Welcome back to the Saturday Special. Last week I had taken a flight out of LAX to return home after spring break in my senior year of HS. I was now the man of the house so to speak as it was just my mother, sister, and myself. Not that it really meant anything. For me, other than dad wasn’t there, nothing had changed. This was also the time that mom first started working at selling home improvement. The only real difference for her at that job was now she was trying to sell for another sales company. Remember for the future and past of these stories, mom never gave up her builder’s license. The arrangement with the company she was working for was they provide the job leads (by phone solicitation) and for the privilege, the owner of the company took 30% off the top of the contract price for payment. The problem with that then was, people still didn’t have money to have things done but, mom took any little job she could get. She didn’t really get the feel for selling home improvement for several months and this office was most definitely a man’s world. The only women there were the secretary and the solicitors.
During the rest of my time in HS, I went about my merry way. My main interest of course was getting to June, graduation day. I had previously joined up the the school Jazz band as the drummer. Some of the people in that band, I had gone through school with since we had moved into the house (see my post a couple weeks back about the folks building their house). A few of us had set up our own jazz combo and if I say so myself, we were quite good. For the most part, that is how I occupied the final few months of my HS career. I was never much of a student, had no intentions of going to college, and I guess you could say I just didn’t give a shit about it. I went to school mind you, did what I had to do to get a grade and graduate but to say my HS performance was lackluster would be generous. Bare minimum to pass.
My true passion at the time though? Country Music. I was going to be a country western star. Yep, I had the dream. I could play and sing some songs and I thought I’d be the next Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings. Actually it didn’t really matter what kind of music as long as I was a part of something big, preferably, country music. Just hold on to that for a bit.
Graduation day was nearing and it looked like dad wasn’t going to make it home for the big day. At least that’s what he had said. Certainly couldn’t afford to fly back. We had accepted that fact. Well, one day a couple days before graduation, there was a knock at the door. I answered it, and you guessed it, there stood dad. We had just talked to him a couple days earlier and according to him, he was still in California and wouldn’t make it home. I don’t remember now if or how we verified that but somehow, two days after that conversation, there he was, home. He said he drove all night and day and made the run in two and a half days. I’ll say one thing for certain, he damn sure didn’t stay at 55mph to do it if he did it in that amount of time. Either way, I was thrilled to see him, so was mom and sister. He wasn’t there to stay however, planned on going back a few days after graduation. I had tried to find a 9 to 5 here and with the economy in the crapper, none to be found. The one thing I did not want to do was work in a restaurant. I guess I could have gotten that kind of job but I didn’t want it. I made the decision to go back out to California after graduation only this time, the stay would be indefinite – for me.
The big day came and went. I was a free man only now if I wanted to do anything, I had to pay my own way so to speak. The folks didn’t kick me out mind you but they weren’t going to let me just sit on my ass and do nothing. The idea of my going out there was to use a connection my uncle had (friend’s wife) to get a job at Hughes Aircraft. It would have been a factory job, I’m sure I would have hated it but, the money sounded pretty good. Just like the other long list of California disappointments, that never panned out. At the time I was still delusional about what it might have been like to live in California.
We loaded the truck once again only this time, with musical instruments and some tools. Remember I said I was going to be a country star? Hold that thought some more. Dad and his brother had set up a shop, I couldn’t tell you exactly where it was now but it was near LA. They were making sandblasted redwood signs or rather uncle was. He was an airbrush artist and had spent probably the last 10 years doing things like murals on vans, tee shirts, and the like. One of his big venues each year was the Orange County Fair. The way these signs were made is on a slab or redwood, a pattern would be laid out on a rubber mask and cut out. Any exposed wood then sandblasted away digging into the grain of the wood. The mask would then be peeled away and uncle would do his thing with the airbrush. Really quite neat looking and he did some pretty spectacular work. I’ll give him that much.
Prior to coming home, dad and uncle had found a construction job finishing the inside of a record / music store in Irvine. Shortly after we got there, I would say a few weeks, Uncle decides it’s time to move out of the house he’d been in for the last 10 years (I think he lost the house to the bank). So they moved up to what amounted to an old shack that was converted into a newer shack. I’ll never forget this place, it was about half way between Lake Arrowhead (what a bunch of dbags in that place) and Big Bear. He also moved his sign gig up there. Truth be told, I don’t think he ever did very well at it, certainly not enough to live on. His wife was a law enforcement dispatcher and it was through her that we got this record shop job, down in the valley (as we called it). About the time that he moved up there, dad bought a truck bed camper. Enough for the two of us to live in, if there was a bathroom nearby. Now, when I say Live in, I mean, Live in. We were to stay down in OC to do this record store thing. Next to it was a pizza place, next to them was an aerobics center, and on the other side of that, was a Baskin Robbins. The original arrangement I was told about was that Uncle was to help with this record store. We were working under the license of Uncle’s wife’s ex husband if I remember correctly. Nothing, in this strip mall, opened before 11am. Hold on to that for a little bit.
