Finally Living the Dream (or why I recommend you try something else)


This is a story I wrote for LOVE NAIL TREE based on this graphic. Please enjoy.

(comma after “finally” not mine 😉 )

The first thing I remember wanting to be was a dentist. I was six. Maybe seven. Weeks before checkups I’d prepare myself for the creaky, khaki colored dentist’s chair by practicing leaning back in my chair at dinner. Afterward, I’d wipe toothpaste on my teeth with my finger to imitate the taste of the tooth polish I’d be licking from my gums after my dental cleaning. A couple times I even thought about holding my dad’s drill to my face to enact the funny buzzing feeling I might feel if I needed to have a cavity drilled (thank God—I never did). When the day would come and I’d finally brighten the door of my dentist’s office, I’d quickly find myself a seat in the fluoride smelling office and commence paging through Highlights magazines with a moistened thumb like I’d observed the old men doing while waiting for their checkups. I wanted to be a dentist, I think, because (like almost nobody else I’ve ever met) I enjoyed the experience of being a patient.

In middle school I wanted to be a professional skateboarder. To ensure optimal time on the board (which had to mean an optimized chance at greatness), I’d skate to school, skate home from school, and I’d skate after school until it got dark. Even on Sundays when it was time to go to church I’d bring my skateboard and skate before and after a service in the parking lot. Every day I wore a similar baggy cotton skate shirt with baggy camouflage cargo shorts and a pair of hand-me-down skate shoes I’d received from my cousin. I’d come to believe that in order to become a professional skateboarder I’d have to look and act like one. I all but let my skateboard sleep in the same bed as me. I wanted to be a skateboarder because it was a cool thing to skate and an even cooler thing to be able to bust sweet tricks when everyone was watching.

When I got into high school, though, my skateboard started to spend more time being hung up in the garage. Eventually I even forgot about it. Other things had become more important. Namely, I was going to become a rock star. I let my hair grow long and bought a bass guitar with some money I’d saved from my first job at a bakery. By then, I believed being the next John Paul Jones was my truest calling. Every night I’d thumb the thick strings of my black Yamaha trying to echo the funky lines of Victor Wooten, the smooth tones of Nikolai Fraiture from the Strokes, and the erratically ambitions scales of Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. The more I practiced the more I felt invested in being a musician, and soon I formed a band with some friends. They were as serious as I was, and we practiced together with the diligence of a monk to his prayers. Five nights a week for four to six hours we’d practice. This went on for three years.

Until, in college, I got pretty convinced that I was supposed to become a pastor. So convinced was I that I was to join the pastorate that I enrolled myself at a Bible college. Now it was the bass’s turn to be hung up. I spent the next three years studying the Bible and the thoughts of old, dead theologians on interpreting the implications of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a first century carpenter from Nazareth who’d become the founder of my faith. I studied hard and made the best grades I’d ever made. Because of the honor that it carried, I was sure that being a pastor was the truest calling I’d ever received. I imagined that teaching the Bible on Sundays and counseling people during the week would become my life’s chief endeavor.

But even pastoring fell through when, upon graduation, I decided that in order to be a pastor I needed to be seen with respect. It wasn’t that I had enemies, or even that people were averse to listening to what I had to say. Rather, I wasn’t able to find the type of honorable pastoral position I wanted to attain. It was less about a cushy office chair and a “ministry debit card” and a captive audience to enjoy my musings, and more about not feeling affirmed by people I respected. Maybe I didn’t really have a flock either, and there is truth to not pursuing a calling if one doesn’t hear a real voice on the other end of the line. My fault, though, was that I wanted to be a pastor because I wanted to people to praise me.

For several years after that I drifted until I decided I was going to be a writer, or, at least to write something. I’d always dabbled as a journaler and bona fide author of several unfinished short stories. I enjoyed my college literature classes and always felt compelled by the often-elusive thoughts of writers. That lifestyle felt up my alley. I read regularly and wrote even more regularly. Every day for about three years I’d try to put something down on paper, believing that somehow, one day, all of it would amount to something. First, I figured I’d be a poet; then I settled on being a journalist; then a copywriter; then (briefly) a screenwriter; then a novelist; and finally a memoirist (for when at last you find you cannot write about another, you can always write about yourself). I came to hope that if I just wrote often enough eventually somebody would notice and I would somehow become a voice that ought to be read. I wanted to become a writer because I desperately wanted to believe I had something to offer.

