Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where I've Been and Why I've Been There

Before I get started with this, I should tell you that I have updated my last Redd Kross tour blog with a new paragraph. I remembered a few shadowy things about couple of shows I had forgotten. So if you care, go back, find that paragraph and read it for little more insight into that tour.


I know it’s been quite awhile since I lasted posted a blog entry. I’ve tried, but something more important always came along to foil my plans. But here I am now, hopefully back to a more regular schedule. So I’ll start by explaining exactly what’s been going on around here. Keep in mind that this is just the cliff notes version. What’s been going on is a lot more complicated than what I write below. I’ve also tried to keep it free of politics and personal comment, although I know I slip a few times in there. I’ll eventually return to this subject in a few months and you can bet you’ll hear an uncensored version of what I think about this whole thing and the path this country has taken over the last decade.

At the beginning of the year 2001, Skip and I decided that we were sick of paying so much money into the rent of an apartment. Whenever something would go wrong at the apartment, it always seemed to be like pulling teeth to get the landlord to do anything about it and there always seemed to be a neighbor right next door who was always mad at us about music or TV played too loud, or vice-versa, always seemed to be having a party that went on loudly to all hours of the morning, pissing us off. We both had good jobs and after some discussion, we decided that the time was right to buy a house we could call our own.

After searching for a few months, we finally found the house we decided we wanted to call our own. It was in a nice area of Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley, that was home to many third-tier actors. The house itself rested on land that was once owned by Mae West. The house was built by Buddy Pepper, who wrote the song “Pillow Talk” for the Rock Hudson/Doris Day film of the same name, and was in the Disney film “The Reluctant Dragon”. (Look him up on Neighbors later told us that until the current owner, a Jewish cowboy who absolutely hated the house and the area, that the house had always been owned by a gay male couple. Buddy and his partner lived there for years until they died, and then it was bought by another couple who lived there until one died of AIDS and the other moved away. It was at that time that the Jewish Cowboy and his family moved in.

We loved the place. It was unlike any house I had ever seen, and was certainly different from any of the other houses in the neighborhood, including Mae West’s old house, which was directly behind us. We had these high cathedral wood ceilings and an almost all glass room in the back that looked out over the backyard. It all looked somewhat like a small Swiss ski lodge. There were two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a large, two-car garage. We immediately started making plans for the house. We wanted to open up the back room and seal all the glass windows to the weather. We wanted to either expand the back bedroom or put a small swimming pool into the backyard. We even thought about making the garage into another room to make the living spaces of the house even that much bigger.

So, despite the fact that the Jewish Cowboy had left the house in a bit of a mess, we resolved ourselves to fixing the place up and we were happy to buy it from him and considered ourselves lucky to get it at just under $300, 000.

Unfortunately, it was almost immediately after escrow closed that the troubles began. First, Skip lost his job. He had a great job as a computer programmer for a major insurance company. They had just given him a great performance review and a large raise. He went to them before buying the house and they assured him there was nothing to worry about. Then, a week after escrow closed, they laid him off. As is the case with many large companies in the USA, they were lying sacks of shit who demanded loyalty from their employees, while actively working to screw over those same employees when it benefited the company.

Then, I lost my job. I was working as the head buyer at the Rhino Records Store in Westwood. There were some policies in the way the store did business that I just couldn’t deal with any more and told my boss that, thinking that maybe he would think about these things and maybe make some adjustments. Instead, the one adjustment he made was to hire a new head buyer the next day and wish me well. On one hand, I was relieved. While I loved what I did, I really wasn’t happy doing it at that store any more. I loved working at the store when I was just an assistant manager working on the floor. But I quickly learned that despite some perks, the head buyer’s job was a no-win situation where stress was leading me into health problems. So, in a way I was actually happy to get out of that poisonous situation. But having both Skip and I unemployed was a major problem, especially after just buying a house.

We both spent some time looking for new jobs. I applied at Amoeba Records, but didn’t get along real well with one of the owners during my initial interview. To this day, I’m glad I didn’t get that job despite my need. The last thing I needed was more ego-driven bullshit. I then cast around to record labels and other music businesses, but with no luck. The music business was changing and everyone was cutting back. Most of the people I knew were losing their jobs, so the chance of being hired was really a pipe dream. Skip was having the same trouble, and despite interviewing at a number of places, was never able to find any regular work, just finding temporary work here and there that didn’t pay very much.

After a few years of this, we both just kind of gave up and joined a huge number of people who were unemployed, but not officially according to the government’s statistics. I settled into selling mostly used CDs on the internet and was able to get a few music business people to agree to let me sell their promos and used CDs, LPs and whatever on Amazon, Gemm and EBay. (And I’m always looking for more, so if any of you want someone to sell for you and make you more money than you’ll get taking them to a used record store, let me know.) Along with selling off thousands of my own items, this has generated enough income to barely pay the bills. For awhile, Skip was able to find some work as a consultant and by fixing people’s computers, but most of that has dried up and he barely has anything to do these days.

What was able to keep us going over the last decade was the housing market. As you all know, it just went crazy and within a few years, the worth of our house skyrocketed to almost $800,000 at one point. So, while we knew it would eventually come back to haunt us, we started living off the equity of our house. And we lived very well for almost ten years. I was actually thankful that we had the house, because if both of us would have lost our jobs while living in an apartment, we would have been homeless as we wouldn’t have been able to afford the rent. The house and its equity actually kept us warm and comfy.

