I wasn’t to know it at the time, but this may have been one of the most significant transitional years of my life, right up there with 1989, when I left Ireland, or 1992, when I came to college.
First, a clarification – I’ve been referring to each of these “years” as if they were 12 months, which isn’t really true. Leases are 12 months, but generally I didn’t leave until a month or two after the expiration. At the 2-bedroom, I tried hard to stay, but couldn’t do it by myself (I just got a notice in the mail saying they’re buildinga whole new deal at that place – hope that doesn’t mean tearing it all down and rebuilding, as neighborhood noise will be significant if so).
Okay. 1998. La Mirada apartments.
Everyone always asks you to spell “La Mirada.” Even when you consciously say it as phonetically as possible (“LAH…MIH, RADAH”). Much of my mail still ended up addressed to “Lamarata Ave.”
The landlady seemed really cool. Her name was Armine, she wasn’t much older than me, and was from Eastern Europe somewhere. My previous landlady had turned really nasty as soon as I announced I was leaving, and Armine seemed a nice contrast. She gave me my pic of either an upstairs or downstairs place. I chose downstairs, figuring no stairs = good. In hindsight, I’d have gone with upstairs. Tell you why in a bit.
The place – small, but with an illusion of more space than was there. A divided main room/kitchen, and a small passageway to the narrow bathroom. I think it was shower only, but I forget. With only one main window facing inward to the courtyard, the place felt a bit like a cave, which was a vibe I liked.
Unfortunately, Armine stopped being the landlady at a certian point. I think either management changed, or she started dating one of the tenants. The new landlord was a Latino family man named Tino, who barely spoke English. His family spoke no English at all, and Tino worked elsewhere during the day. This was not helpful if there was ever a problem.
And then there was John Margala. A tall, skinny white guy with a ponytail, possibly some American Indian blood, who swept and raked the courtyard. I don’t know if he was formally hired or not, but I assume he didn’t do it for nothing. He’d often be sleeping in a sun-chair out by the pool during the day — this because he stayed up insanely late every night (and this is me talking, so I mean INSANELY). And this was a problem, because he lived directly above me, and had really shitty taste in music.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that he loved Bryan Adams and ’80s hair metal, he seemed to play it on a record player where he would repeatedly skip the needle back to his favorite parts of the song. Think how annoying it is to hear the same song over and over again. Now imagine it’s just the most annoying PART of “Cuts like a knife” ["nah nah nah, nah nah NAHHH NAH NAH, na-na"] over and over again. At 4 a.m.
He also used to have raging arguments with his girlfriend. Sometime I’d bang on the ceiling with a broom. Eventually th a-hole started banging back.
I’ve not used full names in most of these accounts, because I haven’t wanted to hurt anybody. But John Margala was a bad neighbor, and I don’t care who knows it.
I was still at the Sunset 5 when I started in the new place, but Matt King had moved on to work for an online toy retailer (whom I won’t name, because they honestly might level a frivolous lawsuit. Suffice it to say they are not major players). Neither Matt nor his employers knew as much as I did about toys, and they offered me a trial run around December ’98, paid in toys. Most of those toys didn’t materialize; I was soon to find that the boss talked big and seldom delivered. But when they offered me more per week than the Sunset, I took it.
Basically, we were what is known as “toy scalpers.” We’d buy stuff at K-B, or at toy shows, jack up the prices 100%, and sell them over eBay, which was an emerging new site at the time. The boss new a lot of other scalpers who’d give him stuff at cheap prices, though he gradually burned his bridges with all of them.
I had to remind the boss about my paycheck every single week. it was more than the Sunset, but I felt bad about being in such a parasitic job. Working with Matt was the only fun thing about it, although we were also both greatly amused by a tired old guy in suspenders named Dave who would occasionally lie down on the floor, and smoked like a chimney.
I wouldn’t take it back, though, for this reason: While I was at that job, I learned how to use a PC, Excel, and the Internet. We take this stuff all for granted now, but since 1992 I had only used a Mac Classic II (which had cost $1500 in 1992 money). I had looked at some want ads and seen things like “Must be proficient in Microsoft Word and Excel.” I didn’t know what they were. Some of my friends in college had had Internet access, but never shared. In 1999, however, I bought my first PC, which was also my first DVD player. First DVD purchases? The Matrix and the South Park movie.
I had been writing movie reviews for Jaye’s self-published ‘zine Ateball, but grew frustrated that they didn’t come out as often as I personally would have wanted, and decided to start my own, featuring another column I originated in Ateball called “The Eternal Virgin’s Advice for the Lovelorn.” A few friends got excited about the zine, which was called KnifEdge; after four issues, the excitement died. But all four are preserved on this site’s “Comix” section, and I still have a box full of copies.
Our best experience with KnifEdge was attending the Alternative Press Expo, where we had a table. By we, I mean me and Brian (now webmaster #2), who wrote a column for it. I remember people thumbing through and getting all sracastic because I said BRIDE OF CHUCKY was “Genius.” The more things change…
My dad had recently remarried, and my brother Reuben was born in September of ’98. I took a vacation in early spring of 1999 back to see them, and decided that I would not be returning to the toy company when I got back. It was time, I thought, to start focusing all my energies into screenwriting and getting an agent. I figure if that was all I did, I could really make it happen.
First week back in Los Angeles, I pick up the New Times L.A., and see a large ad. “Film Critic Wanted.”