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This modern day Odysseus spends part of his exile eating cheeseburgers at the Chowder Barge in the Port of Los Angeles. Poseidon loosens his hold just long enough for this rag of a man to land an apartment near Santa Monica, where he will spend the next five months in Hollywood exile. Calypso runs an AirBnb. Meanwhile, Penelope keeps up the house in West Dundee with her Irish Terrier, Telemachus.
Up until the mid-year of 2017, I was living a predictable, somewhat comfortable, altogether normal Chicago suburban life. Then the shite hit the fan. The client who I spent most of my time supporting decided to outsource all of its application support in preparation for a merger. There were warning signs well in advance which I had communicated to the CEO, but he had other concerns on his mind. Six months later, the company folded due to financial duress. I spent most of those six months looking for work, only to find at the end that I had only once choice and that was to move to Los Angeles to work for an insurance company in Southern California.
The job was a dream. A small team of us were selected to assume ownership of a core business application. Our offices were close to downtown LA, fitted with all the perks befitting a startup: A gorgeous Spanish style compound in the middle of LA with a courtyard missing only Clint Eastwood's presence to render it complete. How I wished we could have had a Lee Van Cleef or an Eli Wallach for a project manager. There were no cubes, just electronic saw horses and liftable desks. There was a ping pong room that was well used, a Keurig fitted with a king's selection of coffees and teas, and a refrigerator stocked with water and sodas, and an ultimatum that our objective was to induce change in the culture.
That was certainly a cool part, but there were other aspects much more entertaining, including a Russian colonel, an industrial port, and a Hollywood star. A chronological peel will reveal all.
Let's start with the journey. I made my way to Los Angeles on the mid-northern route in late January, travelling through Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. The last leg of the trip was the shortest, and since I left around 5 am, my arrival in LA was in the early afternoon. My first stop was Santa Monica on a Friday afternoon. I stomped my feet in the Pacific, then crawled up the pier to the end, contemplating this changed life. Later on I sipped a glass of Cabernet on the rooftop of the Promenade. It made no sense to drive to Huntington Beach in rush hour. Besides, who wants to race to a Motel 6?
The next morning, I got up early and faced the challenge of finding a place to stay. I messaged an old high school friend, replying privately and late to a post of hers on LA life. Everything I found required extensive background checks, thousands of dollars per month in rent, with equal amounts in security deposits. I had $300 in my pocket. Like a good Catholic kid, I found a nearby church in Newport Beach and went there to talk to the Big Guy.
My usual calm demeanor held until my knees landed in the pew. At that point, huge tears started rolling down my eyes. I hadn't planned on that. I told God "This has to be your plan, because I would never dream up anything as crazy or stupid as this. This is certainly not MY plan!" I also informed Him that "YOU have a problem, because I can't figure this one out!" As usual, He listened and said nothing. But that doesn't mean He wasn't working on it.
I got back to the hotel, and within the hour, my old acquaintance asked me if I had a place to stay. I said that I didn't. This Heaven-sent friend then pulled every string she could, having her daughter put me on several Facebook groups for LA apartment seekers, until finally she messaged me that she found me a place. It was with an old friend of the family. She gave me his phone number, so I could work out the details. A little later I called my wife Sue with the good news. I found a place to stay. She was at a party with the family present, so she put me on speakerphone and relayed the information to those who couldn't hear, repeating my every word.
"I found a place to stay."
"He found a place to stay."
"It has a small living room and a small kitchen."
"He has a small living room and a small kitchen."
"It also has a small bedroom and a small bathroom."
"The place has a small bedroom and a small bathroom."
"It also has an anchor."
"It also has an anchor. Wait, did you say anchor?"
"You are going to live on a boat?"
"Yep, smack dab in the Port of Los Angeles. A cabin cruiser on a dock."
Such was my entry to Los Angeles. The boat had water, electric, and a large screen TV. I cooked on a microwave and bathed in a communal bathroom up on the hill. The boat was in the industrial section of the Port of Los Angeles. I was surrounded by an oil refinery, railroad trains, and shipping containers. A concrete river from LA emptied into the harbor, bringing with it all that LA had rejected, including an assortment of debris and homeless bric-a-brac. The trains bellowed all hours of the day, indifferent to the handful of people living there. One resident explained it this way "You’ve heard of Darwin, right? In evolution the theory is that creatures crawled out of the sea and eventually became Man. Us down here we are what the land spit back."
