Horizontal Lives

True Tales of the Infamous Courtesan: Persephone N. Hades and her Horizontal Life underground. How she got there, her mis-adventures and her struggle to re-surface.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

An Ode to The Desperate Fear of Cars and Poverty


Due to the lunacy of my work schedule for the past ten years, keeping up with friendships is rather difficult. To remedy this, I declared Sunday’s at my home, Open House Night.

It’s the one evening I try to keep free and alert my friends, if they’d like to see me, to drop by anytime on a Sunday.

Many Sunday’s go by and only one or two people stop by. This past weekend however, was, for some unknown reason, happily, a full house.


Gleefully, I broke out all the champagne in the liquor cabinet. Laid out glops of lovely stinky cheese with sweet British crackers. And settled back to partake in several swirling conversations, mostly about the pasts we shared together.


As the champagne disappeared and the cheese was gobbled up, the conversation somehow got around to these Sundays.


My friend Julian, (whose adventures as a Cater-waiter you read earlier), remarked that my work hours were ridiculous and perhaps I should re-examine my lifestyle in that regard.


I asked him if he felt I were 'mercenary'.


He said ‘no, far from it’ but thought my emphasis on earning money was beyond the norm. Especially with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


I had no choice but to agree. I’ve been in therapy for eleven years so I know my strengths and foibles by now. I am also aware that most of my friends, deep down don't really approve of, or understand my business.

I made the point that my business was short-term. Like an athelete or a dancer. That all the money I made now, had to last me the rest of my life.


‘You could get a different job.’ He said.


"Unfortunately, not so simple." Among other factors, I put forth the makings of my current resume for the real world which would read:
"Great with People Skills. Gives good Head." And no explaination for my long absense from the ‘real world.’


He then said that he was sure I could find something. I could waitress like I did before. Or be a maid. Or a Cater-waiter like himself.

(All jobs I was so bad at, I was fired from every one of them.)


"I’m poor." He said.


"Yes, but you choose it. I do not. That’s one of the reasons I left acting."


Then I countered by reminding him how financially poor I had been and for so long and how severely that affected my psyche. I also maintained that because of my poverty, I had crash-landed in some pretty tenuous situations that money could have easily saved me from.


"Like what?" Verushka, my friend Joey’s current girlfriend asked.


There were so many.

Like living in the basement of a theatre building with two mice and several janitors I had to hide from every night at nine, when they searched the building and I hid in the woman’s bathroom, standing on the toilet seat in a stall so they couldn’t see me.


Like living on the roof of the YMCA.

Like living on $50 dollars a week when I first came to New York.

Like, like, like…


Julian grew tired of the conversation so we spent the rest of the evening talking about our days in the Theater.


At the end of the evening when everyone had departed, my friend Lois and I sat on the sofa talking about cars.


"So if you go to Florida," he said, "you’re gonna have to drive, right?"


"I know. And I’m terrifyed. I hate driving. I hate having to concentrate like that. And I get paranoid. And I hate buying a car."


He laughed at my silliness, double-cheek kissed me goodnight and left.


That night, sleep was impossible. My mind obsessed on my last experience trying to purchase a vehicle.


I was moving. Moving is hard any way you slice it. Moving is ranked number three, just below Death and Divorce, on the list of "most stress causing activities." There should be sympathy cards available to send to people in the midst of a move. Perhaps there should even be a law against disturbing the peace of a person in the middle of a move. None the less, moving is sometimes necessary, so despite the warnings, we still move.


Philip G., the love of my life, and I, had just broken up, and not pleasantly. I was in deep denial and extreme pain. We had lived together and now, it was over and I had to move. I couldn’t fathom being in the same City, nay the same State, nay the same part of the Country as he. What if I saw him? My heart would tear apart over and over again.

No. I had to go. Far, far away.

Therefore, for that reason and for the possible benefits to my career, I chose L.A.


I had never been to L.A, but the idea of it came to life in my imagination as a bustling city, resting on white sand, reflected in a mirror of ocean, made serene by waving palm trees, fresh air and no humidity.


(No humidity translates into: no frizzy hair or sudden, untamable acne explosions normally encouraged by typically humid cities such as New York.)


I saw it as a place brimming with promise and opportunity. I had studied at the RFDS, had spent years in the theatre. I had a rich, full resume, so there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to find my place there as an actress.


