On May 1, 2011, my world came crashing down on me. That infamous date is rapidly approaching and all I can do is stop and reflect. By the grace of God, countless prayers from dear friends back home, and a drive to somehow miraculously "make it"...I survived. In my darkest hour, my Bay Area friends, friends and family back home in Arkansas, and three people who walked into my life at exactly the right time changed my life for the better. I'm a firm believer that God placed these guys in my life for not only support, but because I was looking for friendship. There names are Gary, Zachary, and Erik.
It was on May 1, 2011 that I was laid off from my job. I had just moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to start a new life. The news came and I can't describe how empty and stripped away I felt. It all boiled down to sink or swim. Towards the beginning of the nightmare I attended a surprise birthday party for a dear friend of mine in San Jose. The party was given by a wealthy couple in a very nice home. They were both from Austin, Texas. I started talking to one of the homeowners, Carol, and we immediately established a bond. The party was wonderful and had a great Star Wars theme. It was beautiful watching my friend start crying after we all yelled, "Surprise!" and blasted the Star Wars Theme Song through the loud speakers as some of the attendants were dressed as characters from the film. That night, I believe my friend realized just how much he was loved. It was that night that I had my first glass of bubbly champagne.
Carol and her husband asked me where I was working and I explained that I had just been laid off. She immediately told me that she worked for Human Resources and graciously offered her services towards my resume. We added one another on Facebook and started a correspondence. My laptop was not equipped with Microsoft Word so I was having to use the free program Open Office. It was an atrocious horror using because the majority of the online resume attachments did not except it's format and I simply could not afford Word because I had started living off of my life savings. One evening, Carol asked me to meet her in Santa Clara at the Rivermark McDonald's for lunch the next day. She was going to let me install her copy of Word. We started talking and I started crying because so much was happening, and I was facing so much I had never faced before in my life. For the first time...I was growing up. She comforted be, encouraged me, treated me to lunch, and she didn't install her copy of Word, she purchased me my very own copy and even paid the extra money so I could have a backup of the program on a CD for further use if anything disastrous was to happen. I was in a state of shock. This warm feeling of happiness just swept over me and I felt so comforted. I believe that was the Lord saying, "It's going to be okay." I was moved. I will never forget what she told me. "My husband and I make enough money that we can afford to help others. We enjoy giving back because so much has been given to us. You are very brave for moving out here on your own. We want to see you succeed. Something in me tells me that you're going to do great things."
At this point in time I was living with my two best friends Justin and Anjalee. They had graciously opened up their apartment to me in order to give me a head start in life. Looking back, this was the greatest gift they ever gave me and I will always love them from the bottom of my heart for letting me live with them. I was sleeping in the living room, on their couch. Anjalee's family had lovingly adopted me into their family and were glad to have me. They are a spectacular family to be in. They shared their culture with me and gave me their love.
I started plugging away at applications. I was a poor simple boy from the sticks of Arkansas who had always wanted to live in the big city going for his dreams....and those dreams involved working in a bookstore and being a waiter for the rest of my life. That's all I saw myself as. Thank God, no one back home told me I was foolish. I'm sure they thought it, but they never said anything negative to my face. As long as I was out of Arkansas, I would be happy.
At this time, I started to really watch my money. I had not considered filing for unemployment yet. The reason being: I felt ashamed, and I didn't want to feel like a mooch. I wanted to be independent. Maybe that was Youth talking, but that's what I had convinced myself into believing. Around this time I started abusing Ramen Noodles and the cheapest Mac-N-Cheese I could get my hands on. I had been applying at bookstores, but as I was doing this I was witnessing the fall of the Borders empire. I was staying away from them and focusing on independent bookstores, and Barns&Nobles. I was also looking into the Food Industry, but was not fairing to well at all. Many, many of my friends and family back home were praying for me and encouraging. I couldn't had made it far without them. I was grateful beyond words and felt as if their prayers were also like protection.
It wasn't long until I needed something to read to lift my spirits. The last purchase I made at Border's was $5.00. It was for a hardback of Paula Deen's It Ain't All About The Cookin'. As happy as I was to be free of Arkansas, I was beginning to miss it. I remember driving on the 880 listening to KBAY and Jona Dens Hamilton playing Faith Hill's "Breathe". How I recall driving through those endless soybean and corn fields to Jonesboro with my windows down and the music blasting out of the speakers. All I could think about was Faith's shiny gold dress in the music video, and the sun beating down on me as I drove dreaming of getting far away from where I was and belting out, "JUUUUUUUUUUST BREATHE!!!!!!!!!!!" I started crying. There were other times when I would hear songs like Taylor Swift's "Mine" too. I remember driving through those same fields in the fall as they were burning them off and oh how I loved the smell and wish I could have taken in the scent. I know my pussy is showing, but these songs were Home for me.