The next month I flipped around on several Airbnbs, living in Norwalk, Altadena, Long Beach, and North Hollywood. It was in the latter that I met the Russian colonel. The house was weird. It was managed by Ukrainians. They had built walls inside of the living and dining rooms so that there was more space to rent. But the walls didn't go to the ceiling. A person could toss a tennis ball over the wall and hit a person sleeping. I was glad to get a normal room. Boris (not his real name) and his wife Olga also got a normal room. Boris explained that he was a former colonel in the Russian police. He had managed a SWAT team, provided security for the Soviet leadership, and managed hundreds of square kilometers in Siberia. Boris was genuine and funny. He was a strapping big guy. I felt safer in this weird neighborhood. If anyone broke into this house, they would have to go through him first.
A transient sort had checked into the house one night. He was a young kid from Kentucky with colored hair and a hoop expander in his earlobe. I'm not sure what the expander was for, but you could have hung an assortment of fishhooks and lures in the hole, it was so big. One night, the kid was gone, we were standing in the kitchen, and Olga suddenly stopped and pointed to the makeshift wall of the transient's room. "There he is!" she said in her native Russian. All I could see was a small black spot on the unfinished drywall. Boris crushed the spot with the back of his index fingernail. He lifted his fingernail to his nose, sniffed, and proclaimed "Bedbug." "How do you know that, I asked?" He replied "Bedbug smell like cognac. I know, we have many in Russia." That prompted us to scramble to our rooms, lifting the bedsheets to uncover whatever. Gladly, we didn't find any more. Boris reasoned that the bedbug came from the transient, as he noticed the night before when the transient was washing his clothes, most of them had grass and lawn clutter drifting off. On our last night, we celebrated with a few beers and shots. Boris entertained with his great sense of humor. He and Olga sure made it easier to cope with the weirdness of North Hollywood.
What I haven't mentioned yet is how much I missed Sue. We were thirty years into our marriage. In her absence, I could see how much she had become a part of me. My weaknesses were her strengths, and vice versa. She would have found a more permanent domicile by now. I examined it to death. But after a month of moving around, I had to end my time as a drifter. Finally, I put an ad on Facebook, looking for a place.
The ad was pretty direct. It said:
"Ok, I've been following this site for a little while now and it is my turn to post. I'm looking to rent a room in Santa Monica. I'm a married guy so I'm not looking for any hanky panky. (Circumstances have placed me here in Los Angeles while she remains in Chicago.)
I'm Irish Catholic, I don't smoke, and I don't do drugs. I'd post a glamour shot of me, but I don't want to frighten any children, including my own.
I work as a software engineer downtown, so I'm one of those early to bed early to rise folks.
Ideally, I'd prefer a spot in Jennifer Aniston's pool house, as long as she would be OK with an aging pool boy living there.
One last thing, Erin go bragh everyone, but feck the green beer!"
The first response was from a girl who indicated that we would be a good match. I replied that I was busy at work, perhaps we could speak at noon. About fifteen minutes before noon, I looked closer at her profile. Her picture was cropped, showing her face only from the mustache down. Holy smokes, welcome to Los Angeles. The Kinks song "Lola" started running through my head "Well I'm not the world's most masculine man but I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man and so is Lola. L-O-L-A Lola..." Needless to say, I passed.
Later that night, I was on my way back from Santa Ana and I called Sue. We spoke every morning and every night. Some nights we would hang on the line for minutes, not saying a word, just glad that we were connected. A few minutes passed and I asked Sue what she was doing. She said she was watching television. She was watching a show called "Fresh Off The Boat." I said ok, and then we hung up shortly after.
Later that evening I settled into the Roach Palace. I exaggerate. There were no roaches, but the kitchen and yard were in dire need of a cleanup. The bedroom and bathroom were actually ok. The neighborhood was a working-class area in Long Beach with a friendly Latino population. There was a grocery store a half block away that had great tamales.
After dinner, I took a call from a very personable gal. She said she had a room in her house and maybe this could work out. We hit it off well during the call. I could tell she was a normal person, not another Lola, and she could tell I wasn't an axe murderer. We agreed to meet on Sunday, and if all went well, I would move in. But before she hung up she said, "You know that thing you mentioned about Jennifer Aniston?" "Yeah?" I replied. "Well, you won't be living with her, but you will be living with another Hollywood star." "Who is that?" I replied. "My son Hudson. He is on the TV show "Fresh Off The Boat."
That was a classic example of a Godwink. It's a way of God telling you, everything is going to be ok. And it was. Heather was wonderful. Her family was wonderful. She gave me a home away from home, and she made my time away from Sue a little easier. She made awesome Asian dinners. I've never had better rice in my life.
And faith? God was there the whole time. On the boat, off the boat, and on my travels home. I'm back home now with a host of stories and an even deeper faith. Troy is in the sunset. Telemachus has four paws, a beard, and an urge to lick my neck. It's good to be back.
Copyright 7/17/2018 Robert Costello