Back in high school and college, when I was at home in bed with the lights out and it was just me and my thoughts, I really believed that when I found my calling I would finally know who I was; that when I uncovered what it was I was meant to do I would stop worrying about how I’d been wasting my life. And I worried a lot—a product of the belief that pursuing your dreams will result in contentment.

Let me dissolve that notion now: it doesn’t. I know today that this belief is about as bedrock as a loose kite on a beach. In retrospect, what I wish someone had told me while I was young was to not follow my dreams and instead have shown me how to choose a direction and the virtue of committing to it.

Today I am looking from my bedroom window upon dense, grey skies and a palette of green trees sprouting from the city of Portland’s soil. I’m thirty, eons from when I dreamed of being a dentist. My dog, Jack, is noting my slow movements inquisitively from his motionless, spread-legged position on my bed. It’s kind of funny. I am noting the sounds from the highway nearby and the indiscernible voices of my neighbors. I am silent save for my arms across my desk with their palms resting upon my laptop and fingers punching keys. Click. Click. Click click click.

I am amazed at how it is that I have come to live in this city. In short, I was twenty-nine, tired of my job, and in need of a new dream to pursue. This time it was: Becoming an Author, the Final Frontier! But a funny thing happened. I found that the gas in my dream tank was burning up quicker than normal. Within two months I was already regretting my decision. Tired of pursuing the author dream (likely because I was realizing how much work it would be), I actually almost packed it up and came right back home.

But right around that time I met someone. I realized quickly that I enjoyed getting to know her, and shortly thereafter we started dating, and soon after that we were going on trips and meeting each other’s friends and flying across the country to meet each other’s families. I only mention this because I never planned on pursuing any dreams of love in Portland. I was here to be an author. Yet with openness came love for another that I’d never felt before. This experience seemed like an omen; it felt like a chance to change the way I pursue my dreams.

When there came a point in the relationship to make a decision, I knew I wanted it to be made differently than previous pursuits in my life. For example, when I decided to stop being a pastor after college it was because it was hard to not feel respected or worthwhile (for the record, these are not good reasons to become a pastor). This time, though, instead of deliberating over whether she was “the one” or if I should hold out for someone else, I decided I was going to make a decision, and now, a year after meeting her, I’m happy to report that in less than a month she’ll be my wife.

Based on my experience, it almost seems a paradox that by committing I finally feel more content, but I’m fine with that. Today I’d say that by finally committing to a choice I am finally living the dream. Imagine that!

To Make It Happen Now, Or To Make It Happen Well: Revising My Book and My Life, PART TWO


This is the second part of two posts. I recommend you read the post I wrote just prior before moving on to this one.

Allowing a book, or any external event, to represent something as hefty as entering into a new chapter of life puts an extreme amount of pressure upon its success. Lately, I’ve begun to wonder: What if the book doesn’t fulfill my dreams and what if I still feel like my life is full of fear and wandering?  I wonder if I’ve allowed the publication of my writing to define me; I wonder: has WE WERE LIKE SONS become a little god? Continue reading “To Make It Happen Now, Or To Make It Happen Well: Revising My Book and My Life, PART TWO”

To Make It Happen Now, Or To Make It Happen Well: Revising My Book and My Life, PART ONE


This is the first part of two posts. The second part will be published shortly. Stay tuned!

