Tuesday, November 2, 2010

J. Allen Holt: The Girl and the Salami Sandwiches

The first time I ever moved was to go away to college. I was eager to move far, far away. I wanted to live in another time zone, another planet to my teenage mind. I settled on Louisville, which was a little over two hours away. It was a different time zone. Growing up in a small town in Kentucky or probably anywhere else you have two reactions. You never want to leave, or you can’t wait to get out. I was the latter. I didn’t hate my family (who are nearly all in the former category), and it’s hard to explain to them that is the case sometimes. I think when you don’t want to leave, you find it hard to understand why anyone else would.

Going to college was my first real taste of freedom. I had my own place, albeit a dorm room. I had a schedule, but no one was going to chastise me if I didn’t follow through on it. If what you do with freedom is a test of responsibility, eighteen-year-old me was not to be trusted to take care of a cactus. It’s certainly a part in how I went from budding engineering student at the University of Louisville to struggling writer in Los Angeles. No regrets.

The next major move came about five years later. I was bartending and waiting tables and actually making a pretty comfortable living in my own way. My best friend Paul invited me out for lunch at Red Lobster one day. The writing was becoming an almost real thing, and doing that in Louisville didn’t seem to have much future. Nothing else seemed to have much future either the way it was going. I was writing for films (or singular film at the time), and they don’t make a lot of movies in Kentucky. Comfort was our enemy, we decided. No one did anything good if they were comfortable, because there’s no reason for it. It seemed a fair hypothesis, so we decided to leave our comfortable lives that day.

I went back to the small town home because it was cheap. I spent the next six months saving up every penny I scraped together and planned for the first leg of my westward trip, Aspen. Aspen, where it’s always warm and the women flock there like the salmon to Capistrano, to quote Lloyd Christmas. We did a lot of that in Colorado. The night before I left on a greyhound for Carbondale is my most vivid recollection from that move. It was the first time I met “the girl”. People who know me well will know who that is, and I feel most everyone else will at least understand the concept. I was having a goodbye drink with a friend who owned a restaurant in the small town, and she came crashing into our conversation like a beautiful hurricane. I still remember, when my friend told her why we were there (wishing me a bon voyage), her response. “Take me with you!” I would have if I could.

About two months later, we were informed that we were to vacate our amazing house in Colorado. It was settled at the foot of the biggest mountain in the valley. I mean literally at the foot. There was no backyard. The ground went vertical into mountain at the back walls. There was a river full of rainbow trout (presumably flocking to somewhere) running across the front yard. Why we had to leave isn’t so important. It just involves a divorced couple trying to sell the house as we rented and a fantastic party. The two worlds didn’t exist peacefully together. So we had four weeks and a decision. We decided to go to Hollywood since that was the eventual plan after all. It would be easy, we thought. It’d always been easy before, so why not again?

About a month later, we were crashing at a friend’s campus apartment at USC. A month after that, we were eating salami sandwiches (and only salami sandwiches). Every waking hour was spent looking for work. I found a job, and a month later Paul found a job too. We still ate mostly salami sandwiches for a while, except on those special days when one of us would bring home leftover food from our restaurant. Months went by. “If it was easy, everyone would do it” became our mantra. I started to feel like I was gaining some footing. Then, the restaurant closed, and I was back at square one. The thought of more months of submitting resumes and eating salami sandwiches was too much to bear. I tucked tail and ran back to Kentucky.

I went back to my friend that wished me farewell, this time looking for work. He hired me on the spot and that was that. I busted my ass to send back my share of the rent to Los Angeles until the lease was out. I met the collection of crazies that became my new work family there. I can call them crazies because I certainly fit in with that group. I still count those crazy people at that crazy place as some of the best friends I ever made. The girl was there. I didn’t introduce myself which sparked a confrontation. She was pissed off at me for being aloof to her. She had forgotten the night before I left for Colorado, and I either shamed her when I did or creeped her out. Either way, it started something great that I was sure would have to end before I wanted it to. I was right. We remained close friends in a begrudging way.

It took a few years of living back there when the writing started to come to the forefront again. I even had to fly out to Los Angeles for a meeting at a for real, big time movie studio. The timing seemed right. This screenwriting stuff looked like it might actually be an attainable thing. If I wanted to make a serious go of it, I had to be in LA or New York. The girl was gone now (30 months prior by her own hand). I had everything to gain and nothing to lose. I bribed a friend to make the drive with me and set off for the glory that waited in Hollywood. Again, I had the stars in my eyes. Four years later, I’m still toiling and haven’t forgotten the girl or the salami sandwiches.

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