Monthly Archives: October 2016

He’s the King

Fine Art
Fine Art

Not long after completing my “Lost Years “series I hosted an out of town guest who was present during several of my lost years. While in my house he remarked that it was sad “Velvet Elvis” wasn’t featured in any of my entries. Velvet Elvis, for those of you not in the know is a classic art – Elvis painted on velvet (big surprise there); Elvis has hung in every house/apartment/condo that I have lived in since I was a teenager.

I agreed it seemed a terrible omission and promised that I would write Velvet Elvis’s story in his own featured blogpost.


Velvet Elvis came to me because my Mother is crazy*, and being crazy she has unusual relationships with other crazy people that for a period of time in the late 1980’s involved purchasing cheap gag gifts to give out periodically. My Mother bought Velvet Elvis on the corner of Rt 302 and 115 out of the back of some guys van for less than $5.00, for a few years it was passed from hand to hand during staff parties and birthdays. For some reason my 13 year old self fell in love with Velvet Elvis and was unnaturally overjoyed when my Mother received him back as a re-gifted gift a few years after her initial purchase.

When he returned to us, I put my foot down and begged my Mom not to get rid of him; I hung him instead in my bedroom next to my celebrity posters that I had carefully cut from the pages of 16 and Bop magazines. It remained there, a veritable ‘Where’s Waldo’ of incongruous items until I was 18 and my parents decided to hold a garage sale while I was out of town. I returned to find all of my childhood toys gone, many treasures lost and Velvet Elvis missing.


I frantically ran around asking everyone at the sale or that had attended the sale what befell my beloved fine art. I discovered that it had been purchase by our paperboy, Aaron who lived down the road from us for some ridiculous amount like a quarter.

The thought of my beloved Elvis in the hands of this non appreciating pre-teen was too much for me, I marched directly to his house and asked under no certain terms how much it would cost to buy Elvis back – since he was a reasonable and sensible kid he asked me for $10 – which I gladly gave him fully accepting the fact that I had been ripped off.

When I moved out of my parents’ house, the day after high school graduation, Velvet Elvis was securely packed in the trunk of my car, when I moved into my Freshman Dorm room he was the first thing that I hung up and even when I lived in a dilapidated crack house** in Vineland NJ after my first year of college and had most of my possessions stolen Velvet Elvis survived and made his way back to me.

The day I boarded the Sunset Limited to move to CA I showed up at Amtrak’s 30th street station with two steamer trunks and a suitcase only to be informed that I could have a maximum of one bag with me – I quickly repacked, taking only my favorite summertime clothes and of course… Velvet Elvis.

When I finally did arrive in San Diego I immediately hung him up next to futon mattress on the floor that served as my bed and knew that everything was going to be okay.  Over the next seven years as I moved around the San Diego area I lost and gained many possessions but Velvet Elvis always had a spot of prominence wherever I found myself to be.

When I moved back east he lived for a while in and around Rittenhouse Square and then when my future husband and I moved in together I hung him directly opposite our front door, I did this because Elvis deserved a good view, but also to see if I had made the right decision to move in with my then very new boyfriend. To his credit Jason never batted an eye at Elvis being front and center and he even made a point to hang him prominently in our first house we bought together.

Today, Velvet Elvis resides in our vastly underutilized family room. But I have big plans to take this room back from the dog who has had free range of it for OVER A YEAR now and redecorate using Elvis as the main focal point.  If only I could contact someone at HGTV to help me figure out how to do this.

*It’s okay, my Mom knows I love her, and she also knows that she’s crazy.

**Completely unbeknownst to me when I moved in.

Bonus Track

Aw snap… you thought I was done, but this horse isn’t dead yet. Call this story “the lost years part 6 and a half”:

Do you ever find yourself doing unspeakably crazy things? Like you are watching yourself from afar and you are powerless to stop it? I can think of three distinct times in my adult life that I have gone bat shit crazy and as much as I wanted to stop myself I was unable to – this is one of those times.

It was the end of the 90’s – probably sometime mid 1999ish, who knows? I was living alone in my one bedroom on University Ave and decided one day that even though I loved my apartment and my solitude I was 24ish and maybe I should think about being around people my own age, in a setting that was somewhat less responsible than the one I had created for myself. I decided to find a roommate and move closer to the beach.