Six summers ago I rode my bicycle across America with my friend Les. It was a life-changing adventure. I remember exactly where I was when I knew not just that I wanted to write a book about it, but that I needed to. Continue reading “To Make It Happen Now, Or To Make It Happen Well: Revising My Book and My Life, PART ONE”

Ten Bucks to Meet a Writer

He approached the register. “Yes sir,” I said. “Can I help you with anything?”
He said he was borrowing his daughter’s bike for the week and that it was making funny noises and not shifting right. His accent came from his side of the country. The way he wore his glasses and how said “I’ll give ya ten doll-ahs” made me think I was on the set of a Woody Allen movie. I pointed him over to our work station and came out from behind the register.
“See the way it don’t shift,” he said, pointing at his rear wheel’s cassette.
I’d placed his bike on the repair stand. I’d kneeled and looked at his derailure to make sure it wasn’t bent. I flexed his thumb shifters across each gear and found the problem. Slight adjustment needed to the limit screws—a ten-second fix. “See these two, tiny screws?” I said, pointing with a fine tipped screwdriver.
He leaned in. “Uh huh, oh right. Yeah I see ‘em.”
“Just need a slight adjustment, that’s all. Have you on the road in no time,” I said, beginning to turn the screws a quarter turn until I felt his gears fall into the right place. Bike fixed.
“So you must be some kinda racer judgin’ by the size of those calfs,” he pointed at my legs.
“I wish,” I said. “I just commute by bike. Haven’t owned a car in years. Maybe three or four years.”
“It’s betta’ by bike, wouldn’t you say?”
“It is. I love it too.”
“Betta’ for the environment, betta’ for the roads, betta’ for ya health.”
“That’s right, sure is.”
“You know, I always wish I’d done more about the environment. I’m a retired journalist. Always wish I’d of cared a little more. My kids they went to the West coast. Son in L-A, dwoughta here in Portland. I’m trying to get more in touch with my progressive side, I really am. I’m thinking about moving out this way now, seeing as how all the kids they wanted to get the hell off the East coast soon as they could and all.”
“L-A,” I say, nodding.
“Oh yeah, son was living downtown, one of those posh lofts. Paying something crazy. Something like twenny-two hunded doll-ahs for a studio downtown. Says he can’t even ride his bike anywhere. Says it’s getting betta though.”
“Oh I bet. I lived there in downtown before I lived here.”
“Oh so you know! You know what I’m twalkin’ about. What bwought you here then, to Portland I mean?”
“I’m actually here to study writing, actually. Taking some classes, trying to learn the craft. You know.”
“No kiddin’ eh. What kinda writing?”
“Well, I’ve thought about journalism actually, but I’d like to be a fiction writer. I don’t know though. There’s a lot I’d like to do. I’m writing a memoir right now about a bike trip I took actually, from L-A to New York.”
“No kiddin’ again. Hey now, tell me the truth, did ya take it easy, enjoy the ride, or did ya do it up all fast like the young guys.”
“Fast. Too fast actually. I only wish I wouldn’t have wanted to take that job I had lined up, or to be home with that girlfriend I had. I was twenty-three. I was so young.”
“I know it, I know it. I bet you flew that bike across, got home and wanted to get right back out there.”
“That’s right, I did.”
“So you’re here now. You’re a bike man. You’re becoming a writah. Hey let me tell you a couple pieces of advice. This is coming from my journalism perspective okay. Best writers are journalists anyway, you know. Don’t let ‘em tell you different!”
“I bet. Those deadlines. I bet!”
“Tell you a story. The day I wanted to be a writah, you know what I did? I found a newspaper. I found the firm’s address and I walked right in and took the elevatah up to the fourth floor. I walked in and looked the receptionist dead in the eye, I said, ‘Hi, my name is Bud, I’m a writah, and I’m good. I want to speak to your editah right now.’ As luck would have it, the editah’s office door was open and there he was with his feet up on the desk looking at me. He says to the receptionist, ’Send him in!’”
“No way!”
“I’m tellin’ ya, resume’s don’t mean shit in this industry. You send a resume to a magazine, a newspaper or whatever, and you might as well have never tried. Those go to H-R and those folks are only looking for people wantin’ to follow the rules. They want clean-cut, by-the-book individuals who’ll stay in line. They don’t know what a writah is. But they get so many applicants they hardly have time to call anyone. Go straight to the editor, tell him what I did. Tell him you’re good. What the hell do ya have to lose anyway? Get up the courage, get that confidence up, muster it from somewhere, even if you don’t have it. Tell ‘em to give you a shot. Watch what happens.”
“So you just… I mean just get the confidence. Get it and stand in front of the people who know the craft, who know the business. And just tell ‘em.”
“Exactly. Like I say, what do you got to lose? Look, in the writing world it’s hard, and you gotta be brave and sure. You gotta know what you’re saying. The world is reading what you say. You’re the authority. Believe in yourself, kid. Okay, here’s one more thing: find the watering hole. You wanna succeed as a writah? Find the writahs. Go up to the Oregonian building, go right up to the door and then stop and turn around. Look up and down the street and find the bar. Go in the bar and order up a beer and wait. Just wait ’til you see someone. Start asking questions to everyone until you find a writah. When you find him, tell him you’re a writah and that you want to learn from him. And there you have it, you’ve made a contact. Somebody knows you now, a foot in the dwoor. Then email him. Journalists are obligated to respond to every email.”
“Really? Is that right? Every email?”
“Every, damn, email, even if it’s an auto-response that says they’re outta town. It’s their job to respond. Email the one you know. He’ll write you back. Make human contact in this industry and you’ll go far, trust me on this one.”
“Wow, I… I don’t know what to say.”
“Hey, look kid. Name’s Bud.”
“Bud, I’m Aaron. Nice to meet you.”
“Take this ten doll-ahs.”
“No, Bud. No way. Seriously I didn’t do anything, the bike is great.”
“Aaron, look. Don’t insult me. I’m a journalist. I get insulted all the time. Look, take the money, buy yourself a beer. First one’s on me. Go find the writahs. Go find them and in the meantime just keep writing. That’s all you need to do.”

