I was moving in with her, she even warned me, "Are you SURE you want to live with your aunty?"
"I have to," I told her. "It's the only way I'll be able to save money for my own place." Then I added, "It can't be THAT bad." Man, was I gonna eat my own words.
I finally finished pumping my air mattress and as I laid on it, letting out the right amount of air to make it nice and soft, my phone rang. It was my sister and we had been talking a lot lately, planning out her move up to the mainland. I got up to close the door since it was getting late. As soon as the door clicked close I heard my aunt yell from her room, "What are you doing?! Why are you closing the door?!"
What the hell?
I opened the door to see her standing in the hallway looking at me. "Why are you closing the door?!" she repeated. "What are you hiding?!"
"I'm not hiding anything," I replied in complete confusion. "I'm talking to Chelsie."
"Well you don't need the door closed to talk on the phone," she snapped.
"Relax, aunty," I told her. I kind of chuckled to lighten the mood as I closed the door again. "What the fuck was I getting myself into," I thought as I laid back down on my air mattress.
After my phone conversation was over, I opened the door again to see my aunt going to the bathroom, which was right in between both of our rooms. "I'm going to bed," she said to me on her way in. "Me too," I replied. I grabbed my toiletry pouch from my bag and laid on my mattress, waiting for her to finish up in the bathroom.
As I was laying down, I couldn't help but notice that as she brushed her teeth, she kept glaring at me out of the side of her eye. I ignored it and, after she was finished, I grabbed my toiletry bag and made my way into the bathroom. After passing me on her way out, she turned back towards me and commented, "Oh, so you ARE going to brush your teeth." I literally didn't know what to say to that.
So I got ready for bed, went to my room and, again, I closed my door to again hear, "Why are you closing the door?! What are you hiding?!"
I opened the door and saw her standing there. "I'm going to sleep," I tell her. "And when I sleep, I have the door closed."
"Well, you don't need the door closed when you sleep," she snapped. "I don't close the door when I sleep!" I was completely confused. "Well, I do," I said and closed the door. Minutes later, as I laid on my mattress trying to fall asleep, I couldn't stop thinking how I've barely been there for three hours and I already immediately regretted my decision.
The next morning I woke up a little earlier than I expected to. As I laid there trying to catch another half hour of sleep, the door flies open and my aunt barges into the room, looking around as if trying to catch me in the middle of something. She takes a couple steps into the room and begins talking, "OK. We're going to have to go over some ground rules." Tired and confused I just groaned back at her.
"You're going to have to pull your own weight and help me around the house," she said. "I'm helping you out so that you can get back on your feet, so I want you to save all your money and not blow it on stupid things."
"Yeah," I replied half asleep. "I know. We already talked about this."
"OK," she said. "I'm going to work." And she left.
"How unnecessary was that?!", I thought after she left the room. I got up and figured it was time to get ready for work since it was almost 7am and if I wanted to be at work by 930am, I had to leave before 730.
That was my schedule and despite spending a lot of time on the road, it wasn't bad at all. If I opened the store, I left Long Beach by 730am, got there at 930am, got off at 630pm, got back into Long Beach at around 9pm, went to the gym, got to my aunt's house by 11pm and went to sleep. If I closed the store, I didn't get leave work until 930 so I didn't get out of the gym and back to my aunt's place till around 1am. Also, add to that the hour that I spent at the Apple store checking my emails and sending out my resume.
My first week there, the place was completely unfurnished, we didn't even have a fridge. So there really wasn't anything to "help" around the house with other than clean the debris from the bathroom that was being remodeled. Nothing was wrong with the original bathroom, but my aunt was the type who felt it was necessary to drop several thousand dollars on a new bathroom that she "designed herself".
Then slowly but surely, we began picking up her furniture from storage and brought it to the house, and before we knew it, by the end of the second week, the bathroom was ready and we were living in a fully furnished home, fridge and everything. "Finally," I thought. "I didn't have shower at 24 Hour Fitness anymore!"
That's when I realized how nit-picky she really was. The first time I took a shower in her bathroom, she got upset because upon finishing my shower, I failed to completely clean and wipe dry the tub and shower walls. She expected this to be done after every usage. Crazy, yes, I know, but to her that was normal and anyone who didn't meticulously scrub their shower after each use was a messy savage to her. I'm not even gonna get into the argument we had over me using my own towel to dry my feet vs. her the specially made "foot towel".
Then a couple of days later, she came into the kitchen as I poured myself a glass of orange juice. I took a sip of the juice, placed it on the counter and walked away to put the carton of juice back into the fridge. "Don't be a slob! I'm not cleaning up after you!" I hear her snap, referencing the glass of juice I just put down mere seconds ago.
On another day, when she was telling me she was going to be out of town a couple of days for work, she made sure to add, "I don't want you to throw any house parties while I'm gone and try not to tear up the bathroom either!", referring to the one time I used the shower and failed to scrub it down and wipe it dry after I used it.
"What are you even talking about?", I asked sarcastically, a question that I had become accustomed to saying to her during my first two weeks there.