But as I said above, we knew this time would eventually come, especially when the economy started tanking badly and the housing market collapsed. We actually thought we had hit the end of the road a couple of times during the last several years ago, but just as we thought there was no way out, something would come along, like the settlement of a lawsuit or the death of a relative, and dump some money into our laps that would allow us to keep on keeping on.

But now it has definitely caught up with us and it remains to be seen just how much time we have left. We are out of money with all our credit cards booked to the max. I am still bringing in enough money to pay bills and our minimums, but not enough to pay the mortgage. We have been informed by our primary mortgage (IndyMac) that they have started foreclosure as of January 5th. Our second mortgage is with Bank of America and they are threatening us, but we’re just ignoring them. They stand to lose everything if we can’t work out something with the prime mortgage holder, so right now, their bark is worse than their bite. We’ve talked to some realtors and bankers and have opened up a dialog with IndyMac. They know they can’t sell this house right now and they don’t want it to sit empty, so we’ll see what we can work out. This dialog has just started, so it remains to be seen where it will go and how much time we will have before they try to kick us out, if they try to kick us out.

In the meantime, we are looking into cheaper places to live and have already made up our minds that we are going to need to move out of Los Angeles and California as a whole because it’s just too damned expensive. We’re hoping that we have until late Spring/early Summer to get it all together, but we’ll see. Right now, we’re looking at New Mexico or North Carolina as possibilities. There are a few others as well. I would love to move to New Hampshire or Vermont, but the winters are probably too much for Skip to deal with. We will have to go back to renting, but if I can find a good place at a good price, we can make that work. Besides, we never really owned this house anyways. We were just renting it from the bank.

And this is why there hasn’t been much action on my blog. I need to raise not just the money to pay the bills, but I also need to raise enough to stash some away so where ever we end up, I have at least a few thousand dollars saved up for first and last and whatever else we need it for. For the last three months, I’ve been sitting at this computer, entering CDs into for-sale data bases and selling Disney memorabilia on EBay. Any time I had open from doing that, we were at the movies catching up on this year’s selection (there will be the usual blog about that in late February), or just trying to get some much need rest and sleep. Even now I still have a couple thousand CDs sitting here; as well a few thousand LPs and a whole lot of Disney pins, all that need to be indentified, sorted and listed on whatever site they will sell the best. It kind of pisses me off that I have to sell some of this stuff now, especially the Disney stuff, as the crappy economy is keeping me from getting the prices I think I should be getting. But I’m still doing well with it and not losing money from my initial investment, so I guess its all okay. We need the money now anyway, so I have little choice in the matter.

I thought last year was going to be the big year of change for us, but it turned out to be a year of thinking about change instead. This year will be the year of acting on change. So, at the beginning of this year, I made a small series of New Year’s resolutions to myself.

The first was to lose the weight I’ve gained over the last 5 years. Back at the beginning of 2000, while I was still at the Rhino store, I had some problems with hernias and high blood pressure. So I lost about 140 pounds over the next year. Most people thought I was too skinny and I have to admit it didn’t feel comfortable. So I gained about 30 pounds back and felt very comfortable at that weight. But since we started traveling a few years ago, going to South Africa, Argentina, Italy and a number of American cities, I’ve slowly gained about half the weight back and its time to put an end to that and get rid of those extra pounds before I start having medical problems again. I don’t need that expense on top of everything else. Losing weight shouldn’t be too much of a problem since we can’t afford to eat any more like we’ve been eating the last several years. But I don’t really want to diet. I just want to eat healthier. I’m pretty confident that most of that extra weight will be gone by summer.

The second was to get back to reading more. I love reading and consider it one of the most important things a person can do. Reading enables me to understand more about the world and the people who live in this world. But it’s gotten to the point now where I just don’t have time to read any more. I now read maybe one or two books a year. I used to read two or three books a month. So I’ve resolved to read at least one book a month and make the time to do so. It will be hard to work into my schedule, but this will be done!

The third resolution is to get the hell out of Dodge (Los Angeles). And as I’ve explained above, that will likely happen more sooner than later. It was so easy to just pick up and move when I was younger. Now it’s a pain in the ass and quite a scary prospect. But I’ve been unhappy with Los Angeles for a very long time now, only living here because it suited my music business aspirations to be here. But now I want nothing to do with the music business and I have no reason to be here any more. So while it may be scary and it may be a pain in the ass, I’m really very excited about the prospect of a change of scenery. And living somewhere cheaper, that isn’t as overgrown and frantic with humanity as this place is, will be a definite plus.

And finally, to bring this full circle, I resolved to get this blog back on track. So, I promise you all I will post more regularly. I’m going to try to get at least two blogs up a month. I would love to get back to a weekly schedule, but I have to be realistic here. I should be able to handle every other week. As for my other blog, “The Order of the Omnivores” food blog, I haven’t really been happy with that since I started it. There are so many food blogs out there and I just don’t feel like another is needed unless it can express a viewpoint that hasn’t been expressed yet. So until I find that viewpoint, I’m just going to leave it alone. Once I can figure that out, I will let you all know. But until then, “The Top of My Head” will be the only blog I will be worrying about.

And on that note, I hope to see you back here towards the end of the month. I’m hoping to have another tour story, perhaps my short European jaunt with the Young Fresh Fellows and the Dharma Bums, but I will make no promises on that front. Until then, take care of yourselves and, above all, have fun. Enjoy it now, because you might not be able to enjoy it later.