If we wanted to go anywhere and stay there for more than an afternoon, we had to take our house, the camper with us. The shop that had been set up was still ours to use and it had ‘facilities’. What it also had was two vicious dogs guarding the yard at night. Oh, this was a real winner of a circumstance. One dog was named Bear, I don’t remember exactly what he was but he looked like a large beagle. Mean as a rattle snake when he was cued ‘on’ and loose in the yard. The other dog was a half Shepard, half wolf (so we were told) named Jake. Part of our arrangement for staying at this place and using the shop space, was to turn these two loose at night. Guess where the access to the facilities were. Yep, their yard. Facilities is a loose term. There was a toilet that worked and something resembling a sink. Our makeshift shower was a hose connected to a pipe that throughout the day, got hot enough to heat water for a single quick shower. Real solar energy here. This camper we had was usually in one of three places. Up on ‘the hill’ at uncle’s other shop, behind this shop near the yard with Jake and Bear keeping watch, or on top of the truck in the parking lot in front of that record store in Irvine. The Irvine police only questioned us once as to why we were ‘camping’ in the parking lot. I’m assuming they wouldn’t be so understanding these days. There did come a point where we no longer had the valley shop and couldn’t use it anymore to park our home. So we were either in the parking lot or up on the hill (Running Springs I think it was). For the most part, we were sort of content with the exception of nothing in this strip mall opening before 11am. Most nights we ate pizza, I grew to hate pizza with a passion. I can’t remember what it tasted like, I guess it was edible. After all, people from the aerobics place would do their jumping around routines, go to the pizza place, and then to Baskin Robbins. Weekends for the most part were spent up on the hill every couple weeks or so.
This record/music store was a partnership between our main contacts and some one with some name recognition. Mostly to senior citizens as she was part of the Laurence Welk orchestra way back when. I would say around this time, she was in her late 30s at the most. She was interested at the time in starting a country western band and a ‘promise’ made to us, dad and I, is that I would have a chance to audition for this group. She was looking for a drummer. We worked on this record store sans uncle, for most of the summer. A summer that by all accounts was the hottest summer in 20 years. What do I know? I’m from Michigan. Our job was to get it ready for finish. Hang drywall, build the office, put up the suspended ceiling. It probably would have been a snap with three people there but alas, uncle had become mountain man and was usually nowhere to be seen. In his eyes, he was the main dude and we were the help. I know that always ground dad’s behind because it ground mine. Throughout the summer, the ‘owners’ continued to dangle this carrot in front of us for this audition. We were easily putting 12 hours per day in this place and if dad had to go somewhere, I was stranded.
Back home, the car that mom was driving was way too expensive to drive. Any money she made was going into the gas tank. I had let her trade in my car on a new one and she got herself an Escort. After all, the folks paid for the car and if I wasn’t driving it, why keep it, right? I’ll tell you about the car some other time but in part, this should indicate how strapped the folks were for money. The audition was finally going to happen. So we called up mom, had her ship out the drums, and continued to wait. Mom never did forget this. It cost her over a $100 of money she really couldn’t afford to spend. The drums arrived, were set up and put back together, and the day came. Don’t bring the drums just bring one of the other instruments. You get where this is going? Okay, take the other instruments up to Hollywood Hills where this name partner lived. What a burnt brown looking dump that area looked like but I guess that’s the area where the ex d list celebs lived at the time. I think I actually still have the clothes we bought for me to meet this person. What a waste. We had a good time there I suppose. The following weeks became more and more of get this job done, then we’ll talk. Only problem was, they ran out of money. This part of this audition shit has just been a lot of rambling of my trying to piece together this audition fiasco. If you’re still with me, you have my deepest respect.
Around early September, it was time to decide what to do. My grandparents 50th wedding anniversary was coming up and the decision was made to complete what we could, put a line in the sand as a date, and then get the hell out of there, finished or not. By now it was clear that this ‘band’ thing wasn’t going to happen. Remember, Uncle was supposed to be helping us but he was up on the mountain blasting his signs and thumping his bible. Did I mention he’s born again? I’ll tell you about that some other time. We tell uncle of our plan and dad asks him to ship the tools back. The day comes, we pack up what we can get inside that camper, our home for the previous 3 months, and it’s our moving day. Record store be damned, country band be damned, I decided that I was going to go to school (what my mom always wanted me to do). Southern California isn’t the place for country music anyway. Wrong side of the country (yes, I knew that then as well) but I took a small shot at it.
I didn’t really mind so much the idea that this band was tied to the record store (which I don’t think ever opened) but what pissed me off to the phuck it point was the notion of the carrot. I saw it as being lied to and the non name partner told us as much. Turnabout is fair play fellas. We left Uncle to deal with this guy and I guess he got it to the point we could have had it at (the store) 2 months prior if he wasn’t playing mountain man sign painter. I easily could have stayed out there but by now, my California dreams were turning into nightmares and I wanted nothing more than to be done with it and leave that state. I had already made the decision, screw the music, get the education and then fiddle with the music if it was still important to me. My summer of 1982 in California taught me a hard lesson. I wasn’t special to anyone but myself. You know, aside from family and the like. As we drove out, across the state, I was never so happy to see Needles CA as it faded into the rear view mirror. We rolled into Michigan 4 days later and even though I was without wheels, I was never so happy to see Home. A real home with a real bed, a real bathroom, and a refrigerator with real food in it. Mom was pretty tickled to see us back too. I don’t think my sister really gave a shit, she was always off with her boyfriend anyway and probably barely noticed we were gone.
I’ll fill in a few blanks in coming weeks but right now, it’s getting late for the Saturday Special. See you next week.
Til then, Peace.
MTH – I enjoy your memoirs. I even know a little bit about the towns in CA so I can picture them. It isn’t fun being broke. And even worse when you are far from your home. Thank you for sharing with us.
Glad you are enjoying them 🙂
I usually don’t comment here but wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying reading your stories. You’re a very talented guy! 😀
Thank you JD (and Tux 😉 ). Glad you enjoy them.