Life gives you the experiences you need, the suffering and trauma, to allow your soul to evolve. Those who complain are missing the point. Don’t get me wrong. I love to complain. I hate sleeping on the cold sidewalks of Los Angeles. This was never the life I had planned when I moved here with my newly acquired bachelors degree in Hospitality Management from Arizona State University. The plan was to work at a prominent nightclub as the gate keeper, telling all the beautiful and wealthy people who wanted to go behind the magic curtain, no. Sorry, we are at capacity. To make them wait outside and humble their fragile egos, while helping train their scantily clad bodies to endure the cold of a West Coast night. And then, of course, to work my way up the ranks until I owned my own club. Till I was king of LA’s nightlife.
Of course this was the plan, until the pandemic hit and destroyed everything the entertainment industry had to offer. The silicon and alcohol infused models waiting in lines outside of clubs now stood outside grocery stores hoping to buy the last roll of toilet paper. The golden gates were closed and no one knew when they would open again.
My boss called me into his office the first day of the shutdown. He handed me a check for one thousand and said, “Thank you for your dedication to White Rabbit. Hopefully all this bs will pass quickly and we can get back to work.” With that he took the last of his signed Lakers collectables off his desk, placed it in a box, and walked out the door. Last I heard he went to Tulum and became hooked on opioids.
It didn’t take long before my savings ran out. Between the overly priced apartment on Sunset Blvd, payments on my new BMW, and my fierce drinking habit which I had acquired in college but became professional in the club scene. The car was the first to go. I walked out to it being repo’d at the health clinic where I had just taken my first Covid test. I ended up testing positive, but wouldn’t find out till days later.
I am convinced public transportation in Los Angeles is form of abuse. It never runs on time, is always covered in some form of bodily fluid, and has become a substitute institution for the mentally ill. It was my first experience on it, and I vowed it would be my last. But if I hadn’t taken it that day, I would have never understood that the path I had planned and the path fate had chosen could be so polar opposite. And so desperately needed.
As I entered into that garbage dump on electric tracks, I found two semi-clean seats which I could sprawl across and give into my 102 fever. Moments later we arrived at the next stop and a wizard of an elderly woman carrying worn out duffle bags walked on, looking for a seat. She made eye contact with me. I had zero intention in giving up my momentary peace. I looked away and noticed the only well dressed man in the subway car watching us. Screw it, I thought. He can give her his seat. I might be dying.
When the next stop came, he got up leaving a little black book behind, and exited. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed and grabbed it before the old woman could hobble over and put her wrinkled tush on it. Too late to find the guy and give it back anyways, I figured.
When I opened the little leathery book, I came across a page that said “The Rules. Rule One: You Are Your Thoughts. Rule Two: You Are Capable Of Anything.” Great, some self help crap. I had hoped to find money in between the pages, or a winning lottery ticket. Instead it’s some Secret ideology that I simply didn’t have the patience for.
There was a folded piece of paper taped to my apartment door when I came home. “Three days notice to quit and vacate.” It explained that I was twenty thousand dollars behind on rent, which I knew I could never pay. I had just enough money to put some sentimental things in storage, for maybe two months max.
Swallowing my pride, I reached out to my parents for help. “I’m sorry honey, but your father was laid off this week. We’re worried we won’t make the mortgage next month on the rentals in Texas. The tenants aren’t paying their rent.” That’s my mother. Here I was actually losing my place and she was worried about maybe, possibly, losing an investment property. They had the money. My mother always preferred a new purse over her children. As for my father, I didn't even bother. We had been in competition since I hit puberty. It grew worse after I moved to Los Angeles. Something he had always wanted to do but became a young father, forcing him to let go of his dream. I wouldn’t dare give him the satisfaction of my defeat. To hear him say “I told you so”.
I filled a backpack with warm clothes, pulled the last hundred dollars I had in the bank, and went out to find my new existence. On that first night, I finally understood why the girls in those short shiny dresses standing outside my club hated waiting. It wasn’t for ego. Los Angeles gets damn cold once the sun sets.