Reading Paula Deen's biography was cathartic. That woman deserves every penny she has. Her book not only brought me back home to the South, but gave me confidence to never stop trying, and that if I worked hard enough at what I was trying to accomplish, I would succeed. I read that book 4 times in a row, cover to cover, and whenever I looked at my Grandmama's handwritten recipe for her finger-lickin' fried chicken, I cried like a little bitch. I remember calling her up and telling her how Paula Deen made me appreciate where I was born and raised, how I truly missed the people, their laughs, smiles, protectiveness (I was very vulnerable), and when I started talking about fried chicken, me and my Grandmama both started crying. I will always remember that.
Well, a few days later, I wasn't watching where I was going and I ended up stepping on my laptop and cracking the screen. Rendering it utterly useless, except I could hook it up to a television and it would work fine. It was hell filling out applications in the floor. It was back breaking. One evening, I had to drive over to one of the Hayward Public Library branches to print out some resumes. I remember the sun going down calling my mom. I was describing to her what the sunset looked like and I started talking about Paula Deen and how she made me feel at home in my heart and I told her about my broken laptop and how helpless I felt and cried. I then told her, I was gonna take $500 of my own money and buy myself an identical one. A week later, a new one arrived.
During this time, I had moved in with my friend Alan. His uncle eventually moved in, and my world started to really open up with movies. "Uncle" Jay and Alan introduced me to films such as Mad Max, Dirty Harry, Blue Velvet, Pulp Fiction, and many others. As long as I could pay my share of the rent and utilities, I was happy. I was pulled over by a cop for making an unexpected illegal U-Turn (He let me off the hook because I was new in the state and my record was clean in Arkansas), had to start shopping around for new car insurance, and was in the process of getting my California Driver's license, and getting new plates for my truck. I remember calling home one Sunday after noon and exploding into tears, "ALL OF MY SHIT HAS HIT THE FUCKING FAN AND I FEEL AS IF I CAN'T FUCKING TAKE ANYMORE OF THIS FUCKING UNWANTED BITCHLY HELL!!!!!! MY LIFE FEELS LIKE A GODDAMNED MOTHER FUCKER FOR CHRIST'S SWEET SAKES!!!!!" I then went into crying hysterics and into shortness of breath because I felt as if I had no one to help me carry the load. I was damned mad! My father, who had never heard me curse a violent blue streak that formidable was laughing so hard on the other end of the phone. The truth is, I felt empowered, I was 3,000 miles away and on a telephone. I could say anything I wanted, and that day I did! I don't think he'll ever forget it.
I eventually got all of that business taken care of, and for a moment, it felt so amazing actually being a real citizen of California, America. My driver's license has the Golden Gate Bridge on the back and I would look at it and think, "The gate is always open." But I was still feeling terribly alone inside. There were nights when I was crying myself to sleep. My mattress laid on a bare wooden floor. I would pray to God, begging Him for someone to take a chance on me. I was getting interviews, but I guess I was not what they wanted. I was going to a church on Sundays near where I lived in San Leandro. I had not been going to church regularly since I left Arkansas. I was previously working two jobs simultaneously trying to earn money for the big move. This church was filled with the sweetest elderly people and they all sang the classic hymns I grew up on. I remember crying as we sang "Only Trust Him" and "When We All Get To Heaven". My mom used to sing "When We All Get To Heaven" to me as a little boy. Subsequently, it's my favorite hymn. James 4:8 states, "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you." I was learning this and for the first in my life I felt as if I the only thing I could lean on was God. I felt loved by the Lord for the very first time, even though I was blindly living by faith and was scared shitless. They were even praying for me. Little did I know He was taking care of me and about to send three people into my life.
