Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Empty Shelf

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

About a week ago, I sat in my office and looked at my bookcase. It was almost empty save for three or four books. The bookcase was part of a birthday present from Nicky a few years ago. She renovated the space for me so I had a comfortable place to write. At the time, I only had a handful of books in LA but over the last couple of years, I slowly filled up the numerous shelves, so much so that I created different categories. One "cube" had books from authors I knew in real life (like Wil Wheaton, Martin Harris, Jonathon Schanzer, John Hartness) and another was filled with poker books (from authors Johnny Hughes, Michael Craig, Jim McManus, Amy Calistri & Tim Lavalli). Other sections included music/music writing, fiction (Bill Sytron, Tom Robbins, Arthur Nersesian), and "apocalyptia", which can only be described as books about the forthcoming financial collapse, peak oil, the war machine, and the deterioration of civil discourse.

About nine months ago, I realized I had accumulated too many books because one of the few things I spend money on is... books... especially used books. is an evil genius, but they introduced me to the swift ability to buy a book for cheap and under a buck. The scam was in the postage (up to $3 from third-party sellers), but I must've bought almost a hundred used books for under $5 total (including shipping). With Amazon's free two-day Prime shipping, I was able to get books in under 48 hours, which was a blessing because I hated buying books in Los Angeles. If you ever lived in LA, you know how horrible it is to go to a bookstore in behemoth malls like the Grove or Century City, because parking is a fucking chore and you have to fight the over-consuming sheeple just to get a bit of enlightenment. Plus, the bookstore chains were always located in the shittiest spots in these mega-malls because Americans (especially the vapid denizens in Los Angeles) don't read books. Thankfully, courtesy of Amazon, I steadily filled the empty spaces, cubes, and shelves on my bookcase.

In NYC, I had easier access to books because I made weekly trips down to the Strand to read (yeah, I was that guy who clogged up the aisle) and purchase as many used books as I could for $20 (usually 2 or 3, but somedays I got lucky and scored 5 or more). When I was at the lowest of the lowest in the broke-as-a-joke unemployed wanna-be-writer phase just before I got into poker, I used to spend most of my days wandering around bookstores. Before 9/11, I spent at least one day a week at the Borders on the ground floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center. The rest of my weekday browsing was spread out between the Strand and different Barnes and Noble locations. I read a lot of poker strategy books at the store on Union Square, then went around the corner to play cards in an underground room.

I sat in my office last week and noticed the empty shelves. That was the first time the reality of the move had sunk in. I was finally leaving Los Angeles and got my wish, but for the first time since we pulled the trigger on moving, I had a tinge of... sadness. I looked around the office and realized I will never write there again. I have no idea how many words I wrote at the desk, but that's where I finished off Lost Vegas and re-edited Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. Love it or hate it, I polished off two books in LA and that's something I'll never forget.

The flood gates opened. The room itself has its own memories. Before Showcase moved out, that's where he lived for a few years as a struggling actor in Hollywood. And before that? Who knows how many people sat in the same room (and while in bed and starring up at the ceiling) and wondered if their dreams were going to be fulfilled or come to a scathing halt.

Me? I was living the dream and reached the misty mountain top. As the saying goes, "it's all downhill from there."

I see dreams shattered every summer in Las Vegas, but the City of Angels has its own share of demoralized souls. Everyone seemed so detached from reality. Maybe it's all the botox and spray tans?

I walked into different parts of the apartment including the living room. It was the cleanest I had ever seen it, but it was just a mere skeleton of what it used to be. The picture frames and the good DVDs were already boxed up and driven to San Francisco a few weeks earlier. Our token poker trophies were in storage at Nicky's parents' house.

We're subletting the place in the Slums of BH to a colleague, so Nicky left all of her furniture in the apartment for the meantime. We moved into Halli's massive apartment in San Francisco, which was fully furnished except a bed. Thanks to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavs, I won enough money betting on the NBA finals to fund a new bed, which I need for my aching hip and back. But aside from that, we escaped the headache of moving a shit ton of furniture up North. Besides, whatever Halli didn't have, we could buy disposable Swedish furniture at Ikea.

The only items in LA that I owned -- a desk, chair, and bookcase. All three items Nicky bought me for a birthday-office-renovation-surprise. That all stayed behind for now. Oh, and I forgot about the futon I bought (the only thing in the apartment which I actually purchased), which also served as the guest bed. Benjo used it the most over the last few years when he crashed in my office whenever he came to visit. He even worked on the French translation of Lost Vegas sitting in the same spot where I penned the manuscript.