I’m a fighter, I always have been, but enduring homelessness for the first time while battling Covid broke me. I began to cry. Something I thought I forgot how to do since middle school. As I sat under the bridge of the 101 freeway, tears crashing down my face, I remembered that little black book I’d found on the subway. “I have nothing”, I thought, “No one loves me. I’m broke and I’m sick.” I’d never felt so bad for myself. I felt like everything had happened to me and I had no control. That none of my actions had lead me to here. I was merely a victim of circumstance and bad luck. I figured looking at the book again couldn’t do more harm than good at this point. And if nothing else, I could burn it and have a little fleeting warmth.
“Rule Number Three: Love and Forgive Yourself”. Well damn. In that moment I realized I had never really loved myself. I had slept with many women, and had the occasional girlfriend, but I never loved them either. I expected them to love me though. If someone didn’t show me respect, love, appreciation, I wanted nothing to do with them. But I never once expected that from myself. Could this have been part of what brought me to this path? I continued reading.
“Rule Number Four: Be Grateful." What did I have to be grateful for? My life couldn’t get any worse, I thought. I looked up across the road at another homeless encampment. There I watched a disabled man who had lost both his legs to disease, sitting in his wheel chair and laughing with his female companion. She hugged him and handed him some food she had been eating. They seemed happy. But how could they be? They were dirty, homeless, and he was clearly not physically whole. I looked at myself, and minus the virus that had attacked my body but was almost gone, I was whole. I hadn’t been born or acquired a disability that would make life harder. I owed it to myself and to others to be a better person than I had been.
With this new sense of self worth and purpose, I went to a coffee shop and washed myself in the sink. I spent my last five dollars on a steaming hot latte and set out with determination. I had made money before and I knew could do it again. I had graduated university, moved to another state, been successful. I could do it as many times as I needed to as long as I didn’t get in my own way. I just had to believe in myself and stop being an ass.
I walked to the cork bulletin board and looked at the different job positions that were still considered essential. “Medical assistant needed at nursing home, no experience necessary.” I had no idea what the job would require, but I did know how to communicate and manage difficult people. How much different could a group of people with dementia be to the drugged up party goers?
I jumped the next bus, and after the short interview, was hired immediately. A few days into the job, my manager asked me where I lived since the address I had given her was fake. I broke down and told the truth. She offered me a room at the nursing facility in exchange for helping on the night shift. I had found myself back in nightlife, but under very different circumstances.
It wasn’t long until I met a patient there, a man who apart from his skin tone, was the spitting image of my grandfather. Mr. Jackson was sarcastic, intelligent, and entertaining to talk to. He was full of endless stories of his time in the war and of his romances. Although he never had kids, and had lost his wife years ago to cancer, he seemed fulfilled in life. Like me, he was alone, but he was happy. I admired him greatly.
A year went by and many had come and gone in that nursing home. I opened that little black book again, something I hadn’t done since that day under that bridge. “Rule Five: Give What You Wish to Receive”. I was truly happy. I finally loved my life, myself, and those around me. Maybe I wasn’t driving an expensive car or living in a luxury apartment, but all of that didn’t seem to matter anymore. I felt whole for the first time in my life.
As I turned the pages of that little book, I came across hundreds of dates, times, locations, and names. One after the other. I didn’t understand what they meant.
Days later, I would find my heart broken. My dear friend and grandfather surrogate, Mr. Jackson, had passed peacefully in my sleep. My friend was gone. That creeping feeling of depression, like dark cloud, began to take over again. I imagined him finally reuniting with his beloved wife and no longer feeling the pain of old age.
A lawyer in a brown tweed suit visited the nursing home later that week. He informed me Mr. Jackson had left his estate, his life savings, to me. He explained he had no next of kin and had placed me as his beneficiary a few weeks prior. The lawyer handed me a check and printed on its thick ivory paper was the amount of $20,000. I was amazed. The fact he had thought to do such a kind act in his last moments moved my soul in a way I can't describe. The money was enough to purchase a used car in good condition, and to find a new apartment. I had learned to live more modestly and invested the rest into the health facility I was working for, knowing the roof was in desperate need of repair. The investment and the time spent, lead to me becoming a partner in the company. I revisited that black book again and finally understood what those dates meant. I scrawled my name under the last entry.
Since then I have passed the little black book onto another who seemed momentarily lost in her path. I learned and let go of the book as so many had done before me. Maybe one day, if you are seeking your true path, the book will find you too.