A Thief Foiled By A Sacrificial Lamb–A Bike Lock

From touring across America to touring across the street to Safeway, I’ve put more than 15,000 miles on my Surly. I don’t say that to brag. I say that to emphasize the terror I felt in seeing a thief try to ride away with her last night.

2013-10-25 09.29.30 I’d arrived at my girlfriend Ashley’s house on SE 28th Place a little after 9pm. The night felt unusually dark—an addition to the literal and ever-present darkness of canopying tree cover. Older streets in Portland like 28th Place tend to be overgrown and well-shaded by Evergreen and Douglas Fir, giving them a very typical northwestern homeyness and burrowing charm.

I unwound a combination lock that I was borrowing from work on account of losing my Kryptonite u-lock and cable. I passed it around a tree and brought its ends together after pulling it snug through my rear wheel and my frame. The front wheel will be fine, I thought. I’ll only be here for a bit.

To say Ashley was having a hard week at work would be like calling Mt. Everest a hard hill to climb. She is a mental health therapist seeing four times as many clients that a typical therapist sees, a recent repercussion ailing public health facilities like hers brought on by the Affordable Care Act. I wrapped my arms around her and we sat for a few moments in silence. She exhaled and began to share what little she was allowed to. Without knowing the vocabulary, nor what it’s like to carry several dozen people’s psychological trauma, I was helpless to offer anything more than my ears and calm presence.

About thirty minutes later I whispered a prayer for her with my arms still firm around her body. She held her eyes shut. I used my index finger to sweep away two tears from her face. We sat in silence again for another five minutes until, outside, I heard rustling.

I figured one of Ashley’s neighbors was locking his or her bike to a tree just as I had. It was a relief to think that others felt safe enough to lock their bikes to the trees outside their homes in this neighborhood. I rose to see who it was, thinking I might have a talking point with one of them later. To my surprise, I only found one bike (my Surly) and one other person. I leapt to my feet, snapped the deadbolt unlocked and threw the door open. Before my eyes stood not a neighbor but a man in a black and red ball cap, jeans, a dark sweater, and the arms of a rusty pair of cable cutters draped over his left forearm. His legs being too short to fit the height of my bike, he looked frantic and unstable as he was attempting a get-away.

“HEY!” I yelled, the level of my voice rising with the milliseconds within the second it took to yell the word. I’d yelled too loud, probably, surprising myself and tricking my adrenaline into jolting into light-speed. My bike wobbled more beneath the man, my B17 Brooks saddle swaying like a head upon a stiff man’s neck. It felt like watching a thief trying to ride away with my helpless teenage daughter. I was beginning to burn with indignation. “HEY!” I yelled again. I sprang from the porch running.