I guess the real weirdness will happen in four to six months when we have to make an official decision on San Francisco and figure out what to do with Nicky's furnishings and my office stuff. Do we stay in SF and sell all her furnishings on Craigslist? Do we go back to LA? Or is it time to move to Colorado? I won't have answers to that for a few more months of living in our new place and new city.

Alas, LA is in the past, San Francisco is the present.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Intimidating Pancakes

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The old man with the walking stick glared at me. I paid no attention and eyeballed the betting lines for tonight's baseball games. The bookies set the run total for the Yankees/Baltimore game at least 1 run higher than normal. That meant only one thing -- the lackluster A.J. Burnett was taking the mound for the Yanks.

The old man's wife also glared at me with mean eyes that had not been hugged since the early days of the Reagan administration. I sat in their usual seat and methodically carved through a stack of chocolate chip pancakes. Instead of sitting at a different table or booth, they kinda made a scene, or at least tried to. I ignored them and enjoyed my breakfast. The staff ignored them and continued on with their morning duties.

The SoCal sun battled through the feisty marine layer and shiny rays poker through the clouds. The biggest drawback to moving to San Francisco is the lack of an every mornin breakfast joint, because the closest diner to us is an utter shithole. I'm gonna miss the coffeeshop around the corner from us in the Slums of Beverly Hills.Yes, one of the best things about living in Los Angeles is the local coffeeshop. I eat there as much as 5 or 6 times a week when I'm not on the road and have an extended amount of time in LA. Lord knows how much I've written about the coffeeshop on my blog, but it's truly an essential part to my daily routine.

I'm sure the old couple has been coming into the coffeeshop for much longer than someone like myself, but I betcha I tip better than they do, which is why I get more attentive service than they do. If a server knows they have a good tipper in front of them, they will put forth a much better effort. In short, good tippers bring out top notch service.

I'm a low maintenance customer -- just keep filling up a glass of iced tea and let me read a book in peace and the world is a perfect place. I eat rather quickly and usually never linger because I want to go back home for a smoke and then sit down in my office to write. On some mornings, I've been writing for a few hours before I take a walk and grab grub. But most of the time, I'm thinking about what I want to write about when I walk through the front door. For example, on my way home this morning, the old couple popped into my head.

I didn't like their smug attitude and sense of entitlement. There's a pair of two tops up front. When it's busy, I sit at the counter. When it's not busy, I sit at the tables because it has the best light in the coffeeshop. The cops always sit in the back room or in the last booth. The weird old guys sit up at the counter. The mechanics from the auto body shops in the area squeeze into the booths. They always eat in trios or quartets and two of them are always on the obese side. I never understood how a mechanic could be fat, how the hell do they squeeze underneath cars and such?

The old couple sat up front at a specific table, and I was sitting in their spot, with the other table wide open and a couple of booths available as well. When I noticed they were trying to intimidate me with sighs and glances in a weak ass attempt to speed up my meal, that irked me. I slowed down the consumption of chocolate chip pancakes. I took longer glances at my CrackBerry in between bites. I had over 124 un-read emails for four different accounts and I slowly sifted through them all.

Had the couple been nicer about it, I would have probably would have offered to switch spots. I noticed the staff didn't rush to greet them or say much to the grumps. They served the grumps for over a decade and we not fighting for the right to serve them. The grumps glared at me. Their rude sense of entitlement made me flip the switch from breezy easy-going nice guy, to "fuck you fucktard.... I got here first."

Besides, it could very well be the last time I ever ate at the coffeeshop before I moved on. The least they could've done was suck it up for five minutes and politely wait for me to finish my meal. The last breakfast. Instead, they tried to intimidate me over pancakes.

The coffeeshop is something that I'll never forget about LA, it's something I will miss dearly, and my last visit was soured by the pissed off old couple. Oh well, now I'll have to pop in on a weekend (which I rarely do because it's so fucking busy) to say goodbye to the Mexican cooks and members of the family who owns/operates the joint.

Yeah, I know I moan about the plasticity of LA and the traffic, which everyone from NYC bitches about when they migrate to the City of Angeles, but I do have a few things that I'll miss about LA. In case you were wondering about the list....
1. Breakfast time in LA... both the coffeeshop (daily) and O'Groats (weekly) are among my favorite places to eat in the city. The bacon at O'Groats is a Top 3 all time.

2. Sunshine. The welcomed warmth of the sun as it hits my face, protected my Retro-turtle Ray Bans. The warm weather is why so many people put up with all the bullshit of living in LA and maybe if I was 10-15 years older, I'd welcome the warmth without the sticky, muggy humidity of the East Coast and Deep South.