Not once had I asked my parents for money, even though my funds were draining. I called my good friend Paula back home and asked her about Unemployment. She told me what to do, I gathered the information and finally applied for it. I was supposed to be getting $400 a week, which I know sounds like a lot, but that's what I was given. However, out of sheer confusion and stress listening to the robotic questions, I hit the wrong button and my funds did not come in for the next week, and they were also cut down to $170 a week! I was scared to death. My rent was $500 a month and I had to use my savings to pay for utilities and my credit card bill which was mainly gas. So here I was essentially living off of $70 a week. I never asked my parents for money, but they would send me $25 a week. I never felt right asking them and made it a point to never. They sent that money out of kindness because they knew I wanted to make it out there and they believed I would. I remember telling my mom, "If I had a job, everything would be perfect, besides this, I am happy and content." I would use that money for food. Sometimes, I would only eat one meal a day. I never wanted to ask anyone to pay for me. My friends took care of me a great deal of times because they generally loved me and I will never forget that. They knew I was really trying to make it. If I ever did eat one meal a day it was mostly around 2pm. I would go to Asian Delight at the intersection on Hesperian Boulevard and Bockman Road in San Lorenzo.
We did not have Internet at the house I was living in, so all along I was waking up in the mornings and heading over to the Starbucks on Hesperian Boulevard to use their free Wi-Fi. Scrambling around filling out applications and trying to sort out my life. All the while I was driving all over different towns applying for hotel and waiter positions. I hit up everyone I could think of. At least I was getting my name out there. There were days where I was putting out 10 applications a day. I couldn't go back to work for Google through a hiring agency because I had already been a part of the project. I used to watch the scene from Gone with the Wind where Scarlett O'Hara says, "As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!" And bawl my eyes out because I was so miserable. I was from the South, and I knew that deep down I had the strength of Scarlett O'Hara. A horrible depression was sweeping over me. I dreaded going to sleep at night and having to wake up and face the ugly world again, I was tired of crying myself to sleep, and that feeling of being utterly alone was too palpable for comfort even though I did have friends around. I noticed that I was isolating myself from them, I didn't want to be around them because I felt so useless and undesired. I don't know how I continued to live from day to day. All I wanted to do was crawl into a dark corner and die.
Sometimes, to get my mind off my horrific reality, I would go to Rasputin Records and browse the move department. Elizabeth Taylor had just died, and this is when my good friend Gary walked into my life. He was working and I started asking him questions about John Waters films and a documentary about suicide called The Bridge. Its about the jumpers on the Golden Gate Bridge. Being the open person I am I told him I was new in the Bay Area by way of Arkansas. He was amazed I had moved out here. The more we talked about films the more intrigued he seemed to be. I remember him telling me, "Kevin, you have good taste in film." It felt nice hearing that, I had never met anyone that thought my kind of films were cool. I told him I had just been laid off and was looking for work. I filled out an application and that was that. I continued to pop in and we started talking more. He had lived here his whole life, but when he was my age he had packed everything up and moved to L.A. He thought it was awesome that I struck out on my own. I really confided in him.
Interview after interview was happening with no luck and I gotten involved in some CraigsList scams. I was really down on myself and poor as dirt. Gary and I had exchanged phone numbers. One day, he invited me to go to San Francisco. He knew how hard I was working at finding work. I'll never forget what he said, "God forbid you have to go back to Arkansas. I highly doubt you will, you're doing to much to try and stay here. If you do have to go...think of this as the biggest bad-ass vacation you've ever had!" I met him that morning in the San Leandro Wal-Mart parking lot and we took off for San Francisco. He said I needed a day to forget about my troubles and have some fun, and that something good was bound to happen. He sounded like Cuddles in Polyester telling Francine Fishpaw, "You need to forget about your silly-willy problems!" He said we could go anywhere in the city I wanted to go. We drove over to the panhandle of Golden Gate Park and it was with Gary that I got to explore the Haight-Asbury for the very first time! I remember going into a shop and seeing this big poster of Bette Davis as Margo Channing from All About Eve. I thought it was sensational. He is a big Bette Davis fan. We then walked though Golden Gate Park and it was breathtaking. We strolled by the de Young, the California Museum of Arts and Sciences, and though the AIDS grotto that Elizabeth Taylor had built. I thought that was really cool. The park was filled with large Ceder and Eucalyptus trees. I asked him if we could go by the Conservatory of Flowers which is this huge silver and white greenhouse that looks like a castle. I had always wanted to see it first hand. I didnt go inside, but got my picture take in front of it. The grounds around the conservatory had all sorts of flora and fauna designs and in the distance I could see Sutro Tower looming over the city! We continued the walk around the park getting to know one another better and so forth and I was babbling like an idiot about how much I loved this city. He thought it was pretty cool hearing about the city from an outsider's point of view.
We then drove over to the Castro District and had Thai food across from the Castro Theater. It was marvelous. I had Tom Kai Gai soup. We then headed back to the East Bay and while driving across the Bay Bridge we listened to Divine sing "So You Think You're A Man." When he dropped me back off at my truck he surprised me with one of my all time favorite films The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. It meant a great deal to me that he would treat me to the town by letting me know he had faith that something marvelous was just around the corner.