“Don’t you f***ing run up on me like that,” the thief called.

“I’m not running up on you,” I yelled, obviously lying and sprinting right up to his side. It was then that I noticed he was unable to get away. Something was stuck in the rear wheel, impeding it from rotating. His cable cutters still dangled on his arm and both feet were now firmly planted over my bike—his body right above my bike gave her a vulnerable and lifeless look that I grimaced at.

“Come on, man,” I said, not knowing what else to reason with, and not actually knowing what I would do if the thief were to drop my bike, grip his cable cutters with both hands and take a swing at me. He might be packing, I suddenly thought. Sh*t—am I about to fight this guy? Would I even fight him if he swung at me?

To my surprise, the thief kept his ball cap low and made no eye contact. His hands eased up on my Surly’s neck and handlebars.

“Come on, man,” I said again, this time quieter and taking a step closer. Without knowing it, I was negotiating, my arms limp at my sides. “This is my bike. You’re taking my bike, man.”

He looked me in the eyes for the first time. He was frozen and, apparently, conflicted. I’d seen frightened thieves, angry thieves and careless thieves, but I’d never seen a conflicted thief in my life. He exhaled and closed his mouth and then said reluctantly, “Okay.” He dismounted and guided my Surly toward me. I picked her up, turned, and carried her back up the sidewalk toward Ashley’s house.

From the street I could hear muttering, stuttering one-liners. But I didn’t care. He could skulk around out in front as long as he’d wanted. I snapped the deadbolt locked again, still holding my bike in the air with my other arm like a frantic father just arriving at the ER.

She wasn’t moving, her rear wheel paralyzed. I looked closer and found a cleanly snipped cable that refused to free my bike; instead of lying lifeless like a severed limb upon the grass by the tree outside, the cable caught itself up into an increasingly tighter wind, like a last-ditch effort to protect my bike. After catching my breath and hugging a now wild-eyed Ashley, ensuring her I was safe, I, like a surgeon, cautiously removed the scapegoat cable. I slid the correct numbers into sequence and pulled it apart as it was meant to be broken. I held both sides of the lock in either hand and, after studying it, held it at eye level.

Well, I thought, comically reflecting on how I was about to give an inanimate bicycle lock my appreciation. The Surly and I live on; you definitely did your job, lock. Thank you.

The Season I Fell In Love

During the Fall of 2010 I fell in love. It was silly how easy it was. Crazy even: a short drive, a salesman, a point, a swipe, a contract, a lifestyle. Stepping out of the retail store with a bag around my wrist and it in my palms, I felt like I was just handed the holy grail. Beams of light seemed to radiate from it. Its fragility juxtaposed with my wild inability to keep my desires contained; I wanted to look at it all day long, my focus captive as a beetle in a glass jar.

I didn’t give it a name, but I did believe its delicacy meant it was a she, and that I needed to take good care of her.

She was simple enough to understand, and she could do everything. My blood pressure seemed to decrease with each new thing I learned she could do. My life would finally be organized, I thought, and pools of knowledge, social interaction and game-play were finally at my finger tips. That night I held her face close to mine and we stared at each other for hours. My body had scarce been this attracted to anything before, my mind never before so enthralled, and my heart never so quickly in love.

The next day I took her to work with me because I was too excited to leave her in my bag or in my car. I had, after all, created a space for her just below my computer screen between my stack of post-its and paperclip holder. We watched each other all day, just as the evening before, and we held each other more often than I’d done with any others before her.

Needless to say, during that Fall season, I accomplished a significantly smaller amount of work than normal.

On Meeting Bill Kulchin

August, 2013

Medium height. Thin. Jeans, a white collar, a navy blazer. He had old red hair that was recently cut. He stood in front of my display holding his chin like he was looking at Rembrandt.