3. Palm trees. Waking up next to my girlfriend and looking out the bedroom window to see palm trees shooting up out of the ground is how my scatter-brained mind, constantly on the road, helps trigger a reminder that I'm in LA. Sometimes I'm traveling so much for work, I'll wake up in a slight panic because I don't recognize where I crashed and don't know what city I'm in.

4. In-N-Out Burger.

5. Singers singing. Either the violin girl upstairs working on vocals or the waitress/aspiring actress across the alley singing in the shower or practicing harmonies at random times. The waitress/actress had a roommate, who also was in a holding pattern while she waited tables until she got her big break as a singer. Well, she got her first taste of the Big Time and the clock started ticking of her 15-minutes of fame when she finished in the Top 10 of American Idol. Ah, that's the magical allure of Hollywood Dreamers... one day you're bitching about getting stiffed in tips, and the next day you're covering Elton John songs on national TV.
Yep, that's all I got for now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Daily Weirdness in the Slums of BH

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The ebbs and flow of our building. Maybe it's the transient nature of the neighborhood -- the Slums of Beverly Hills -- where very few people stay here for very long. Maybe it's the physical limitations to living in the actual apartment building. It's over 60 years old and it's rundown. Sure, it's in better shape than the bug bed infested slum next door with all of the weird Persian people talking on cell phones at odd hours, and a husky woman hanging out of her window and chain smoking menthols.

The only reason Nicky stuck around as long this in our apartment was because of the price tag. She originally moved here because of the proximity to where she worked in Beverly Hills. Even when Showcase moved out to WeHo and I officially ended my vagabond status and moved some stuff in, I was always trying to get Nicky to think about some place else. Unfortunately, the timing was never right because we were constantly on the road for work, or I needed to stay put to finish a book, and then she lost her steady gig last year. Sure, there were other neighborhoods in LA where I would have rather lived but those places are more expensive, rivaling NYC, and if I was going to pay NYC rent prices to live in a bungalow in the Hills, then I wanted to live in NYC.

Our two-story boxed building in the Slums of BH has seven units: 2 two bedrooms, 4 one bedrooms, and one studio. We have six parking spots (each spot can fit two vehicles) and the last fucker to rent the apartment gets shit out of luck with a space and has to settle for street parking. During Spaceman's first visit, he said the alley reminded him of The Big Lebowski. With the exception of the artist renting out the only studio, we've been here the longest. Yep, long lasting tenants. No wonder the landlord doesn't like us too much because we probably pay the less than he knows he could get if he fixed it up and found some hipsters or rich kids to rent it out for redonkulous prices.

Two of the front units, both single bedroom units, have been constantly changing, shifting, never static. When we returned from Vegas, I noticed that both front units had brand new tenants moving in their stuff -- both were couples renting out one bedrooms. Gone from the first floor was the sad French lady with thousands of cooking books who smoked Virginia Slims. Also gone from the second floor was the ginger hipster with his Asian girlfriend, who looked like she was 16.

The last time our landlord had a pair of vacant apartments, it took him several months to finally rent them both out -- and this was with the assistance of a rental agent. We suspected he was asking too much above market price, especially because the 60-year old building is in a major demand for an overhaul, especially the plumbing, which is absolute shit. But... maybe he finally lowered his price? Besides, times are tough and both vacancies were snatched up rather quickly.

I haven't seen much of the first couple, a pair of twenty-somethings, save for one of them throwing out trash one night. They looked like post-college kids, but I didn't see anything flashy or extraordinary about them. Nicky and I met the other couple when they moved in - a skinny guy in his late 20s who shacked up with an older woman in her late 30s or early 40s. She had the day job and used the solo car, which left him with a skateboard as his only mode of transportation. I've seen him with it a couple of times in the mornings, as he skated away with a bag and a saxaphone case slung around his shoulder. I haven't heard him practice at all. Maybe he smuggles shit back and forth in his sax box?

The hipster couple above us have been mellow this summer compared to the tempestuous and furious verbal jousts we were used to hearing all Spring. The recent newlyweds who were fighting almost nightly before we left for Vegas. I guess their "moving to LA from the East Coast" honeymoon was over, and the gloves came off. Some of the arguments were vicious screaming matches. Stressed. They were both stressed about trying to follow their dreams and trying to deal with the harsh grimness of reality. Jobs are tough, especially in the entertainment world. The pay is horrible and you hump shitty day jobs while everyone else around you lives the good life. The LA grind is demoralizing for anyone, even for the few successful artisans.

Since we got back, I noticed the couple upstairs have been both working a lot, so that means less time to worry about money and more money coming in. Money is a dream crusher in LA, well, either the pursuit of money drags you down, or not having enough money to survive causes intense emotional pain -- both situations are disastrous for dreamers trying to make a name for themselves in Tinseltown.