Our friendship continued to grow and he would pack these large cardboard boxes full of Classics to let me borrow. He would come into Starbucks as I was busy filling out applications online. Gary was the one who gave me an introduction to Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Lana Turner, Montgomery Cliff, Agnes Moorehead, many other stars! He also introduced me to Queer Cinema which I have discovered to be a wonderful genre in itself. There were times where he would also invite me to have dinner and he would graciously pick up the tab. He introduced me to this wonderful burger establishment in Berkeley and it was with him that I got to walk down Telegraph Avenue with and see People's Park all the while talking about Anne Rice and Allen Ginsberg!
The first film I watched with him was John Waters' Polyester. We were laughing like hyenas. I laughed so hard I was crying when Francine Fishpaw tells her best friend Cuddles Kovinski, "I wish I could be more like you, Cuddles, always optimistic. I look into my future and all I see is a long, dark highway, filled with endless tollbooths and no exits." Talk about laughing through the pain! It was marvelous. I felt just like Francine. Gary took out his iPhone and took some goofy pictures of me holding a chair and making expressions like Dawn Davenport, "I LOVE THOSE FLASHBULBS!" It was fabulous. Oh the joys of simple fun and actually living through these wonderful characters.
Another person I came to meet is named Zachary. He was a barista at the Starbucks I would frequent. Zachary came out into the lounge area in his green Starbucks apron to sweep the floors and wipe off the tables. I instantly noticed his pleasant smile and told myself, he seemed like a great guy. He approached my table and asked how I was doing, he had taken notice of me for the past few weeks. I introduced myself to him and explained that I had come to California from Arkansas and that I had just been laid off and was searching for work. I almost started crying because I was so flustered and feeling trapped. He introduced himself to me and encouraged me, he was shocked I was from out of state and had literally appeared out of nowhere.
We continued to talk to one another, and even exchanged phone numbers and Facebook info. I was even in that Starbucks when he wasn't working. He had also taken notice that I was there because he would trickle in on his days off, but he never approached me because he said that I looked intense in front of my monitor. One day he came in on his day off dressed in this suit and wearing a fedora. We were having small talk and I told him how I was literally having to live by faith and that God seemed to be the only thing I could count on. He said that he used to go to a Christian school. I was amazed, for I had went to one myself during high school. I think that really bonded us. I felt some comfort.
We continued to talk a little more and he would always ask how my search was going. I would tell him if I had an interview and where I had been applying, and one day I asked him to keep me in his prayers. He told me he would because I had almost had another meltdown. He asked me about Arkansas life and even said he had a friend from Hot Springs. I liked to have flipped and I started laughing when I said, "Zach, Hot Springs is the armpit of Arkansas!"
Evidently, he had been so enamored by my move and ambition that he told his mom about me. He spoke very good about me and said...and I'll never forget him telling me this: "Mom, I met this red-head from Arkansas. He's one of the most friendly and positive people I've ever encountered. He has been laid off for 2 months now and he comes into Starbucks to fill out applications, even when he has been driving around to places seeking opportunity. I have never seen a guy look for work as hard as him. He has just got to find something. He is doing everything he knows to stay here and make it. I've never seen anything like it before." When he said that, I almost cried.
I remember telling him when I obtained a horrible part-time job as an inventory counter for WIS International. I would wake up at 3am and count retail store inventory for about 4 hours then be off for the rest of the day looking for more work. I loathed that job, but it was money to add to my $70 a week from unemployment. I learned what I didn't want to be working with the scum of the earth like baby daddies, baby mommies, and convicts! However, I was so happy to have something, beggars cant be choosers. He was happy and thrilled to hear that news. Waking up at 3am was tough! Zach was used to it since he did the morning shift at Starbucks. On his way to work he would text me "Mornin' Mornin.' Have a good one Kev!" and that was like the first positive thing I would here. It got me through some real shitty mornings. I knew he cared about me. Gary was also pleased that I had something, but he knew I had my sites set on something better.