“I love it,” he said, walking over.
“Are you the designer?”
“No. Just wholesale and office work.”
“Gotta start somewhere, right?”
“I’m Bill,” he said, handing me his card. “I do apparel insurance.”
I’d never heart heard of such a thing. I turned his card over. It read: KULCHIN ROSS INSURANCE SERVICES.
“Are you out of L.A.?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Downtown near the fashion district.”
“Gladys avenue,” he says. “I know the area.” He’d picked up a card of mine from a stack on the stand in front me. They were next to another stack of half-sheet informational cards, and a stack of line sheets that still smelled like ink and wood, hours off the press.
“Oh yeah, are you local to downtown?”
“My office is there.” He studied my card. “A writer.”
“Ha. Yeah.”
He pointed at the card and read aloud: “Writer and operations.” He paused. “What does that mean?”
“Oh you know, I do office management and oversee wholesale. And I write.”
“Is that what you’d want to do?”
“What. Writing?”
He nodded.
“Oh man, I’d write day and night if I could.”
He seemed to watch me, crunching the edges of my card between his finger tips. “Oh,” he said.
I shifted my weight.
“Well that’s what you gotta do then.”

Take Two

Portland, OR

In three and a half weeks I am going on an adventure: I am moving back to Portland.

If you didn’t already know that, now you do. About a month ago, I was accepted to Portland State University as a post-baccalaureate student with the intent of transferring into the M.A. in Writing the following year. I will begin taking my first classes this fall. Honestly, I’m pumped (more on those specifics another time).

On May 1st, I will be picking up a rental car, swamping it with my stuff, and swinging through LA to pick up Les before heading north. As it always has, we expect the road to teach us lessons and tell us stories. With a rental car with unlimited miles, the table seems pretty well set.

If you’ve ever driven toward Northern CA, Oregon, or Washington, then you know there are at least three main routes: US-101/1, I-5, and US-395. Allow me to indulge you for a moment:

IMG_4002 101/1 is Steinbeck land, followed by wine-country and the forest where George Lucas filmed the chase scene of Endor in Return of the Jedi. It is like looking at a picture for 15 hours, and it is no wonder it is known as one of America’s best road trips (or bike rides) in the world. It is Redwoods for days. It is marked by length, winding roads, mist and rain, and absolute beauty.

I-5 passes through cities you’ve probably never heard of (Los Banos, Maxwell, or Yreka ring a bell? I didn’t think so), and if you have then it was because your gas tank was below E or you had a hankering for a three-day old convenience store hot dog. On the bright side, if you’ve ever needed to get somewhere fast in California, then you’ve likely taken I-5. Straight as an arrow with plenty of farmland, the color brown, and cow pie stench to go around.

US-395 is by far the road less traveled, in fact I’ve never heard of anyone taking this route further than Tahoe. I’m guessing it is because it seems longer and less inhabited, which perhaps the latter is true, but in terms of distance it is only 40 miles longer than I-5. From Santa Clarita, two roads diverge: one is I-5, and the other leads NE toward Lancaster and eventually highway 395. Unique to this route is that from the foothills of the Sequoia’s until you reach Klamath Falls, Oregon (approximately 800 miles), you spend most of the time a couple thousand feet above sea level.

We’ll drive one of the above routes. Or at least it’ll start out that way. I’ve ridden my bike and driven in cars up and down Highway 1 before, and I’d do it again without hesitation. An indescribable serenity exists in its wild, wet tree-canopy forests. I’d live there someday even. I-5 sounds akin to being dragged by my ankles out the back of a car all the way to Portland. So that’s out (okay, it’s not so bad after Redding, which is two-thirds of the trip). That leaves US-395, or at least pointing the car in that direction and seeing what happens. There’s ample time to stop and smell the flowers, and when I think about it, that’s what I want this three-day adventure to be about: just kind of seeing what happens.

I’m turning a new page, trying out new opportunities, dipping my legs into fresh water. I’ve been to Portland before, but it makes sense this time to travel along a new route. It’ll parallel the other routes, and in this scenario all roads lead to Portland, but not all that’s worth gleaning comes with arrival. This journey is not about the destination. Nor will the next three years be.

If I learned anything from the last time I lived in Portland, any shred of wisdom, it was that I put far too much pressure upon a city to meet my needs. Sure, it was a great time, and I did plenty of new things. But it should be no surprise that after four months and several thousand dollars I was right back in Orange County spinning my wheels again. That, I think, is what happens when you grant authority of your heart to a destination. Places never come through; none are better, only different. I don’t expect this next move to blow me away, though I do hold my hand open to it. I just kind of want to see what happens.

