Friday, May 20, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 4

Settling In - 1992

For the first month or so, Donny bounced around various jobs at McKay-Gemini. Greg said it was the only way to get to know how the company worked. He helped in sales, logging calls and following up with orders. He spent some time with accounting, learning the mysteries of billing and accounts payable. He spent several weeks helping in the warehouse and working with shipping and receiving. Finally he landed at purchasing, and thanks to the departure of the woman who had been doing it, it became his more-or-less permanent job… at least that’s where Greg seemed to feel he could do the most good. Through it all he found the people helpful and friendly and he liked the casual atmosphere. It wasn’t like some of the businesses he’d seen where everyone had to follow a dress code and keep their desk neat and tidy. Greg was notorious for his cluttered office with magazines, computer parts, files, and reams of documents everywhere. Eric’s office was a little better, but not much. No one seemed to mind – customers never came by, and they kept making money. Greg and Eric didn’t seem like bosses… the sales people kidded around with them, the guys in the warehouse would come up and shoot the breeze, and Cathy, the accountant, would patiently explain procedures to Greg, often making financial decisions for the company when needed. Greg would say, “Oh, okay, whatever works. You know best.” Eric spent most of the time in his office, usually listening to music and writing software, but when he came out, he’d sit in Greg’s office. They would talk about nothing in particular, Greg leaning back, Eric with his feet up on the edge of the desk. Sometimes they said nothing, just sitting, for long periods. Cathy privately referred to it as “twin communing.”

Donny knew what that meant. As kids, he and Danny used to play together for hours without saying a word, but each knew what the other was doing. He remembered them as some of the best times, and he also remembered his mother standing in the doorway of their room watching them, shaking her head in silent wonder. As they grew up and spent less and less time together, there was still a connection. When Danny would call from the academy, Donny knew when the phone rang who was on the other end of the line. He would pick up the receiver and say, “Yes, we’ll accept the charges,” before the operator could say a word. So when he saw Greg and Eric sitting in silence, he knew what was going on. And he began to feel like he fit in.

He also knew he needed to find a place of his own. The “casita” was nice, but he felt like he was mooching, and it didn’t help when Uncle Ron refused any offer of rent, increasing the sense of obligation. He also felt like he had a lack of privacy – anyone coming over to visit could be plainly seen from the kitchen and den windows. He looked through the paper, setting his sights on a two-bedroom furnished apartment near work, figuring he could afford to spend $500 a month. He got a rude shock. The cheapest places were in the $800 range, and when he went to look at them, they were awful. Unfurnished studios went for $600 a month. Donny had already used up more than half the thousand he had brought with him, so even without paying a hefty deposit he’d still be living paycheck to paycheck. The “casita,” by necessity, seemed like home for now.

The next day he went to lunch by himself at the little sandwich shop in the strip mall. He picked up a used copy of the paper and read through the ads. Nothing new, so he turned to the crossword and ate his tuna salad on whole wheat.

“There you are,” someone said. Eric slid into the booth. The waitress came over and he ordered sliced turkey and a Coke. “What’s up?”

“Not much. You need me upstairs for something?”

“Nah. That jerk from the cable company called but Irene told him you were at lunch.” He shuffled through the paper. “Anything interesting in here?”


“Find a place yet?”

“How’d you know I was looking?”

“Well, you have a job and your truck runs, so the only thing left would be house-hunting, right?”


“Don’t like living with your aunt and uncle, huh.”

“It’s okay… Just not… well, you know what it’s like, huh?” Eric and Greg still lived with their parents.

“Yeah, no shit. Not exactly the best situation. What are you looking for?”

“Two bedroom, furnished, around three-fifty.”

“Good luck. On what we pay you, you’re not gonna find anything like that around here. Apartments around here suck and they want way too much for crap.”

“So give me a raise,” Donny said.

Eric grinned and leaned back. “Got a better idea. How about we find a place together?”

