Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Los Angeles Nights

As anyone who has ever lived in a strange city can attest, the nights are the worst. The days... particularly in California, where the sunshine always makes a big, hairy deal out of itself... aren't so bad. They're filled with the promise of doing things; "I'll go to a museum," or maybe, "I'll join a gym and get in shape," or even, "I'll just drive around and scope out the sights and really get to know this new city that I've decided against all logic to call my home." You don't necessarily always do these things, of course, but the option is there and most of the time the option is enough to keep you from incrementally dying inside. But the nights... kids, the nights alone are like a too-tight sweatshirt that makes you itch, makes your breathing shallow, makes you so uncomfortable that sedation is the only option. My sedation method was, naturally, alcohol.

I'll get to that in a second, but first a little back story...

I lived in LA for the first six months of 2004. I had originally come out West to take an assistant teaching job at the LA branch of the New York Film Academy; a job that fell apart roughly around the time that I got my bookshelves put together in my bedroom. Thus, during my time in Los Angeles, I worked at an extremely busy franchise of the Outback Steakhouse chain (we were, in fact, the second-busiest Outback in the world) as a waiter, part-time bartender, occasional dishwasher and prep man, and even a line cook once or twice. Basically, I worked whatever job they would give me that would help me earn as much money as I could in as short a time as possible. Extrication and escape to the other coast were the only things on my mind.

Now, to be completely fair, during this six month time period, I did in fact date two different girls. If you can call it "dating," which you really can't. That word implies happy-go-lucky times with flowers and hand-holding and smiles across candlelight that point the way to the bedroom like neon advertisements for sex. The truth of the matter is this: These two relationships were unbelievably depressing. In both cases, it wasn't so much about us being together as it was about us not being alone. I don't want to get into it any further... suffice to say that no one got out alive, emotionally-speaking... but I bring it up merely to point out that having a warm body lying next to you doesn't make the nights any easier.

Which brings me back to the booze.

Before I arrived in LA, I already had a bit of a drunken monkey clinging desperately to my back. In Austin, I'd spent a lot of time drinking alone in my apartment in the middle of the night, not knowing why and not wanting to talk about it with even my closest of friends. During my year in New York, as I finished up my half-assed, shambling college career, things were a little better; I had something that required my focus and attention, after all. It was during this time that I learned the fine art of maintaining a buzz; of drinking just enough to slide through the day like stocking feet on a hardwood floor. A few belts of vodka, strategically placed throughout, can do wonders for your outlook on life, if not for your schoolwork.

But it was in Los Angeles where things got bad. The situation was a perfect storm for a budding alcoholic; I was essentially alone, I was not where I wanted to be, and I was living down the street from a grocery store that had really good deals on cheap beer and liquor. Los Angeles was where I learned how to be a functioning drunk. There, I perfected the craft of getting obliterated at night and being ready for work the next day. It was where I developed a taste for that particular beverage known as "whatever's on sale." And it was there, towards the beginning of my stay, that I became that most cliched of archetypes, the Burroughs-and-Thompson ideal in the minds of every so-inclined male in his early 20s... the writer with a drinking problem!

Yes, as the nights wore on, as the loneliness held a pillow to my face and waited for me to stop thrashing about, I drank and I drank and I wrote and I wrote... a novel that would change the literary landscape of the United States! A book of power, of humor, of insight and beauty! I was going to be so fucking famous, I'd hire John Grisham as my own personal butt-wiper! Get ready world, here comes C-dog!!!

Of course, because I was drinking so much, what I wrote was actually quite bad. Terrible, even; so much so that a few years later, I declared it unsalvageable and deleted it from my hard drive. Let's just say that it dealt with a blind girl at her senior prom (write what you know!) and leave it at that. And eventually, I wasn't even writing that much. I lose interest in things pretty quickly, this blog excepted, and my novel-that-will-change-your-life was no different.

So after I got that brief brush with high-minded literary genius out of my system, I settled into a nighttime routine that pretty much broke down like this:

-Before I started my shift at work, I'd swing by the grocery store and see what was on the thrift. Usually it was a twelve-pack of beer, or some bottles of Jose Cuervo pre-mixed margaritas, or... and this is totally embarrassing... but sometimes the store would have a 2-for-$3 Boones Farm sale. Boones Farm, kids. That's where my life was at. Noxious blue or green or red pseudo-liquors that were sugary, horrible tasting, and always magnified my hangovers to the power of 10. Anyway, I'd pick these up and, if I was running low on that particular night, I'd pick up another bottle of Jim Beam; my baseline liquor of which I ran through two or three bottles a week.

-I'd go to work.

-Depending on the night, I'd get off anywhere from 11pm to 1am. I'd drive home, grabbing some In N' Out on the way, and barricade myself in my room.

-Comedy Central was my main entertainment source during this time period. I was also listening obsessively to Modest Mouse's "Good News For People Who Love Bad News" which had just come out, as well as a lot of predictable stuff like Tom Waits, Leonard Coen, and Warren Zevon.

-From whenever I got home until sunrise, I'd drink. I'd start with the cheap stuff... whatever I'd bought earlier that day. I didn't care that it was warm from sitting in my car all afternoon; I just wanted it in my system as quickly as possible. Then, when that was gone around 4am or so, I'd switch to the hard stuff, my old friend Mr. Beam. I'd drink that until I passed out.

-I'd wake up an hour or two before my dinner shift began, puke in the shower, and then start the whole shebang over again.