When I get to Portland I’m going to write about Les and my road trip. I’ll recall some of our topics of conversation, sights of mountain peaks and desert planes, smells, tastes, etc. Then I’m going to post it. It’ll be pretty raw and unedited, because a friend mentioned that my writing is more interesting when it’s raw (or at least how I understood it). I hope you’ll join me in reading.

Skipping Between Tenses: a journal entry about moving

February 5, 2014

When I moved from Fullerton to Los Angeles in April of 2013 I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to move back. It was a resolving feeling to drive away from my old apartment, like kicking the dirt off my shoes and pointing my eyes upon the road ahead. It would be dirty, weathered, older, but it would still be in operation. The road would lead me along alright, because that’s what Los Angeles does. It brings people in.

Les and I didn’t know what to talk about that night as we drove from Fullerton to Los Angeles. Sometimes with your best friends you don’t need to have words to say. We looked at the blurring city lights and freeway signs just like we always had when we’d commute in to work. They weren’t different, but they were a little more ours, because we were moving in among them. We were part of the city now too.

The train goes up and the train goes down, gently. I am in the second car from the locomotive, the bike car, as it always was. My bike strapped to the railings downstairs, and I with my feet across the seat in front of me (not allowed), sitting above in the second-story passenger area. The car has 52 seats and there are 12 of us. We are feeling the rumble of steel wheels upon the track, up and down. Gentle.

I’ll probably ride my old route when I get in to Union Station. Spring Street, over the 101, through downtown, left on sixth, through skid-row, right on Stanford. Home. Or, work. But work has always been my other home. My Los Angeles home.

In July of 2013 I was traveling. I flew to Pennsylvania and road-tripped back to California with my brother. Then, I flew to Boston and drove to Burlington for a week with my old high school friends. It was our ten-year reunion, and we chose to make memories on a farm playing games, looking at animals, and drinking beer. And we did. When I came home, to Los Angeles, I told myself I was home. This is just it, I thought. This is were I live. This is it. I looked from my apartment rooftop across the evening skyline at buildings shooting heavenward. I watched airplanes arrive at LAX. One every minute, I’d surmised. There were no clouds in the sky, only empty blackness. I’d wait and watch the planes and the buildings like something was going to happen. But nothing ever really did.

Living with Carl has been brief but relieving. At least I have a place to call home. It’s a 600-square foot studio back house with an oft-not working bathroom faucet and a backdoor that gets jammed every time it is closed too hard. The neighbors are quiet; I’ve met none of them. The library across the street has never been open when I’ve been home. Carl’s friends come over and I say hello. They drink wine and talk about playing Smash Brothers while I look at the walls and wonder where my story will lead now; I wonder if it will be below the crown-molding of another set of walls somewhere else, in some other city, in another time, with different people.

When I was mailed paperwork stating that my rent would rise I knew it was a sign. The foot-traffic in downtown Los Angeles has been on the rise too. Call it from God or just the way things happen (because maybe some things just happen sometimes), but I knew I couldn’t even afford what I was already paying. I looked down at the concrete floors, poured and glazed in an artistically industrial fashion for me to walk on, representing my rent dollars. My over-sized windows (my favorite part) breezing the evening air. I felt indignant, if even only slightly, because I knew the time to say goodbye was near, and I knew that for this place and many like it in Los Angeles, the price was simply too high. Guys like me that are interested in bleeding the color of LA but can’t because we can’t afford the rent.

I can still see the skyline from the train as I ride. The US Bank tower stands above the western United States as a beacon of something (of what I’m still not sure). The other towers are its sisters, looking up at her like one day they might stand for something just as tall. There are gaps between those towers, however, and I know that given the rising cost of living, the new fleets of parking sharks, and the whelming programs to clean up the streets, that soon bigger things will move in. The US Bank tower will not be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River forever. It might become the third, fourth, or fifth tallest. This is, after all, the era that Los Angeles is trying to rebuild itself. LA might finally be a place for people to stay.