"I saw how you lived in Washington," she remarked. "There was so much.....dust!"
Dust?! "First of all," I told her, "You came on like a Wednesday, in the middle of finals week. I had more important stuff to worry about than dust. Secondly," I continued, "my cleaning day is Sundays."
"Your 'cleaning day'?!", she scoffed.
"Yeah," I replied. "Of course I clean up after myself and maintain the apartment during the week, but I vacuum, scrub and do all that big tedious stuff on Sundays."
"Just one day a week?! You need to do that everyday! Geez, I blame your mother on the way you turned out!"
"Yes, one day a week. And if you need to do it everyday, then you have OCD."
That pissed her off. It made me laugh inside.
"I don't have OCD! It's just called being clean!"
Then what she said next made me understand exactly the type of person she was, "I'm accustomed to flying all over the place and staying in four star hotels so I expect to feel like I'm living in a four star hotel!"
"Whatever," was all I could say to that. She went on to say how I too cocky for my own good, I have a chip on my shoulder and again on how she blamed my mother for how I turned out. To where I thanked her, because hey, I'm the first person in our family to go to college and I think I turned out to be a pretty damn good guy. To me, saying that is a compliment to what a great job she did.
But that's the way she was. She doesn't understand what it is to truly work hard towards something versus just working hard. During one conversation, she laughed and said my answer was stupid when we were talking about my pursuits in the film industry and she asked how long I was gonna give it and what my backup plan was. I had told her, "I don't have a backup plan. I'm either gonna make it, or I'm gonna make it because to me, if you're even thinking about a backup plan, you've already given up on your main plan."
"But how long have you been here? And what have you done so far?"
I told her if that's her attitude then it's no wonder why she didn't make anything happen in this industry. To where she got all defensive, bragging that she was a stand-in for one of the actresses on Magnum P.I. as if that's an impressive high point of a career in entertainment. Frick, I stood in for Steve Carell my first month in LA but I don't think, by any means, that that's brag-worthy! Finally, to shut her up, I reminded her that I have a degree, so if worse comes to worst, I have that to fall back on. Which she remarked with a "That's not good enough!" To where I wondered how twisted she was to say that's not good enough. My back up plan is most people's primary plan: go to college, get a degree, and get a job. Not good enough? She wishes she had my backup plan as even an option.
Needless to say, her Negative Nancy attitude was taking its toll and I dreaded walking through that front door. I had been trying to get a second job, partly because I needed the extra cash, but mostly because I didn't want to be in that house. I even tried my hand at promoting at a club in downtown LA called the Conga Room, to where I quickly realized how much I was over that scene and I ended up quitting after one week. My mom had been calling me, complaining that my aunt had been calling her to complain about me. To my aunt, I was this completely out of control, savage of a delinquent and all the while, my mom was telling me, "I told you she's not an easy woman to live with."
In the middle of that May, my friends Donny and Ane were getting married in Seattle and I had been planning on flying up for it. I still hadn't bought my ticket since up until that point everything had been so crazy for me financially and in terms of my living situation. But with the incredibly stressful and crazy occurrences happening those first two weeks, I felt I NEEDED a vacation. My first paycheck since moving into my aunt's was set to come in and I figured since I'd be pocketing all the money from there on out, I could afford the $200 plane ticket up to Seattle.
Payday came and went and my account still received no funds. A couple days later, I get another note in the mail saying that, like my tax return, my paycheck was taken to be put towards my student loans and I wasn't going to see a cent of that paycheck either! What the hell?!
Glad that at least I have a roof over my head, despite as bad as it may be, I called Donny to tell him that unfortunately I won't be flying up for the wedding.
Later on that week, I get a call from E! Entertainment, a place I had been applying for almost every month since I graduated in 2006. I got an interview for an entry level position, nailed it, and practically started right away. Then a couple of days after that, about a week after I spoke to Donny on the phone, he calls me to tell me that he and a bunch of our friends in Seattle had pitched in to buy me a plane ticket to come up to the wedding. "Don't even argue, Conrad," he said. "We already bought it, so you have to come."
Man, I have some pretty awesome friends.
So that following weekend, I went up to Seattle and it was the best time I've had in a long time. I got to see everyone again and so much stress and worry was gone. Being back up there with everyone really made me realize how lonely I was in LA. Sunday afternoon came with a quickness and I was incredibly sad to go back to the "real world".
My new schedule was pretty crazy. I was now working two full time jobs and still had to worry about my two hour, one way commute. My shift at E! was a graveyard shift so I was working there everyday from 11pm to 8am. Then depending on whether or not I was opening or closing, I would either leave Gamesetop and go straight to E! or finish at E! then go to open the store right after. Despite averaging about 3-4 hours of sleep a day, my aunt was still calling my mom to complain about me "bumming around the house", coming back to "only sleep" and then heading out right away.
The last straw came when I got back from Seattle. Since I moved in, my aunt has been talking about a specific day she wanted me to keep open to watch her dog, Gracie. However, for some reason, she felt it necessary to bring it up every other day. The irritating thing was whenever we talked about it, it didn't feel like she was reminding me, but instead it was if we were having the conversation for the first time.