I put an ad in the Pennysaver, something along the lines of “want to find the perfect apartment, with the perfect roommate? Call me!’ I was bound to find someone good, right? I got hundreds of calls – I got calls from a lot of scary sounding people. I got a call from an entire platoon of marines looking for somewhere to ‘live’ when not on deployment, I got a call from a man I’m pretty sure wanted to pimp me out and offered to get me any place I wanted – I got so many calls that I eventually pulled the ad and stopped answering my phone.

But I got one call from a reasonable sounding girl who was also in her mid 20’s who lived in Ocean Beach but had recently found an available two-bedroom townhouse seven blocks from the ocean that she could not afford on her own – it sounded perfect, it sounded too perfect. I immediately went to meet this person whom we will call Samantha. She was living in a tiny one bedroom ‘cottage’ that was tastefully decorated, she seemed like someone I could get along with, she had a small dog that after a trial meet and greet was tolerated by Ruka.

We toured the two-bedroom townhouse that was big and bright and just a little bit 70’s mod to be fun – we picked bedrooms, I filled out an application – in my head I was already blending our living room furniture and determining how the new commute would fit into my work and school schedule.

I was on my way out the door with my landlord’s notice in hand when I decided to call her to confirm move-in dates and that’s when she tells me that she thought I should know she was still interviewing other potential roommates. WHAT? THE? HELL? I had already filled out the application and paid the application fee, I had already taken boxes from work – I had already created a new life in my head. I was beyond pissed off.

Without stopping to think about what I was doing I immediately grabbed my keys and drove to Ocean Beach ready to confront her in person, I thought maybe I could still be reasonable and talk this thing through. I called her from a pay phone around the corner from her place and told her I’d like to meet with her  – she got so outraged that I had come ‘into her neighborhood’ that she basically hung up on me.

At that point what I should have done was turned my car around and head home, cut my loses and be glad I dodged a bullet, but fuck Samanatha, you know? She called me, she asked me to see this apartment she found, she asked me to fill out an application. I nearly gave notice and lost the last affordable, rent controlled apartment within easy biking distance of my office. OMG – I WAS MAD!

Instead of going home I stopped at a dollar store bought a pad of paper and a pen, made my way to a corner bar, ordered the cheapest thing they served and proceeded to write Samanatha a letter.

I was in that bar for hours, the first couple pages went smoothly but by the time I was on page 4 or 5 I knew I was out of control – I remember seeing myself scribbling injustices to this girl that I barely knew and realized I had crossed a line. Whatever inhibitors that should have fired in my brain telling me to stop where asleep or deeply zoned out because I wrote Samantha a 16-page letter basically telling her how awful she was – like I said up front I was powerless to stop myself.

I stormed out of the corner bar and put my manifesto under her windshield wiper of her car and headed home.

She called me after work the next day to tell me that I was insane and that she never wanted to see or hear from me again, and I said something clever like, “yeah, well tell your new landlord to rip up my application – I already stopped payment on the check I gave you, bitch.”

And that my friends is how I almost lived Ocean Beach.

NOT the same place
NOT the same place


The Lost Years, Part VI

Here we are at the end of my apartment tales, by far this place one was my favorite although all of them had their own charm and challenges…


Since updates with metal railings
Since updated with metal railings

Around the time I was passively aggressively ending a three-year relationship I was also, once again apartment hunting. I managed to find a fabulously affordable one bedroom on a busy street right outside of San Diego proper. Sure none of my neighbors spoke English, but my apartment faced a different direction than theirs and truth be told I hardly ever saw them.

Ruka and I moved into our new Bachelorette pad which was a good size one bedroom. I managed to furnish it with the help of my new coworkers and some well times garage sales.

I was sad to leave my 2-minute commute but this new place was no more than three miles from the office, once I got a bike (also thanks to my new awesome coworkers) I even started biking to work – so you know, it couldn’t have been that far.