The hipster couple upstairs must think that Nicky and I are getting along great, because they never hear us fighting anymore, but that's because we've eliminated a main source of our friction -- living in LA. She finally pulled the trigger on leaving LA, and I finally got my wish -- to live somewhere that isn't Vegas or LA. Yep, that's why we don't argue as much, other than the usual bickering that comes with the territory of any serious relationship in excess of five years.

The guy across the way is still bitter suit guy. He angrily leaves every morning and speeds off in his Beamer, then angrily returns at night only to crank up his TV and watch baseball or Sportscenter. He repeats the process on weekdays and I've never seen him with a female visitor. Either he has zero luck with the ladies or he's a sad homo. Either way, I always saw a dark cloud around him and after spying on him over the last year or so, I've come to conclusion that he follows a sullen routine. No wonder he never says hello. I avoid the pissed off guy as much as possible.

I'm not very friendly with the girl who lives above him. The dark haired in her early 20s and is always wearing the typical restaurant garb -- white collared shirt and black pants. She hasn't been around much so I have to assume she's working lots of shifts at the restaurant. I don't think I've seen her with a guy more than once or twice, so assumed that she liked girls and was having a torrid affair with a female friend who often dropped by her place. They'd get super drunk on wine and scream and laugh a lot. I have a dirty mind, so I assumed they also did lots of lewd things to each other. I dunno how a recent USC grad can earn enough in the food industry to pay rent on a one bedroom in the Slums of BH, pay school loans, and a car payment? Unless... she's dealing phramies on the side. Most likely she's subsidized by her country club parents. I think she'll be moving on soon. 20-somethings have short attention spans. She'll finally move out when finds a boyfriend and she moves in with him, or has enough courage to tell her parents she's a lipstick lesbian and move in with her lover. Otherwise, she'll get frustrated with being a waitress with a meaningless degree in Psychology and eventually get into an awful fight with her parents, then sell her car and move to Bali in protest.

In the meantime, the slumlord who owns the join next door has been renovating different ground floor apartments all summer long, which means there's random workers, all non-English speaking illegals, showing up at 7am and sawing shit and running all sorts of power tools. They greet me every morning, but not really because they are afraid I'll call Immigration and they'll get tossed into a secret ICE facility for three weeks before deported back home to Pakistan, Mexico, and Panama.

Every morning, the alley smells like spoiled milk, cat piss, and turpentine. Ah, I'm gonna miss LA in the summer.... but not really.

The actress/waitress who lives across the alley still sings and that's one of the few things I'll actually miss about living in LA -- my office, especially the open window and hearing the melodious sounds of someone practicing their craft. The hipster girl who lives above us, uses the second bedroom as her practice space and I hear her strumming along on the violin frequently. Those sounds also create a mellow and creative environment when I'm below her pecking away at the keyboard. I'm a sponge and soak up the vibe and energy of people around me -- so if I hear sounds that remind me of noble artistic pursuits, then I welcome those sounds into my ears and I'll let my brain feed off it, which in turn will help fuel my own endeavors.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Out the Front Door

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

One week ago, I stepped off a redeye flight from San Francisco and wandered around Chicago's O'Hare's airport bleary-eyed as I struggled to read an email from my French editor, Jerome. I scrolled through my CrackBerry and read about a potential future project. I was surprised and honored because it came out of nowhere. I have no idea if it will even take off, but it was the first non-poker project I heard of in a while that seemed intriguing.

I was supposed to be on vacation and not thinking about work, or more importantly, not worrying about writing because that's what I do 24/7. By the mere definition, a vacation was supposed to be just that -- time away from the grind of the daily activities that cause you grief, heartburn, and insomnia. The hardest part about being a writer is that most of your time is spent connected to a laptop and flirting between real life and the complex, virtual world.

The summer assignment in Vegas always fucks me up both mentally and physically. Two months in Sin City will do that to anyone. This summer was probably the worse in both respects, but at least, I had something positive happen from the summer of hell because I'm finally realizing that I'm the warden who committed myself to live out a life sentence in the asylum. All I had to do was walk out at any time and life would be... different... albeit somewhat normal again.

Sometimes we forget that the biggest obstacles in our lives are the ones we created ourselves, so more often than not we're paralyzed by whatever mental prisons where we sentenced ourselves. It took a couple of painstaking experiences to finally figure a way out -- which is something I had access to the entire time. A way out.