One Saturday I invited Zachary to go to Berkeley with me. We took BART and walked around Telegraph Avenue browsing and thrift stores, rock stores, and used bookstores. We proceeded through the large gate and into the UC Berkeley campus and started to explore it. We walked up to the enormous clock tower as the sun was setting and in the distance we could see the Golden Gate Bridge. All the time he was talking to me about his life and it felt good hearing someone else open up. I felt as if I had completely emptied myself out to him with all my stresses. I think he enjoyed having some one listen to him, I was glad to and I did my best to encourage him. When we were in the used bookstore I bought him a copy of one of my favorite books, Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone. I even wrote him a message inside thanking him for all he had done for me. He even gave me one of his favorite novels, Carlos Castaneda's Journey to Ixtland. I had never read him before. He wrote a message in the front for me as well. We then had dinner at Naan N' Curry on Telegraph Avenue and lied about being UC Berkeley students so we could get the discount. I was gonna pay for myself since I had a little money flowing in, but Zach insisted he take the bill.
We continued becoming better friends, getting to know one another, and I was still frequenting Starbucks. He kept praying something better would come along. As did all my friends and family back home.
The last person that walked into my life was Erik. I had just come into Starbucks from a long hot day of driving around searching for hotel positions. Just beat. I walked over to the center table in the lounge area and there was this guy dressed in pretty nice clothes reading Mary Roach's The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. When I saw the book I immediately chimed in, "That book is awesome, I have it back home in Arkansas. Did you know Mary Roach lives in San Francisco and it was written out of some of the Standford and UCSF Libraries?" He looked at me stunned. The conversation proceeded and there we were in the middle of Starbucks talking up a storm about dead people. I was so enamored and over joyed to being having this intelligent conversation that I immediately wanted to know him more. Before he left I explained that I was new in the Bay Area and looking for work after being laid off and didn't know a lot of people. I asked for his phone number and if he had a Facebook. He said, "Here ya go, I guess this is what the kids use nowadays."
We continued talking and there were times when he would pop into Starbucks on his lunch break. He was a big encourager too. It turned out he is a punk rocker who was a bassist in a Bay Area band Wolves and Thieves. I thought that was pretty cool. He had done some touring around the country and his band was still together, just caught up in life. He was introducing me to that side of the spectrum and it was illuminating.
We then started talking about serial killers and Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho. That novel happened to be his favorite book and it was him Erik I had my first intelligent conversation about it. We then started talking about horror films and other cinema as well. He is pretty awesome. He's also an aspiring writer and he's pretty far fucking out incredible with words. I was so glad to meet him and I would tell him about life in the South. I even opened up to him about my own writing and shared some of my stuff with him. Erik once told me, "You'll move through the world nicely." It's one of the kindest things anyone has ever told me, and I sure needed something like that in the darkness I was in. Some of his favorite people are William Boroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Lenny Bruce, and the Zodiac Killer.
Four and a half months later I was back in the workforce, with a guaranteed 25 hours a week. My neighbor who had great faith in me had gone to a birthday party and talked with a man from San Francisco who worked for the Odd Fellows Association. He put in a good word for me and through a series of events I was working in the city of my dreams. My unemployment was about to be cut of completely because I was working barely 15 hours a week.
Gary, Zachary, and Erik were best thing that happened to me as I was learning the facts of life and growing up amidst the scariest storm of my life. I am forever thankful that they were there to listen to be bitch and freak out. They looked past all that and saw something good. Maybe they took a liking to me because I was so vulnerable and broken and that caused me to be so open.
Through it all, I'm still here (like that Shirley McClain number) and they are still my friends. I love them so much and think of them as part of my family. It's been a year since all that madness and they are still teaching me a lot about life and I'm still discovering more of who they are. They were born and raised in the most beautiful, exciting part of the country.
Gary and I still meet for dinner and have good times together in the city. I'm still popping into Rasputin's to visit. And ranting about Joan Crawford. (NO MORE WIRE HANGERS! EVER!) Zachary is still at Starbucks and riding his bike to the Hayward shoreline. I still visit him at work and I even invited him to San Francisco to meet my favorite author ANNE RICE. Oh it was wonderful. He was so happy to share that moment with me and I couldn't have asked for a better friend to go with me. Erik and I are still hanging out. He's my writing buddy. I just finished revamping a short story I wrote in college and I dedicated it to him. He was the first person I went to the Castro Theater with, and we're having a ball on our San Francisco Bizarro Tour. He thinks I doing some "interesting shit" and am "interesting by default".
They were all worth the drive, and I thank God for them every day. Even though my family is 3000 miles away, I rest in the love of all my friends and adopted family out here in the Bay Area. My network is far reaching and each one of them as instilled in my something powerful. They ALL gave to me when I was at my weakest, and I'm doing my best to give back to them. I love you, wherever you may be. Thank you for helping me make it...after all.