There was an initial period of exhilaration when I realized I didn’t need to compromise on style or decor and I did go a little nuts with stencils and tapestries, I went to Tijuana (the only place I could afford to shop) and for a little while my new apartment was a cross between a Mexican brothel and a homeless surfer shack, but soon after the thrill of decorating subsided I was faced with the truth that I was alone. I was alone a lot and although I grew to really love that in the beginning it was hard, on the weekends after leaving work I would spend the next 48 hours sitting in the window of my living room waiting for someone to walk by, however being California no one ever walked by. Twice in four years someone came to my door who wasn’t delivering food or previously invited, once was my boss out walking her dog (clearly an excuse to check up on me, I was WAY out of her ‘walk zone’) and once was a girl that was being followed by a sinister looking stranger – I let her in to use the phone and she left although I invited her to stay – probably a little too aggressively, I think she was more scared when she was leaving than when she got there.

For a long period of time I saw a lot of movies, I felt better being among people even if I wasn’t with them and I also found myself driving to the beach many nights after work to watch the sun set on a long day rather than face the prospect of an empty apartment. Sometimes I would walk to 7-11 (2 blocks away) just to interact with the store clerk (and buy cheap Paul Mason wine).

But at one point and I can’t say exactly when it happened I started preferring to be alone – I would rush home from work, dead bolt myself inside and finally be able to take a deep breath as I stripped down to my underwear and flopped on the couch, I even started making excuses for why I couldn’t go out or meet people. Because it was Southern CA the most convincing lie I could tell people was that I was at the gym, “Met you for brunch? oh no, I can’t I’m going to the gym.” “What did I do all weekend? – I was at the gym” people would nod knowingly having themselves ACTUALLY spent entire weekends at the gym.

Once I even broke down and got a gym membership – but I was poor and I was only allowed into the gym something ridiculous like Tuesday and Thursday from 2:00 – 4:30, but it didn’t matter I could flash that gym card or accidently (on purpose) let it slip out of my wallet while on a date in preparation of future excuses. In San Diego, the gym membership is akin to a toddler with a fever, they can get you out of just about anything.

Living alone made me a slob – not that I wasn’t already… untidy. When I lived with  Shane and Malcolm I felt that I need to try and set a better example – raise the bar if you will, being alone all bets were off. Five seconds after coming home there would be a trail of bags, pants, shoes leading from the front door to the sofa and because I had to do my laundry at the laundromat I would wait until every single piece of clothing I owned was dirty before lugging it in there and filling 5 washing machines full of everything I had. I remember one mid-week night when I finally bit the bullet, and loaded the back of my car with all the clothes I owned  (including the one pair of sheets I had for my bed) and set off to do laundry – I got them in the dryer and then left in order to avoid sitting in those uncomfortable plastic chairs. I returned 20 minutes before closing time to pick everything up only to face a locked door and a dark interior. I guess they thought it was cool to close up early since I wasn’t there to supervise my clothes – this resulted in some rather unpleasant phone calls from the pay phone out front. Needless to say I never left my clothes unattended after that. Laundry became a giant time suck I would avoid at all costs.

I started house sitting to a.) make a little extra money and b.) be able to do my laundry while watching something other than mexican soap operas, sometimes I even got to go swimming which was an added bonus.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows living by myself though, there were a few downsides, bugs for example. San Diego is home to the giant flying palmetto bug and once I came home to find one so big at first I thought it was a mouse – I abruptly turned around and left the apartment, I didn’t go home for two days. Sometimes Ruka would bring me half dead animals – once a lizard nearly as long as she was, once a mole and twice mice that were more alive than dead, this is when a roommate would have really come in handy.

Also, there was that time that I nearly burned the place down because I decided to try my hand at bar-b-quing. I bought a little portable grill, placed it on my porch and set it afire with A LOT of lighter fluid, the flames were so high and hot that it set my railing on fire (my porch was old wood, OLD dry wood), fortunately I kept my head and poured an entire bag of kitty litter on top of it to smother it before the entire building became a late night news article. I have not touched a grill since that day.

I lived on University Avenue for four years and the good definitely outweighed the bad, the day I left to head back east was terribly bittersweet and I still long sometimes for the solitude and the freedom of that apartment gave me. I love my family and the life that I have created for myself but if ever I could time travel the first place I would go would be back to San Diego circa 1997.

The Lost Years, Part V

And… we’re back. It’s 1997 I’m about to (kinda, almost) start getting my shit together.


Ours was the last apartment all the way back, on the bottom floor.
Lizard capital of the world.