So, now I stand on the other side of life's tunnel....and I feel like the lone survivor in a bad disaster movie. I'm very sore, dirty, and surprised that I'm on this side of things. A lot of folks and dear friends will never get out because they got stuck inside, or they weren't aware of their own demise and got sucked away into the void -- self-imprisoned in the darkened hallways in their minds.

I've been ready to walk the walk. I've been shit talkin' for a while and it's time to really do those things that make a life worth living. For example, instead of bitching about how much I can't stand LA... I'm making the change and moving. That's just the beginning. I'm trying to apply that shift in thinking to my career path. You'd be surprised on how much time I wasted trying to appease others at the expense on my own development. With that said, I've had to make a lot of rough decisions -- sort of rip-the-band aid-off-quickly decisions that hurt no matter what. So, instead of being paralyzed by indecision, it was time to have the courage and balls to make those decisions. Shit, sometimes any decision is better than indecision. The bottom line is that it's not the time to be afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes I have to look like a fool to get to where I want to go.

Hence, the last couple of weeks. Lots of different thoughts rattled around inside my head about projects, places, and the future. So many in fact that I did everything in my power to contain those thoughts to a few trusted people and I avoided posting anything for the public's consumption (on the blogs, Twat-stream, or other tentacles of social media). Sometimes an existentialist crisis is best had in the privacy of one's internal chatter, but at the same time, sometimes it's best to just keep enlightenment to oneself, especially when most people around you don't really want to be unplugged. The herd is always upset by the rogue salmon swimming upstream.

In short, I feel as though I've returned to someone slightly resembling my old self after a couple of months of internal reflection which was both a humbling and frightening undertaking. I've come a long way in a short time and although I've been incredibly lucky in many instances, I also know that I worked diligently to put myself in a position to get lucky. I had a colleague once say, "Never apologize for taking a vacation if you've been working your ass off."

But that's the problem because I've been apologizing to myself over the last few years because I was either working on vacations or felt guilty for not working on them. I learned the hard way that sometimes, a break is a break, and necessary for the future -- both in terms of growth and development, and the necessity of everyone once in a while to stop and sniff the proverbial roses, even if said roses are sprinkled in cat urine.

I took a vacation and for the first time in a while, I really avoided the pitfalls of getting sucked back into the black cloud of conversation that was just within arms reach on the horizon. Some days I feel so far removed from it all that the last few years seems like a daydream. I have to pick up a copy of Lost Vegas and fan the pages to remind myself that all of that actually happened and it wasn't just a dream. Yet other days, when I'm trying to step back to gain perspective, I'm being chased by the dark clouds. No matter were I go, there they are. I can't even ditch my CrackBerry and hide among the hippies without poker rearing its ugly head. Such is life. That's the life I chose to lead and no matter where I go, it'll always be there. Took me a while to figure that out, which is the sad and inevitable result that anyone ever finds when they are trying to flee a problem, places, or a person.

No matter where you go, you can't escape until you finally unlock the doors in your own mental prison.

Snoopy said that I reminded him of Andy, one of the characters from the Shawshank Redemption because I was slowly and methodically plotting my escape one day at a time. Little did Snoopy know, but I could've walked out the front door anytime.

* * *

I finally got some sleep, which I desperately needed after a few months of horrible insomnia. When you're sucked in a pharmie coma for weeks on end due to heavy dosages of medication, you kind of forget what it's like to live every day in the same cloudy, foggy, haze that never goes away. Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest or San Francisco, then you know what I'm talking about when it starts to rain one day and then it's just grey and bleh and drizzly for several months straight before you finally get a bit of sunshine and then summer is around for a while before the depressing cycle repeats itself.

Numb to it all is the best way to describe the daze or the morning after that some friends of mine refer to as "the noon slouch." Shit, I have at least a novel's worth of stories to share about what it's like living in a daze in the City of Angels. Maybe I'll finally sit down to write that book as soon as I leave LA. I always do a better job writing about a city when I remove myself from said city.

Well, for me, I'm hoping this isn't a short-term cycle, and that the most-recent sunshine that has burst through the greyness sticks around for a while. I felt as though I turned a corner in the last few weeks both philosophically and artistically. I've been caught in limbo for a bit and had no idea what was going on, but a sudden wave of clarity washed over me, followed by another and another within a short time. No coincidence that most of these triggers happened on the road, while on vacation, when I'm supposed to be relaxing and not worrying about work. Letting go was the best thing I've done in a while.

Now comes the tough part -- which is implementing a lot of changes I know I have to make, while continuing to adapt/overcome in other areas, while saying goodbye to a lot of things that need to be left behind.

I'm the personification of Aloha. The Hawaiians had it right -- goodbyes and hellos are the same word. It's truly time to be moving along. Hello. Goodbye. Goodbye. Hello.