It was not any way for a person to live. I know this now and I should have known it then. But lonely nights make you stupid. And blind. And unable to see that things aren't all bad and maybe... hey, here's a thought... if you got out there and tried to make friends and tried to enjoy yourself, you just fucking might. But the liquor wraps around you and dulls you and makes you anti-social and soon the city itself looks warped and distorted because your eyes are filled with Boones Farm and your own hateful misery. Another six months of living like this and I would have been dead. One way or another, no question.

Finally, thankfully, after about five months, I'd saved enough money to know that I was about to be free. Plans were made, living arrangements in New York were secured, and my father had booked his flight to LA where he would accompany me back on the long drive across country. During this last month, the nights got a little better. I could could clearly see the exit signs, after all. I dried out sufficiently, I tied up loose ends, I busied myself by selling some of my stuff and seeing the remaining touristy attractions that I'd managed to miss during my over-optimistic days. I got myself ready to leave.

But make no mistake, I never forgot about those hard, mean nights. I never will. Because they taught me tons about myself, about what the bottom of life feels like as you bang your head against it, and about why it's so very important to go where you want to go as opposed to where you think you should go.

Trust me on this... it's a lesson that, if learned early, will forever earn you the undying gratitude of your liver.


Blogger Lioux said...

I never knew too much about your hard, mean nights...In Los Angeles!!!

I'm sorry your novel didn't work out...In Los Angeles!!!

It sounds as if you learned quite a few life lessons...In Los Angeles!!!

10:53 AM  
Blogger jason quinones said...

we've all had times in our lives like this,i know i sure a shit have, and it was cool to read something this open and honest from you as opposed to your usual juvenile poop humor.

not that's there's anything wrong with poop humor.

cuz you're good at it. well,that and eating strange foul shit from china town.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Clinton said...

Lioux... Yeah, things weren't spectacular... in Los Angeles.

Jason... Thanks, dude. I felt like doing something a little different today. Just for grins. Well, not grins exactly since it's not like a happy story or anything, but whatever.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i read your blog a lot, but i don't ever comment. i just wanted to say that this was beautiful. thanks for sharing.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Digital Fortress said...

You really are a great writer and your sense of humor blows me away.

It was good to see a different facet of you on your blog today.

I, for one, am sure glad drink didn't get the better of you. The Internets would be a lot more monotonous without you.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Irish and Jew said...

Aw Clint-bear :( I wish i could have known you... in Los Angeles.


1:06 PM  
Blogger Clinton said...

Anon... Thanks, you mysterious stranger. I don't know if this is something that could be qualified as "beautiful," but I do appreciate you saying so.

Digital... Thanks be to you as well. Yeah, I wasn't sure how that would play, to be honest. I really don't like to get too heavy on the ol' blog, just because... well, I'm not that heavy of a person (he said, leaving himself open for many a fat joke).

Jew... Back at ya, jew-bear.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Cray said...

You could just slap a dedication, and a cover on that badboy and there's your novel...?

2:15 PM  
Blogger Digital Fortress said...

Your profile picture shows you with what appears to be a delicious alcoholic beverage...irony or fitting of days of long ago.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Clinton said...

Cray... Heh, well, if I were going to write a novel about that time in my life, I'd have to highly fiction it up. What you've read here is about as exciting as I can make. I'd have to add a murder mystery or some vampire hunting or something.

Digitial... Nah, just me drinkin' a beer. Me and alcohol have a healthy relationship now. Much of the credit for that goes to Girlfriend and her general awesomeness. Never doubt the power of the love of a good woman.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...

I can't really articulate the comment I want to make. Just know that your blog means a lot to me, both for the humorous posts and the deeper ones such as this. You're an excellent writer.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Clinton said...

Jake... Thanks, dude, that really means a lot. Seriously.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and about why it's so very important to go where you want to go as opposed to where you think you should go.

That was a very poignant comment, and so true. I had my own fair share of rock-bottom times and this is probably the most important lesson I took from them. Going through life doing what is expected of you, no matter how intensely it's expected of others-- and by extension, yourself-- will never fulfill you if it doesn't happen to line up with what you actually want to be doing.

I really enjoyed reading this. Maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word. But it was good to read. There's a certain romance in suffering like that, but the fact of the matter, as you pointed out, is that it culminates in some form of death eventually-- be it physical, spiritual, etc. And dead is no way to go through life.

On the contrary, alive (and, more to the point, awake) is a lovely thing for humans to be.


7:26 AM  
Anonymous mike said...

What i've found is that everyone has experiences relatable to this - hitting rock bottom - and it isn't the fall, but rather the picking-up-the-pieces that can be extraordinarily defining. The worst part (for me) of hitting the bottom is that you become completely unaware of other's struggles, so you feel incredibly isolated.

From your blog, which is truly enjoy, it seems that you've worked hard on regaining what you value most. good work, man, I know it isn't easy.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Clinton said...

Phoenix... There is a certain romance to this sort of thing, true, and I definitely tried to cling to that for as long as I could when I was there. It got old though, but quick. And thanks for reading, of course!

Mike... Thanks, dude. Yeah, it was for sure not easy. It took a couple of years and a lot of growing up before I got away from that place, metaphorically-speaking. But where I'm at now is great, if not perfect (but what is?).

10:49 AM  
Blogger . said...

really brave & cool of you to post all this. do you do any creative writing now?

12:00 PM  
Blogger Clinton said...

SarahSpy... Aw thanks, dude. Yeah, I do some fiction-y type stuff as well; I'm always off-and-on working on stuff that's not specifically blog related. At the moment, I don't have an outlet for any of it, but I've always thought about maybe starting a short story blog or something goofy like that.

12:10 PM  

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