In order to leave Adelaide and still be able to afford a decent place we needed a roommate and a after much disagreement discussion Shane and I moved back in with Malcolm into a really sweet 1920’s apartment located at the back of a quiet, sleepy complex just barely off El Cajon Blvd. The place was great, with beautiful hard woods, built-ins everywhere, a vintage stove you could fuel with firewood (if you wanted), it was small but adorable. I knew moving back in with the two of them was a bad idea but at the time I had no job, no money and few other options.

Shane and Malcolm spent most of their time playing video games and hypodermically injecting watermelons with hard alcohol to serve at parties we would throw every few weeks when a new ‘punch’ concoction was ready.  Malcolm had also started a very sucsessful hydroponics “garden” in his closet. Because the apartment was small I spent my time watching them play video games or wondering how long it would be before SDG&E starting questioning why a 700 Sq foot apartment was running a $300 monthly electric bill. In order to get away from my living situation and the ever pervasive smell of Hindu kush I started frequenting  the pub at the corner – Kelly’s. Kelly’s was my first regular hang out bar, it was a quiet Irish Pub that only served beer, just beer. I didn’t particularly like beer then but I enjoyed the dim, smokey air conditioned atmosphere of the pub (a love that has withstood the test of time).

Very shortly after moving I interviewed for a job in the office building that separated my apartment from the Boulevard, it was a job less than a 2-minute walk from my front door, and I got it. It was my first real 40 hour, 9:00-5:00 job that didn’t involve a cash register or require me to wear a name tag. Ironically this job that was in sneezing distance to my back door did required me to have a car, so I did what anyone desperate for a job would do – I lied and said mine was currently in the ‘shop’.

I lied, but I scraped, and borrowed and cajoled some money together. I paid my friend Heather $200 of the $500 she was asking for her 1988 Pontiac Grand Am and then promptly never spoke to her again. Sure, I felt bad that I had ripped her off but in my defense the car was a piece of shit and really not worth $500. It was white with a red junk yard hood, it had front end damage from hitting a deer full speed on the freeway. It came to me with outdated Michigan registration, it would never pass California Emissions tests and therefore never be legal in the state. I decided to forgo insurance as an unnecessary expense and this began years of owning crappy, illegal, uninsured cars (that’s probably another six-part blog series “Shitty cars I bought off lien sale volumes 1 through 14”). I drove with one eye on the road and one on the lookout for the CA highway patrol – I only ever got caught once but it was Christmas night and I managed to embarrassingly half  cry/flirt my way out of it.

I started working and everyday got to drive loads of mail to the back entrance of the post office where I would wait to be let in while looking at my old townhouse on Seminole Dr. It was like I had come full circle – sort of.

The apartment on Chocktaw Dr. was surrounded by thousands of little lizards, Ruka took it upon herself to terrorize them –  everyday I would come home to anywhere between 10 to 20 tails on the doorstep, she’d bite the tails off them, present them to me as trophies and the lizards would scurry home to grow another one.

Also around this time Ruka stopped eating dinner, I was worried about her for several weeks before I discovered that one of my neighbors, a blind older woman was using her Social Security checks to buy my little cat fresh chicken livers and feed them to her while I was at work. This was fine until we moved again and Ruka became indignant at the idea of canned cat food.

So, I was working full time and taking evening courses at school, Shane was still, well, Shane. Feeling empowered by my new job and awesome coworkers I decided it was time to stop thinking that I could change people and start thinking about my own future with out him. I put on my big girl pants and broke up with him – in a letter – that I left for him when knew I wouldn’t be around.

to be continued…

The Lost Years, Part IV

Welcome to part 4 – its still 1996. I’m 21 and I keep losing my licence…


We lived in #17, bi polar neighbor was upstairs, just the right of us.

We stayed in the townhouse six months, long enough to run out our lease. By this time I had become very close with a coworker of mine (Kim) she and I had bonded over our mutual hatred of our shared boss and we decided to get a place together, I was done living with boys and I was looking forward to only supporting myself. Of course, 5 days before we were set to move I changed my mind and asked Shane to come with me – how could I possibly live without him? (Can you say codependent much?).

The three of us found another inexpensive apartment but this one had just been completely rehabbed – we even got the first choice of units, we left the dark dirty townhouse and moved in to a spacious two bedroom with brand new carpet, new paint  – a huge livingroom and a pool – A POOL!