It was as simple as that. Within a week they found a three-bedroom house in a quiet neighborhood five minutes from the office. The rent was high, but Eric was sure they could round up another roommate, and in two days he’d recruited Rob Goldwasser, a high school friend who went to UCLA and had a part-time job at the Fox Studios scene shop. The house, a one-story ranch, had a garage and a small fenced yard out back. The master bedroom had its own bath and a sitting area with a sliding door out to the backyard. There were two smaller bedrooms and another bath between them. They drew straws and Eric got the master bedroom. The house was unfurnished, but Eric solved that. His parents had recently redecorated their house in Pasadena. With a Ryder truck they took a sofa, four chairs, three dressers, a dining room table, a kitchen set, and numerous odds and ends such as end tables, lamps, and, inexplicably, Eric’s grandmother’s 1932 spinet piano, even though none of them played. They cleaned out the attic of used kitchen utensils and dishes, loading them in the back of Donny’s truck. They stopped at a mattress warehouse outlet where there was a two-for-one sale going on, so they bought twin beds for each bedroom. At Sherwin-Williams they bought paint, spackle, brushes and dropcloths. Rob was able to scavenge some “art” from the prop shop. Set pieces from cancelled TV shows usually went into storage or the dumpster depending on their condition, so they found several passable paintings that had once decorated the set of a well-known but recently axed prime-time soap opera. They spent a weekend moving, painting, cleaning, and dusting, and by ten o’clock on Sunday night, the only thing that needed to be done was to have the cable hooked up. They sat on the little patio and drank beer. They clinked their bottles in a silent toast to their new home.

“The phone guy comes tomorrow,” Eric said. They were having four phone lines installed – one for each of them, and one for his computer.

“This is finest kind,” said Rob, leaning back at staring up at the sky, and stretching his long legs across the patio. His father was from New York, his mother from Santa Barbara, and the combination gave him the interesting look of Beach Boy-meets-Brooklyn – he was tall and lanky with curly blond hair and a definite Jewish nose. His accent was Californian with the occasional Brooklyn touch thrown in. “I’m glad you found this place, Eric.”

“Yeah, I heard you and Marcy weren’t doing too well.”

“Ain’t that the God’s honest truth.” Marcy and Rob had been high school sweethearts, and got an apartment together when he got the job at Fox. The relationship had quickly soured. “You really don’t know someone until you see them crawl out of bed in the morning, and keep finding clothes all over the place.”

“Yours or hers?” asked Donny.

“You know that line they always give you about women being neater than men? Don’t you believe it. It’s bullshit. Marcy’s a slob, and the bathroom looked like the bottom of a birdcage. I mean, she’s a nice chick, but sheesh…I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Well, you’re a welcome addition to the tribe,” said Eric. He went into the house and came out a moment later with a joint and an ashtray. They shared a celebratory doobie, watched the stars, and then trundled off sleepily to bed.

The next evening, after the phones were hooked up, Donny called his parents to tell them he was staying in Los Angeles indefinitely. He had a good job, a nice place to live, and he liked the people he’d met so far. There was a short pause, then his father said, “Okay. Is there anything you need from here?”

For an instant, Donny felt a seizure of homesickness and panic, but he took a deep breath and said, “No thanks, Dad. I’m doing fine.”

“We’ll forward your mail,” his mom interjected from the phone in the kitchen. “There’s a schedule for fall from B.G. You won’t be wanting that, will you?”

“No, Mom.”

“Are you going to take classes out there?”

“Uh, I might.”

“Good. You were doing well.”

His father came back on from the phone in the living room. “Danny called yesterday. He’s doing well. Let him know what you’re doing.”

“I was going to call him as soon as I hung up with you, Dad.”

“I love you, Donny,” said his mother.

“You too, Mom…and you too, Dad.”

After he hung up he stared at nothing in particular, holding the phone on his lap. His room still smelled of paint, his bed was still stiff from being new, and the spare bed was piled with boxes and with clothes yet to be put away. “Am I crazy?” he thought.

A pan clattered in the kitchen. Ron was seasoning his new wok – he’d left his old one with Marcy – and the smell of hot oil filtered in over the Sherwin-Williams. He put the phone on the floor and went into the kitchen.

Chapter Guide



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