Monday, November 05, 2007

First Week at The Oakland Grotto

Today I went to my office in Oakland and finished out a week of isolated writing. The Grotto is a writers’ collective, and it’s expanded. I’ve been fortunate enough to land a sublet.

My novel is about rockstars and drugs and strippers and trailer trash and pimps and whores and elderly social security scamming drug mules. It’s about gun-toting, motorcycle revving insanity and it’s making me half crazy. The paradox is this: I’ve never taken drugs (besides prescribed) so I’m not familiar with the world of huffing, snorting, chopping, shooting, blowing or anywhere else your imagination can go. (Injecting your cock, check. Morphine suppositories, check.) I’ve been reading up on my Moteley Crue and other notorious rockstars and drug addicts. It’s sickening. I have a few rock star friends. I recently asked a few of them to tell me about their experiences and was shocked at what they told me about the sneakiness of it all. The up and up of the prescription drug addictions, and the nicknames for street drugs.

So imagine you’re me. You are, for some reason (maybe it’s an unresolved past life, a unspent teenage rebellion, the fact that I was raised Catholic) obsessed with drugs, but you are scared as fuck to ever take any. So all you do is write about them. It throws the “write about what you know” theory out the window. Now imagine you’ve cooped yourself up in an office, reading about habits, and paranoia, paraphernalia and strippers for hours on end. It’s fourth grade reading by glam rock stars who only have a quarter of their brain cells, but you have a feeling that a personal “informational interview” (although it could be arranged) would involve a mirror and a razor blade. Now imagine you’re thirsty. And you know there’s water downstairs, next to Mary Roach's (author of "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers") office, which may or may not be open.

If you have tea, you will have to pass her office. This will surely elicit a hello, and some type of friendly banter. You crave human conversation, but yesterday’s exchange was about cadavers and rotting flesh, so you don’t know if you can stomach another rendevous (you’re kind of sick to your stomach since reading about “bumping rails” off of a stripper’s ass). You walk downstairs and the door is open. You are wearing heels and they announce your entrance. It’s likely you have been heard. Great! Now you are paranoid! You don’t want to seem anti-social, so you head toward the microwave. (Never leave a microwave in a rockstars’ motel room, by the way, it will be used to cook crack-cocaine.) You’ve been so wrapped around your novel about DRUGS and SEX and ROCK and ROLL that you can’t figure out how to run the microwave. Yes, the microwave oven, that thing that’s been around since 1984.

You stand in front of the microwave that won't open. You start to freak out a little bit, and Mary appears, smiling, and asks about what you’re working on. You say, “I’m working on this story about these two characters born in poverty and drugs and they end up in rock and roll.” It sounds so low concept you may as well have told her you were working on a child's picture book. She smiles, supportive. She tells you about a celebrity event she’ll be attending. It’s a Zen event that she also attended last year, but this year she’ll be the celebrity guest speaker. She uses that word: Celebrity. You feel like a retard because you realize that you can’t get the microwave door open, and she tells you to pull on it and you do, but it still doesn’t open. So she pulls on it, and it opens. Of course. Celebrities!

Your tea is hot and your hands are burning. Seriously. You are getting third degree burns listening to her talk about this Zen event she will be attending later on for terminally ill senior citizens. You realize that you are smiling and she is talking about terminally ill patients. Terminally Ill! Smiling! (See Microwave Instruction Manual.)

She is such a lovely person, and her writing is so good. You have made a fool of yourself with the talk of sex and drugs and rock and roll, not to mention the stupid faces while she spoke of the terminally ill and then there was the fact that the microwave didn’t compute in seconds but gave a menu like “SOUP” or “PIZZA.” Well, what about “TEA while a CELEBRITY is STANDING NEARBY?” Didn’t think of that Mr. Toshiba Man?

Turns out you’re not done saying stupid things. If you knew this, you would have quit while you were ahead with the third degree burns on three of your fingers and a thumb. She asks you what rockstars you know, and you tell her. You think this will redeem you. You end up sounding like a name-dropper. Then she says, ‘Oh, my husband loves her!” and nod and say, “She’s great.” She asks how you know her, and you say that she has some of your art. You explain the heartwork movement but it just sounds new-agey and weird. And to top it all off, you can’t think or talk clearly because you’ve been isolated like a monk for seven hours in an office that kind of smells like mold and car exhaust, reading books about drugs. She asks you how old Rockstar is, and you say, about 50, I think. Then you talk about being on tour and say, “It would be really hard to be around a bunch of cokeheads, especially if you were going through menopause.”

She agrees, and you can hardly believe what has just come out of your mouth. Were you just talking about your Rockstar friend and Menopause? WTF? You decide it’s time to make a getaway, so you politely do.

You throw the tea away because it’s burning your fingers. You go to the bathroom and run your hand under cold water and can barely look at yourself in the mirror. But when you do, you mouth the words ROCKSTAR? MENOPAUSE? WTF?

You sit at your desk and you can’t get it out of your head. It reverberates in your brain because of the silence, it’s all you got going on. Your stupidty, her kindness. You decide to shine on and punch out the pages, and you do, getting back with the people who accept you as you are, like a three-legged puppy— your characters—the boozers and losers, the rockstars and derelicts. You leave the celebrities and terminally ill to people who know how to operate a microwave oven, in the real world.

1 comment:

Robert, therole@excite.com said...

Very interesting writing. I don't even know how I stumbled upon your blog, but it was entertaining to read the last post. :)

Heh... What are we doing up at this hour? (I'm in San Diego County, so, I'm on the West Coast too.)