The one thing I knew I would need immediately upon hitting the shores of the City of Angels, was a car. I didn’t know much, but I did know that besides being a City of Dreams, Los Angeles was a City of Cars.


While still in New York, I bought the Los Angeles Times and began the search. Uncertain of the Southern Californian geography, I decided to call all the dealerships in the 310 area code, assuming the proximity would be close to the area code that I would be moving to.


My plan was to move in with my dear old friend Perry who had offered me his spare room in Venice. Venice had the area code 310.


For over two weeks before my scheduled moving date, I was engrossed in long distance calls to car dealerships repeating the same monologue:


"I’m going to be moving out to L.A. I wanted to arrange to buy a car with you before I arrive. Perhaps you can run a credit check and we can cut the deal? Then when I arrive, perhaps you can pick me up at the airport and take me to your dealership where I’ll give you the down payment and I will be able to have a car once I arrive. Is this possible?"


I didn’t imagine this idea would be anything but beneficial to both sides. They would sell a car and I would save money on a rental car, or on shipping if I were to buy in New York.


Twenty-seven dealerships rejected the idea.


Finally I found a dealership in a place called Bellflower, which I thought must be close to my destination in Venice because of the 310 area code-kinship. I spent the remaining week eeking out a deal with a salesman named Don Leemacker.

Don told me they have the exact car I wanted: a brand-new, dark green, four-door automatic 1992 Plymouth Sundance. The car was selling new in New York for 9800 dollars. I agree to pay Don an even ten thousand.


With the five thousand dollar down payment check in my hand, (severance pay from Philip G. to get me gone I suppose—he had been supporting me for the many years of our relationship and I foolishly let him,) my six well-prepared suitcases by my side, cloaked in a gorgeous white summer dress and a pure, guileless naiveté, I stepped out of the New York snow and onto the plane.


Doesn’t this happen to you? You pack so diligently and yet—and yet you end up forgetting one thing. And of course, it is that one thing that is so terribly necessary. Right? Are you with me?


The one thing I forgot? Tampons. But who knew. I had a week before it was due. I should have known though. My body invented Murphy’s Law and has the sense of humor of a ten-year old boy aching for entertainment; no sooner did the plane ascend to cruising altitude, but my body decided to give me my period sans tampons a week early, yes in my white dress.


The flight attendants searched and we came up with exactly one tampon, which lasted the duration of the flight. I was therefore forced, upon disembarking, to make a hasty detour to the ladies room and concoct an enormous diaper made of coarse paper hand wipes tied in a series of knots so intricate they would confuse a sailor.


My thighs forced inches apart by the padded panty, now tenuously in place, and the red spot on my skirt that was bled upon, scooped up in one hand, I waddled nervously to the baggage claim praying that Don Leemacker would be there to rescue me with a smile that said "car".


Instead, I am met by a young man who comes to me and tells me he’s from the dealership.

I say, "Don"?

He tells me he is not Don Leemacker.


We pack my six suitcases into his car and begin to drive.

And we drive.

And we drive.

I begin to get cramps and I’m worried about the diaper.

We keep driving. Venice is supposed to be fifteen minutes from the airport.


"Where is this dealership?" I ask, trying to sound non-chalant and cheerful.


"Long Beach."


"Oh." As in Uh-oh.


Over an hour later, we arrive at the dealership. I’m in a minor panic. I hadn’t figured on the distance and I haven’t driven since I was eighteen. I don’t know how to drive on the freeway or how to find my way back to Venice. I still have to stop at the insurance place after I buy the car. My belly is filled with grinding rocks and my diaper needs to be changed.

But I’m here. I’m here! The sky is a bright white. The sun is radiant. The palm trees are indeed swaying.


"Which car is the one you bought?"


Like a sunbather on a raft who has drifted from shallow waters into the ocean, I look out onto a sea of automobiles. It is a large dealership. There are hundreds and hundreds of cars that all look almost exactly alike to my untrained eye.


"I'm not sure. Where is Don Leemacker?"


"Don? He took the day off."


Huh? How could he have chosen this particular day to be absent? It doesn’t make sense.


We drive in circles around the lot. Unbelievably, I spot the car.

They lead me back to the offices for what becomes, 'the paper trials': "Let's make a deal."