Ironically right after moving in both Kim and I quit our jobs, we turned our boss in to the California Labor Bureau and they got him to pay us back wages that we were owed (I bet he knows my name now!).

So once again I was living with my unemployed boyfriend, making excellent life decisions. The one saving grace about the apartment on Adelaide is that it was walking distance (still carless!*) to a very inexpensive Mexican market where we could get 3 artichokes for a dollar and a 5 pound bag of potatos for the same – they also sold fresh homemade salsa for pennies. For the next several months I lived on a consistent diet of steamed artichokes and baked potatoes stuffed with salsa.

For the first few weeks it was ideal, we had a great place, plenty of time to sit by the pool while we dreamed up new ways to cook potatoes, but all the serenity ended abruptly when our new neighbor moved in – a bi polar alcoholic with anger management issues – she took an instant disliking to us and suddenly our sunny little courtyard became a war zone. She yelled obscenities at us at all times of the day, threatened our lives and sometimes laid in wait for us to come through the front gate to throw trash at us. We could still retreat to the pool though, she never bothered us there and that became our sanctuary until the school year started and kids from the elementary school would wait for us, pounding on the chain link fence demanding to be let in and allowed to swim. We never let them in, but they managed to get revenge by one day climbing over the fence and throwing the glass patio table in to the deep end – thus ruining pool time for everyone.

So, we retreated back inside our apartment where we put up with the verbal threats from our neighbor mostly because her son also lived with her, her son was nice and reasonable and just trying to get through college, every day he would beg us not to call the cops on his Mom. I think we only ever had the cops there 1 or 2 times, which is a testament to how much we liked this kid, his Mom was a real bitch.

I spent my days taking long walks, sometimes to the El Pollo Loco for a $.99 BRC (bean, rice and cheese burritos) which were a total splurge and telling Shane that I would get a job when he got a job… the entire time we lived there we were unemployed.

Eventually though, Kim got a new job an hour up the coast, our lease came up for renewal and we had used up all of our patience dealing with our neighbor we decided to bid adieu to Adelaide street. Also – I had finally been accepted into college and I needed to find employment and transportation so that I could actually attend school.

*Sidenote: I just want to explain to you how very very hard it is to be carless in the San Diego. San Diego is a commuter’s city – it is HUGE and no one walks. No one. Ever. I used to joke after I got a car that even when I was going the same places with my friends we would all take our own cars, no one would carpool – no one wanted to be without the ability to get somewhere (see no one walked – ever). It’s probably a little easier now that they have an established trolley system, but when I was there, there was virtually no ‘mass transit’ just a collection of old city buses that mostly went from the boarder to different point around town, to try and navigate from say the college area to downtown San Diego was almost impossible and would take you anywhere from 2 – 5 hours of traveling time (A journey that could be done in 20 minutes in a car). One of the reasons I didn’t look very hard for work because I couldn’t justify the return on investment in so much travel for whatever minimum wage job that I was then qualified for.

to be continued…

The Lost Years – Part III

If you don’t know what’s going on by now… pay attention! I’m about to turn 21 and making excellent decisions. Read here & here.


I was literally standing at the back door of the post office while I took this picture

I thought I was being really grown up when I decided to move in with my boyfriend and his best friend, whom for the purpose of this narrative I will refer to as Shane and Malcolm. I thought having my own kitchen and leaving the “real world” culture of Alice street was the mature thing to do… hindsight, my friends, hindsight…

Shane didn’t have a job or any tangible means of supporting himself and Malcolm worked part time at the college arcade and part time selling dime bags to the college kids that hung out at the arcade, because I was just scraping by selling dusty souvenirs to lost tourists the only place we could get was a dark roach infested townhouse that was mostly inhabited by section 8 families, living on subsidies and spending their days shouting to each other through the thin walls of the complex.

This was also the first time I lived with boys in close proximity and it was a real eye opener, one time I remember Shane got so drunk that I woke up to find him peeing on my computer (a classic Apple2 E circa 1986)… We had a powder room with a stackable washer/dryer  next to the front door and it was so full of dirty clothes ALL.THE.TIME. that no one ever used it as a bathroom.

But above and beyond the grooming habits of 21-year-old boys the most annoying thing about the townhouse was that it was located directly behind the post office. I could literally long jump to the back door and I don’t jump very far. But despite this I never got my mail correctly – I got a lot of other people’s mail but hardly anything of mine, this was super inconvenient because it was about this time that I decided I needed to go back to college and I was applying to school – through the mail because it was 1996 and that’s what you did.