The first months after my arrival I did little to settle in. Les and I were like our rolled out sleeping mats on the apartment floor: unmade and carefree. We worked down the street, and we did little more than move boxes in and fall asleep and rise for work. That’s how the production life is in the handmade apparel industry. If it’s not rushing fabric to a cut and sew house or shirts to a screen-printer, then it is brainstorming fresh ideas, showing samples at trade shows, or moving product at street shows. That’s how the startup life is too: trying on hats and wearing them to bed.

Delani and I drank beer and ate reheated ribs on top of a box in the middle of the living room. Like the first few months of living there, my bed was again upon the floor, the walls empty, the dishes all in boxes, and my clothes on hangars stuffed into the trunk of my car. We played guitar after we ate and opened another beer each. Les was in Chicago applying for grad schools, living his dream, and Delani (the other roommate) and I were sweeping the floors and spackling holes to try to muster up some security deposit money. I’ll need it to buy food in Fullerton for the next month, I thought, and Delani will need it for food money in Portland, where he’s moving next month. I tossed a clean rib to Jack wondering if he’d lick it, chew it, or break it and swallow it. Probably all three in succession. He sat there and I said, good boy. He looked at the rib earnestly, and I wondered how long Jack could live with my parents while I’d be with Carl. Jack is family, and so is Carl. But Carl says the apartment is too small for Jack, so I won’t push it.

I’d love to move in for three months, I said to Carl one night in January. He said, sure man. Stay as long as you need, or want. I had expected him to say this. I planned on it when I called him, actually. I didn’t have a backup plan either. I was sitting at the apartment in Los Angeles, not knowing what an empty version of that place would look like a month later. I was thinking, and praying, here and there throughout my last days, and the thought of three months came up. I don’t know how or when, but it did, and I went with it, taking it maybe as a sign from God again. Three months, I’d heard myself start to say to friends. But why? I’d wonder. Or better, for whom?

My first month of riding the train, in 2012, I would un-velcro my bike lights from my seat post and handlebars and lock my bike to the railing with my cable. Then I would sit nearby and inadvertently watch people board, wondering if they’d look at my bike, and why. It was a commuter line into Los Angeles, so how sure could I be? They were normal people working normal jobs with normal ideas and temptations, but my Dad had a number of wallets lifted on buses in Los Angeles. It was a feeling in my gut that began leaping into my throat if my gaze got too far from my bike. Paranoia: welcome to the big city.

Tyler and I were sitting on a knoll at the LA Historic park just north of downtown. We were at FYF, an indie music festival, and he insisted on buying me a beer. We were corralled between four long walls of six-foot high chain-link fence that they’d called a “beer garden,” forced to stare distantly at bands, or people, while I sipped. He didn’t seem to mind so I decided I wouldn’t either. He told me he needed me to step into a new position in the company. I need you to become the Wholesale Accounts Rep, he said. My stomach leaped, but I wasn’t sure why. Was it because I felt valued in the company enough to take on such a crucial responsibility? Or was it because I was unsure that I’d be up to the challenge, or that I even wanted to in the first place? He looked at me and I knew then that there was a reason he was asking me. There was something deeper going on. I told him that I would give it my best shot and he said, good, because I don’t know if you really had a choice. We laughed and I choked on a gulp of beer.

The first time I ever considered moving to Los Angeles was on that day at FYF. I stared off at the hillsides and saw houses built deep into them. I’d never noticed them before, nor had I noticed the century-old architecture, the winding and almost vertical residential roads of Echo Park, and Silver Lake. Anything could happen in those hills, I thought. I imagined the morning views and planting a garden, and most of all, writing novels from my writer’s shack. Yes, the first time I ever considered moving to Los Angeles was on that day.

Like the US Bank tower, I will stand and watch now from a distance. I will know it all but will no longer be called a native Angeleno. I might keep riding the train, up from Fullerton, and down from Los Angeles home, gently and on-schedule, and I’ll probably see the skyline from a few miles away each time and wonder whom Los Angeles wants to call its people. I thought last July that it was I, but I found in February of the next year that it wasn’t. At least, for now, that sounds about right.