Enter Ivan. Ivan of the fat fingers. Like sausages scared white, Ivan’s fingers were so fat he could only cross the tops of his knuckles. The ring he wore must have been placed on his finger sometime in his youth because it was since swallowed up by his insatiable flesh and barely visible. Grinding into his flesh, and growing into his bones like old fossils, it seemed to inspire in him a desperate need to expand himself and control everything he could before his jewelry ate him alive. His mood was as sour as an after-belch. Under swollen eyelids, he steadies himself and says,


"We need to talk about the car."


I was a woman with an early menstrual period, alone in a foreign city with bucking cramps and a damp diaper. I was not to be toyed with.


"There is nothing to talk about. I have this check for five thousand dollars in my hand." Dramatically I brandish the check under his nose. "There is a car ‘behind that door’. I know which car it is. Don was supposed to get it and obviously, even though he is not here, he did. It is a four door basic car. You give me the car and I give you the check. I don't want to talk to the great and powerful OZ who lives in the back room."


Ivan starts to sweat, which, I suppose, enabled him to uncross his fingers. In slow motion he begins the unraveling of his digits to emphasize the next important fact he was to slam me with.


"That car has a vanity mirror."


We pause.

I think longingly of the Saturn Car commercials.

I see Ralph Kramden counting to ten.

Audrey Hepburn sweeps by smiling. I embody Audrey and say,


"I didn’t order a vanity mirror but if it has one that’s great."


"It changes the price you know."


I didn’t know.


"That’s two hundred dollars extra."


"I’ll tell you what. I’ll pick up a vanity mirror if I decide I want one for three dollars and you can just take that one out of the car and we can finish this deal."


We stare again. Snake and Rat. Although I'm not sure who is who at this point.

Ivan is trying to re-cross his fingers. I don’t have that much time.


"It also has power locks." Fingers struggle to move.


"Un-power them! Why do we have to play this game? Haven’t you seen the Saturn commercials? And where is Don Leemacker? I’ve been on the phone talking with him daily for two weeks, he sells me a ten thousand dollar car and he’s not here? We agreed on the car and a price. Where is he?" I’m becoming a nervous little feret, shaking and quaking, preparing to bite.


"You can have that car but with the vanity mirror and the power locks I can’t let it go for less than eleven hundred."


I’m trapped. I’m wounded prey, they can smell the blood.

"No" is all I can manage to say.


Ivan, kind before the kill, says, "You can pick out any other Sundance on the lot. Just not that one unless you want to meet the price."


It’s over. The stress tidal wave slams over me. My voice comes out in screeches and gasps,

"I don’t want any other car. I want the car that I want. This is a breach of contract. No! I’m not going to pick out a white car or a pukey green car! I want my forest green beautiful car that I picked out. I am paying for it! I have to drive it—maybe forever until I die!"

"Why don't I check your credit for the eleven hundred. Then you don't have to worry about only having the five thousand down payment?"

"Okay." I say weakly. What else can I do? I know it will be approved, it's just that the whole thing is such a rip off and I hate being trapped.


Ivan extracts himself from the room. Hysterical women are not his forte.

I go to the bathroom to lick my wounds and clean up the hemorrhage. Now somewhat practiced at the art of paper diaper tying, I re-wedge myself into yet another make-shift pad.


We meet back at his office. He opens his clumps and lets my papers slide back on his desk.


"Your credit has not been approved."


I cannot speak. If this were true, it would be embarrassing. Not only was it approved by another Chrysler dealer for the same car in New York, but Don "Absent" Leemacker told me it was approved or why would they have bothered to pick me up from the airport?

I know it is not true, but I am hot with shame. I step outside to think.


It was January 5th, 1992. L.A. has been living in a drought emergency. For the first time in years, it starts to rain. It begins as drizzle, which to my New York sensibilities feels like the water drops shed from an air conditioner above. Then, not to be misunderstood as a lesser version of itself, it begins to pour so hard and thick I am drenched before I can turn to go inside.

Beneath the noise of battle between the water and the pavement, I hear a din of cheers emanating in the background from the Angelenos celebrating the downpour.

It has been five hours since we left the airport at one o'clock in the afternoon.

My soaked clothes form an armor around me and I fight my limbs to take me to the pay phone.


"Thank you for calling Enterprise Car Rental. All operators are assisting other customers. Please hold on and your call will be answered in the order that it was received."


It was within the most damaged Hyundai that Enterprise (Rent-A-Wreck) could disinter, that I was to make my way, like an unearthed mole in pelting rain, from the city of Bellflower to my friend Perry’s house in Venice.

