From the time I was able to articulate a desire to leave home and be on my own, my mother told me I would have to do things–unspeakable things–that would allow me to “build my life,” as she called it. She wasn’t referring to stripping or prostitution, or any other such shameful act. I realize that now. She was talking about the sacrifice of the soul, of the will. And yet, there I was so eager to break out of the so-called shackles of youth and be independent. It was all I could think about: how everything would be so much better if I had the ability to make my own decisions without being under the dictatorship of another. When I graduated from college early, I discovered how grave my error was.
Sitting in one of the last apartments I would be able to live in by myself, another ant amid the hordes in a one bedroom on Sepulveda Boulevard, I called the electricity company, Erin Brockovich’s nemesis, to let them know I would be switching residences and needed to pay my bill. The automated system couldn’t seem to process what I was saying, until I finally found myself shouting, “Pay my bill! Pay my bill! Pay my fucking bill!” The phone hung up.
Incidentally, Erin Brockovich was the commencement speaker at my graduation ceremony. I don’t remember what she said. I just remember thinking that they couldn’t get Julia Roberts instead. Life was a cheap knockoff of how it was supposed to be. Slapped with a diploma and some non-memorable advice about how to move forward from Brockovich, I set about building my life as an independent. I got a job as an administrative assistant at a bank’s corporate headquarters–something that had nothing to do whatsoever with my major, but that wasn’t surprising. The office was located on the Beverly Hills part of Wilshire Boulevard, a haven for boring men in business suits who looked at chatting up women on their lunch break as sport. The only man I ever attracted, however, was a shortish sort of troll with glasses, a bad haircut and a tie with a football player and American flag on it. Maybe if he had a personality that was endearing, I could have endured it. But instead he tittered most of the time as bits of tuna from the sandwich he had ordered slid onto his beard. I learned another lesson that day: loneliness is preferable to spending time with people you can’t stand merely for the sake of not being alone.
But this revelation didn’t stop the alienation from festering inside of me like a cancer. It kept me from sleeping at night, and then, waking up in the morning. I think this is eventually what got me fired. I couldn’t hack it in the working world–it was like letting a steam roller go over my chest eight hours a day. At the same time, I couldn’t hack it “doing nothing” either. It too greatly highlighted my feelings of insignificance. So what did that leave? Moving back in with my mother, which obviously wasn’t a viable option. With my day freed up from the firing, I meandered to Griffith Park. I was one of the few people in Los Angeles who hadn’t managed to find or borrow the money for a car, leaving me at the mercy of the bus. But now that I didn’t have a job, I didn’t mind the amount of time it took to get around–in fact, it filled my days more completely.
Whenever I went to Griffith Park, I thought about Rebel Without A Cause. I suppose there’s nowhere in L.A. you can really go without thinking about a specific movie that was shot there. The one line Jim says I can never get out of my head is: “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.” Like an insane person’s mantra, it reminded me a bit of Franny in Franny and Zooey, how she had to constantly repeat internally, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” But Jesus had no mercy on her, and he wasn’t going to on me.
Where was comfort to be found? Art? Literature? Love? The answer was unknowable. And none of the above had ever been right enough to truly fulfill me. There I was, suspended above Los Angeles from the perch of the observatory. If only I could have built my life the way Griffith J. Griffith had envisioned this edifice: an infallible entity that could see beyond the galaxy. I could barely see beyond the paunch I had developed as a result of my drinking habit.
I sat upon the grass and waited until dusk to get up. I took one long last look at the overwhelming vista, filled somewhere inside of it with people who might at this very moment be feeling the same bewilderment as me, but pushing it aside more successfully than I had been able to. This is what my mother had warned me about.
One thought on “Pay My Bill, Build My Life”
“I just remember thinking that they couldn’t get Julia Roberts instead.”–the character seems to live in a world where the interpretation of events (movie with Roberts and mother’s predictions) becomes more important than the actual events (lawsuit with Brockovich and reality?). Accordingly, the character doesn’t feel they belong in this reality perpetually seeking the one foretold.