Not all was bad though – it was in this filthy townhouse that Ruka entered my life, walking in through our back patio and staying with me for the next 19 years. By the way the back patio sounds nice but I could never go out there because my roommates had filled it with furniture they found on the side of the road or fished out of dumpsters – furniture like old lazy-boys that were never meant to be outside – it was like a bulky waste dump that was home to a number of wild animals.

While living there I finally left the crappy gift store at the mall and got a job at a hair salon that I could walk to – this not only gave me slightly more money but also eliminated an hour long bus ride everyday (still carless!) I could be at the salon in 5 minutes – on foot. Of course the salon would eventually go down in history as the worst job I ever had because I worked for a misogynist a-hole who never learned my name and only referred to me as “girl”, but at the time I was thrilled to get out of the mall and help pay my boyfriends bills. Like I said… hindsight.

to be continued…

The Lost Years, Part II

If yo are just joining us – the year is 1995, the place in San Diego CA and you should probably read this first.


this is a Alice street circa 1995 - I took this picture with a disposable Kodak camera.
this is a Alice street circa 1995 – I took this picture with a disposable Kodak camera. The picture I took in April shows the ensuing years have not been kind.

I left the valley and moved up the hill to the College area, what I really wanted was less of a ‘roommate’ situation while still reaping the benefit of cheap shared housing, what I found was a big old Spanish house with 5 extra-large bedrooms rented separately – the price was right and I practically skipped out of Christina’s two bedroom while she pretended to wait for her nonexistent brother to arrive. The house itself was cool with large terracotta tiles on the floor and a fireplace in the living room was big enough to walk into, not that anyone ever hung out in the living room. Our rooms were our sanctuary where we all lived as though they were small studio apartments (exiting only to forage in the kitchen). I started on Alice street with one of the ‘smaller’ bedrooms (still bigger than any master I’ve ever had) but eventually upgraded to the actual master-master which was triangular in shape and sported two huge walk in closet and its own bathroom with original art deco tile. As luck would have it very shortly after moving there an old friend of mine from high school reentered my life and by the time I had upgraded to the master she moved in with me full time – the room was big enough for my king size bed, her double bed and all the various crap that two 20 year old girl have (mostly sandals, sundresses and taco wrappers).

One of the great things about this house was its proximity to a coffee shop called the Livingroom. The Livingroom was awesome and completely changed my world. Up until that point, I had drank coffee but mostly for medicinal purposes – to get through an exam or wake up after a cheap red eye flight, the Livingroom taught me that there was coffee and there was good coffee and good coffee was great. They served GOOD coffee in giant mugs the size of my head. The Livingroom became like an extension of my own living room. I went there every day despite the fact that I had to sell souvenirs for an hour to afford one cup of their milky way latté. I budgeted the shit out of every penny I earned.

Residents of the house came and went but for one perfect bubble in time there were seven of us there that all got along and generally liked each other, it was a comradery not often found in nature. We set up Wednesday night ‘family night’ where we all took turns making dinner for everyone and staying up late waxing poetic about… everything. We began leaving the sanctuary of our own rooms and actually socializing with each other. It was a perfect situation like the ‘real world’ but without all the cameras and social commentary – but as these things do our group eventually fell apart. Aaron the cute blond engineering student moved out and Kenny the Japanese exchange student moved in – Kenny didn’t speak any English but he played the electric guitar and he played it LOUD at all times of the day and night. Several times we had to call the cops to come inside our own home to get him to be quiet enough that we could sleep.

Kenny pretty much ruined our mojo and right around that time I started seriously dating someone. I started thinking in might be time to leave – in addition to Kenny and his guitar there were some major drawbacks to the big house, food in the kitchen often went missing even when obviously labeled, no one ever remembered to lock the front door and sometimes I would come down in the morning to find it ajar and stray animals nesting in our papasan chair.  Also there was our landlord, Alex who came and went as if he owned the place (see what I did there?), he would walk in unannounced and trying to keep up the pretense that my high school friend was really my lesbian girlfriend and not actually living there was getting harder and harder as our boyfriends started hanging around more and more.

to be continued…