It remains, in hindsight, the most disturbing jaunt I have ever taken in an automobile, (including the not-so-minor scrape I had years ago with a city bus. Another story.)


Although officially titled an "Excel", this car, in all fairness, should have been christened "Gray Tin Can with Hatchback". I’m not sure if the car was actually gray in color, or was simply giving off the aura of gray, having spent its entire lifetime without a bath.

Its driver side mirror was crippled and permanently facing downward giving the curious driver a constant, microscopic view of the so often ignored pavement.

The car’s hatchback, even before we stuffed it with my six bulging suitcases, would not lock of its own accord, but had to be coaxed shut by a hefty twisting of twine.


"Oh, wait up."


I turned around and was blindsided by a bleach-headed surfer boy whose demeanor suggested he was merely donating his free time working for Enterprise. His head wagged to a rhythm band only he could hear. His left arm curled under as if he had an invisible surfboard tucked into it. His eyes were in constant motion, searching it seemed, for the next wave to ride.


"The gas tank needle is broken so it’ll just sorta read like it’s almost empty, but it’s not really. Cool?"


"Is it full?" I ventured.


"Um…yeah. Should be."


"Well how do I know?"


"Like it’s pointing to a quarter tank now, and that’s like where it always is at when it’s full. So, like if it points to empty, like for real, then its probably empty, you know?"


Like, was it me? Was I just not ‘easy-going’ enough or did I actually have cause to be confused? I had lived all around the world and survived well in countries where I didn’t even speak the language, but suddenly I felt I had migrated beyond earth and the solar system I had grown accustomed to.


"Oh", was all I could manage.

I started the car and headed down the driveway when I realized I had forgotten something. I didn’t know where I was or how to get where I was going. I also thought it might be best to change my diaper again before hitting the open road. Returning from the ladies room and unable to get anyone else’s attention, out of desperation I corner the surfer. I explained that I need to get to Venice and that I wanted stay off the freeways if possible as I was from New York and hadn’t driven in a while.


"Cool. Like what time do ya wanna get there by?"


"Well, soon. Why?"


"If like, you don’t take the freeway, then you could pull in sometime tomorrow, like if you got the time, you know? But if you take the freeway then… whoa! Wait up! Venice, right?"


I nod.


"Yeah, like I think you gotta take the ‘5’ up there. But then you gotta switch to something else."


"To…?"


"Yeah like, I don’t know but I know you gotta switch. You don’t have a ‘Thomas Guide’?"


Have one? I didn’t even know what it was. I assumed it was a map.


"No." I say.


"Whoa. That sucks."


"Do you have one?"


"No. I just hang out down here. I don’t have wheels, you know. I just ride the waves." He makes a swooping motion with his hand and winks at me as if he’s sharing a secret joke we both understand. I don’t.


"I meant Enterprise. Do they have one?"


"Uh…yeah. Probably. But you gotta buy it off us if we do."


"Okay." I sigh, out of options. "Can you check?"


He stands there with his head bobbing like a plastic dog in the window of an old Buick but he doesn’t move. Maybe he’s riding the imaginary wave in his head.


"Can you?"


One large drop from the heavy sheet of rain had claimed its independence and plopped between his eyebrows, skiing down the concave ramp that is his nose. This seemed to rouse him and he bebopped inside to check.

To bide the time, I take refuge in the tin can and listen to the thumping.

Some time later, Blond Boy returns carrying what looks to be a wire-bound encyclopedia.


"Heads up!" He tosses it underhand to me.


Amazingly, I catch it.


"This is it? This is a map? Oh my god."

My mouth won’t close. Is it ‘War and Peace’? ‘Doctor Zhivago?’ I’ve never seen a map five hundred pages long. I’m used to the ones that fold out that you can never seem to fold back. I can’t even read those. How was I going to read a map that size alone necessitated a course such as ‘Thomas Guide 101’, before trying it out on the open road?


"Yeah. It’s just L.A. though. Like it doesn’t have Orange County or anything, but like, you don’t need to go behind the ‘Orange Curtain’ for anything do ya?"


I must have looked blank because he continued.
"Yeah, so like that’s thirty eight dollars."


Thirty-eight dollars for a map? For a map? I handed him the money and crawled into the car.

He leaned into the window and directed me from the driveway to the entrance of the ‘5’ freeway.


