I think it was the summer of ’96. If it wasn’t ’96, then it was ’97. I’m almost positive it wasn’t ’95. Either way, I was in my early 20s, working in the lodge at Singing Hills Golf Resort for $8 p/hr. This may have been after I got promoted to Front Desk Manager, given a raise to $10 p/hr, and a $200 company-financed spending spree at Men’s Wearhouse to get me some decent clothes. My tie/dress shirt/dress pants outfit to that point had been stuff I’d been able to grab from thrift stores. I was no longer making $5.75 p/hr working the overnight shift at 7-11, no longer commuting from my $175 p/mo house in Tecate.
The only real ambition I had back then was to play in a band, but it was hard to find people who wanted to be in a band with me. Hell, it was hard to find people who wanted to be in a room with me.
Before this devolves too far down Memoir Boulevard, I should probably get to the point. In 1996, Jewel Kilcher, known to the radio as Jewel, had a string of hits that was three songs long. The story went she had gotten discovered by an Atlantic Records rep while playing this coffee house in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego. The place was called Javanican (rhymes slightly with Comic-Con), and according to the SD alt-weekly, Javanican had open-mike nights every Tuesday. I had an acoustic guitar. I had some songs I had written. With a little luck, maybe I could be the next Jewel.
So I guess this story takes place in 1996.
The last time I had performed in front of an audience was in 8th grade when we were assigned to memorize a poem. I picked Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” because his was the only book of poetry my dad had in his apartment. When the day came, I got up in front of the class and totally blanked. The teacher kept feeding me lines, but it was hopeless. I failed the assignment. I decided to bring a notebook along to have in front of me.
Javanican was smaller than I expected. You could maybe squeeze 40 people in there, and 20 of them wouldn’t have a place to sit. A few other people signed up for the open mike. I remember one guy did America’s “Ventura Highway” and Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” At the end of the night, the guy who ran the open-mike asked me if I wanted to be a featured artist next month. I asked him what that was. “You get an hour set every Tuesday night.” Do I get paid? “You get free coffee.”
And that’s the story of how I first started drinking coffee.
It’s also the story of how I met Shirley. I don’t remember Shirley’s last name, but she worked Tuesday nights at Javanican. She had moved out to California from Cape Cod a year earlier, and now lived in Pacific Beach with her roommate Samantha. Shirley told me she liked my songs, and we should hang out sometime. It wasn’t because of any love attraction. It turned out Shirley was extremely lonely. The first time we hung out, she played this song for me, and told me she had listened it to it for several hours in a row the day before. I was not what you would call a Ben Harper fan, but this song sounded good to me then, and it still sounds good to me now.
I was talking to my friend Steve one day, and he thought hanging out in Pacific Beach sounded cool, especially seeing as how Shirley had a roommate. The four of us–all of our names beginning with the letter S–hung out a few times. Even though Steve had a girlfriend, he hooked up with Sam a few times. I’m remembering now that Samantha worked at a bead store in PB called, I think, Just Beads. It didn’t last. None of it lasted. The four S’s, my burgeoning folk career, the bead store. I have no idea what happened to Shirley. She called me up one time and asked if I would drive her up to LA, because she had never been there and wanted to see it. We drove around, but had no idea where to go, or what we even wanted to do. We just listened to the radio as we drove. She told me she had lived in Washington DC for a year, supporting herself by buying jeans at thrift stores and re-selling them to vintage boutiques in the area. Two years later, I would leave San Diego to go to college in Boston. The last meal I ate was a chicken dinner Steve made me.
From age 21 to 25, I lived alone. The first time was in Plains, Georgia while I was working at this factory in nearby Americus. My grandmother had been driving across the country with my aunt and nephew when the car hit a puddle and flipped off the road. My grandmother died instantly, but the other two passengers were fine. A couple dozen relatives showed up for the funeral, and after they left, it was just me in this old southern gothic house for the next several months. Even with the crickets screaming outside my window every night, it’s still the quietest house I’ve ever lived in. At the end of the summer, I headed back home to San Diego.