"What are you doing on Friday the 22nd?"
"Aren't I watching your dog?"
"OK, yeah. I was just wondering if you were free."
"We already talked about this. I told you I would."
"Well, I can't keep track of your schedule!"
"What are you even talking about?"
Rinse and repeat that conversation every other day for the first two weeks.
The week of the impending dog sitting day comes and that conversation goes from every other day to EVERY FRICKIN DAY. My three hour naps are interrupted by calls asking "What are you doing this Friday?"
That Thursday, I tried to get as much sleep as possible knowing that I had a long 24hrs ahead of me. I'd be closing the store (1pm-930pm), going straight to E! (11pm-800am), then get back to my aunt's house around 9am, Friday morning, to watch her dog, which apparently is the only dog in the nation that needs to be walked every three hours.
Did I get much sleep that Thursday, you ask? Not with the millions of texts I received asking "What are you doing tomorrow?" Good fricken goodness. So when I left for work that Thursday afternoon, I had been up since Wednesday morning and wasn't going to sleep again until Friday night.
I worked my shift at Gamestop, dragged my ass to E!, and zombied my way through the night and into the morning. Around 7am I receive another text from her, "So what? Are you too drunk to watch Gracie today?"
Does she not believe that I'm out working every night? Does she think that I'm out partying or something?
So at that point, I figured that if she didn't understand after talking about it every damn day, then there was nothing I could text her back to understand it within that hour. So I finish my shift, head back to her place, and within an hour, I walk through her front door to see her standing there, her phone in hand, pissed off.
"Why didn't you answer my text?!"
"We had this talked about this already! What could I say an hour ago that would convince you, that I already didn't say a zillion times already?!"
"You know, I was just about to call in sick because you didn't answer me."
"I told you I was gonna watch her."
"Well, I don't know that! I don't know if I could trust you! I know you went to Seattle and the last time I wanted you to watch Gracie, you bailed on me!"
"I bailed on you?! You mean that time when I HAD to court to take care of my ticket and you asked me the day before?!"
"I don't think this is working out."
All I could do was laugh and go to my room. This woman is crazy and if she was treating me half as bad as she treated her husbands, then there was no wonder why she had been divorced so many times. I called my mom and she was upset, "Why the hell does she expect you to take off of work to watch her stupid dog?! You're there to work and save money so that you could get on your feet! That's your priority!"
My aunt left that weekend and that gave me a lot of time to cool down and think of my next move. I thought about my four month plan and found it funny that I couldn't even stand one month with that woman. I was seriously debating on being out of the house before she came back that Monday. But where would I go? I had barely been over two weeks and I only had a couple hundred dollars saved up.
I had set up a payment plan with the student loan people so I was at least getting my next Gamestop paycheck. A week following that, would be my first E! paycheck. However, I still had only a couple hundred dollars in my account until then so the chances of me moving into another place and paying for rent was slim to none.
That Monday morning, my aunt came back home. She barged into my room again (something that I had gotten used to being that she did it every morning to tell me she's going to work), but this time it was to tell me that it wasn't working out and that she wanted me out by the end of the month (which was that Sunday), giving me six days. Expecting this, and being incredibly tired, my yes came out as more of a groan. At least I had six days instead of four, I joked to myself. I laid there thinking about my next move. Ahh, the chess game of life.
Throughout that following week, I had rented storage space down the street from Gamestop and I had been dropping my things off on my way to work. By that weekend, all my stuff was in storage, my clothes were in my back seat, and I still had no place to move to. She asked me if I were moving in with a friend and I just told her "Yeah" to end the conversation. She asked if I needed help moving and I chuckled. Funny how people are quicker to help you leave then stay.
I decided to leave Saturday instead of waiting until Sunday. I just needed to get out as soon as possible. Despite, of how everything turned out, I thanked her and left. My first stop after leaving her house was Target. I bought a huge pack of bottled water, tons of cans of Vienna sausage, several loaves of bread, and a couple bottles of ketchup and BBQ sauce.
Across from the Target was a 24 Hour Fitness. I drove there, found a parking spot way in the back, cracked open a Vienna sausage can, drained the juice out my window, threw it on a loaf of bread and added some BBQ sauce. I sat in my drivers seat and enjoyed my dinner, a dinner that I'd be enjoying for weeks to come. My car was facing Target and I watched as happy families and friends walked in and out of the store to go back to their lovely homes. After my "meal", I reclined my chair, cracked the window open and looked up at the stars. What a beautiful view from what was to be my living room, my dining room, and my bedroom for the next couple of weeks. It would be something that I'd grow "accustomed" to. This would be MY four star hotel.
I closed my eyes and fell asleep, and oddly enough, it was the happiest, and most peaceful sleep I had all month.
Part 1: Where's the Love?
Part 2: Moving Day
Part 3: The Shady House
Part 4: False Salvation
Part 5: Four Star Hotel
Part 6: Do Unto Others
Part 7: So Close, Yet So Far
Part 8: Dent of Hope