Okay. I was on my way. From this point forward, everything was going to be all right. I could feel it. I smiled to myself. I was here, albeit a bit tousled and diapered, theived from and betrayed, but I was here! I’d figure out the car problem tomorrow after my auditions.


My auditions! With all the chaos I had been through in the past twelve hours, I had forgotten about my auditions.


"See how lucky I am." I told myself. "What actress moves to L.A. and has two auditions lined up the day after she arrives. Me! Everything is going to be great. I just have to get to Venice, say ‘hello’ to Perry, unpack my bags, find a tampon, get a good night’s rest, and find the audition locations tomorrow. But then, "smooth sailing".

And then suddenly, there I was climbing the entrance ramp to the ‘5’.


Getting on was a breeze, easier than I thought. But if I didn’t get over into the next lane to my left soon, I would find myself quickly off again. I had to merge.

(Insert scary music here, and in every instance I mention the word "merge"; something akin to the opening of "Jaws".)

Not only were my driving skills shaky enough to make me intrepid when attempting this maneuver, and my side mirror limp and rendered useless, but merging in L.A. seemed to be interpreted as a direct and hostile act of violence perpetrated against the ego of the driver you are merging in front of. I learned this quickly as every attempt I made at this seemingly simple procedure, was met with in stinging curses, jolting honks and once, the slinging of a can of Mountain Dew.


Panic attack! Panic attack!

Not only would I be headed off the freeway soon, but also the bigger, metaphorical picture gripped and shook me. In life, ‘merging’ is my specialty. Symbolically speaking, I’ve been paid for merging. How would I survive in a place where no one will let me merge?


The exit ramp I didn’t want was fast approaching.


"This is the moment". I thought. "Fail now and you might as well go back home." Gritting my teeth together, curling my lips up, growling out loud, I raided lane after lane until I had achieved my rightful place in the far left lane: the prestigious fast lane.


Sigh. My shoulders released their grip on my ears and I began to cruise with the best of them.

Then I noticed the gas gauge.

It wasn’t on a quarter tank anymore. What did that mean? What did the surfer say? I couldn’t piece it together. 'Quarter tank, like it’s full? Empty, like, it’s empty?' Was there no in between? How long had I been driving? How much gas was in there to begin with? I couldn’t take any chances. I had to get off and get gas.


In the end, it was lucky I did. I filled the already full tank and inquired again for directions to Venice and was told the ‘5’ freeway goes, yes you guessed it, nowhere close. In reality, I don’t speak Spanish, but the station attendant who spoke only Spanish gave me more comprehensible directions than Blond Boy and the Thomas Guide put together.

To this day I don't know how, but I made it to my new home in Venice before midnight.


I never met Don Leemacker. I can only hope Karma worked it’s magic on him.


And I never got that car. It took me weeks to find and purchase one. Meanwhile spending hundreds (that I didn’t have) for the rental of the shameful Excel.


Oh but if I had money!? If I hadn't been so poor?

Different story.

Right?


I knew that much for sure.


6 Comments:

At 12:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and what happened to the pretty dress??????

 
At 3:45 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

Loved reading this, thanks for the laugh. I will continue to check in on you :)

 
At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Sara..i'm so glad I was able to give you a laugh! and to the question before, see the newest story..it's just for you!
Persephone

 
At 7:42 PM, Blogger Samurai Warrior said...

Well I'm sure Geisha knows that bad times never last and the tough keep going! GO GEISHA

 
At 9:22 PM, Blogger Samurai Warrior said...

Geisha. You never mentioned to your friends that your job while demanding, long hours, etc. has some fringe benefits like being wined and dined at top restaurants and trips to nice resorts in exotic places -- being a cater-waiter at a nice party isn't the same.

You mentioned once before that you worked as a room service waitress while you were in college. If you do outcalls, wouldn't it be like room service, at a different level? I'm sure the tips would be better. Some things never change!

 
At 9:37 PM, Blogger Samurai Warrior said...

Geisha. It is easy for me to say since I wasn't close to the situation but Philip G. could have done a lot more for you when you both parted. Money isn't everything. You were really his common law wife! If you continued in your career, you would have been able to retire by now and possibly never gone to jail since you probably wouldn't have gone to LA. Instead, you gave it up to be his love-of-his-life. He got off easy -- all the ass-holes usually do.

 

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