When I finally found a job, and a place to live, it was in this room a fanatical christian guy named Gary had built in his backyard. After a year, I moved to Tecate and lived in a two-bedroom stucco bungalow with no heat or A/C. At the time of my Javanican debut, I was renting a room in the basement of a house in Crest, a neighborhood outside of El Cajon, which is a city outside of San Diego. I liked the Crest house because it was up on a mountain, and I had a view of the valley beneath me. I found this record in a thrift store for a dollar, and it felt very dramatic listening to it in that Crest house.
After I got promoted to Front Desk Manager, I got my own apartment in the La Quinta apartments on Washington Ave. in El Cajon, two apartment complexes up the road from the complex I had lived in with my dad, and later my mom, while I was in high school. Dad was apartment #17, mom was #4. I had to leave La Quinta after I got fired from Singing Hills for, and this is a quote from my termination letter, “playing solitaire on the computer and being sarcastic with co-workers.” The guy that fired me is now a real estate agent and fervent Trump supporter. Here’s a picture of him.
The “about me” on his website reads:
Exceptional service… a phrase that’s spoken often, but in truth it’s seldom delivered. But that is exactly what you will receive when you choose to work with me. I work almost exclusively with buyer’s helping them fulfill their dream of finding the right home at the right price. I invite you to review my client comments here on Zillow as well as on my website (www.HomeTeam-SanDiego.com).
Whether you’re in the early stages of determining if taking the next step is right for you or if you’ve already made a committment to purchasing a home and are just looking for the “right agent” I will welcome your call!
I moved to a place near downtown San Diego called The Hawthorne Inn, a former hotel that was now essentially a flop house–all men, mostly older, usually alcoholic, on social security or disability, community bathroom, no kitchen. But it was affordable, and close to my new job at a Courtyard by Marriott ($8.25 p/hr). I lived there for six months or so until I heard a friend named Aaron Mars was looking for a roommate. It was in La Mesa, right near I-8. I had been to a few parties at the house. It had cool rusted-red shag carpeting. It was the same price as the Hawthorne Inn. I lived there until I left for Boston.
With the exception of a month I spent living in a green riverside cabin in Athens, Georgia, I haven’t lived alone since The Hawthorne Inn. But I haven’t forgotten how long the days are, how much time there is to fill. I used to spend hours sitting in Jack In The Box reading a book. Lurking around thrift stores, and cheap record stores, used book stores. All the time in the world. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. I wasn’t lonely. Or if I was, I didn’t realize it. I was definitely way more comfortable back then in a room by myself than in a room filled with other people. Even my past 20-ish years of co-habitation were because of economic necessity or romantic involvement, and not some need for human contact.
All of this is a way of saying that I think a lot right now about people who are living alone. I think of how, for me anyway, being able to go out was a way to fill the time. And I think of how people can’t really do that now . I think of how you can wake up, eat a bowl of cereal, read for six hours–apx. 300-350 pages or so–and still have eight more hours before it’s time to go to sleep. And while I can understand logically the vast species-wide benefit of nobody leaving their house, I can also understand the impulsive need to simply get the fuck out of one’s space–out of one’s head, out of one’s self, out of one’s thoughts. I think of all the different ways this virus has affected people, all the different burdens we each have to carry, and I wonder what it’s like to be living alone right now.
I live with a wife and a child. Back when my wife was just my girlfriend, we lived together in a big, moldy green house, and one winter I was feeling a little stir-crazy. I thought back on those days when I lived alone and could go wherever I wanted without having to tell someone when I was going to be home. I felt constricted, confined, obligated. I talked it over with her, and she suggested I take a couple of days off from work and just go do whatever. Drive around. Stay in a hotel. Whatever. She’s pretty smart like that.
So I drove across the border into South Carolina, and did what I used to do when I had endless hours to fill. I went to a thrift store. I poked around. It was boring. Oh yeah. I remember doing this. I did it for years. I got some food. I took my time. I read a book.
It took me about five hours to realize that I had gotten pretty much everything I could out of being alone. I wasn’t missing anything at all. It helped that the person I lived with–and still live with–was/is pretty fantastic.
If you have a friend, or someone you love, who’s alone right now, today is a good day to pick up the phone and call them. Seriously. The phone call is coming back. We’ve been doing it. It’s fun. Because if anyone was ever lonely before all of this, imagine how lonely they must be feeling right now.