“I don’t understand why people pay full price for shit,” she said as I dug through a box of garbage. “I get everything free, or a quarter. That’s how I have a million dollars.”
I took her declaration with a grain of salt, as she was a Boomer, and Christ knows how benevolent her parents were. It’s easy to have a million dollars in the bank when you bought your house in 1997, you smug bitch.
While I, too, buy nothing if I can help it, all I have to show for this pragmatic sacrifice is a shack in the desert the County of San Bernardino wants me to permit or tear down, and guess which option costs more? Step one, they say, is to dig a fucking well. I’d happily do so with my hands, but that is not permissible. What is permissible is give someone three to six tens of thousands of dollars, which, suspend your disbelief, I do not have, to do so with a machine. The fact that I can, and have, drink from driven in gallons of water and pissed their remains into the dirt means nothing; pissing in the dirt, you see, is not up to code, and if my shack is not up to code, it will continue to generate citations that flow like a stream despite the fact my land is eternally dehydrated and nowhere within eyeshot of anyone’s existence.
Side Note: How did the county even find the shack, I wondered? The land is miles from paved road; one cannot simply drive by it. My blood turned cold when I realized the eye of Google Earth sees all.
While trucking in water is a viable and cost effective option, you cannot legally do so unless you already own land with a water tank on it, a law the county recently enacted, no doubt, to squeeze the Airbnb slumlords who are buying up all the acreage in the area. I get it — I’d grift them too, if I could (I do my part by dumping trash bags of detritus I collect from my land directly into the metal bins outside of homes that have sunsets painted on their exteriors), but goddamn. I’m not some carpetbagger fuck — I’m a human being whose retirement plan is climate change.
While I love the Californian desert, and I always have, famously forcing my mother to take me to Exotic World, a now-demolished double wide trailer in the middle of said desert which celebrated deceased burlesque performers as a present to celebrate my high school graduation (How old am I, you ask? So old, I predate the resurgence of burlesque as an ironic art form), I also am not built for warmth, having once suffered a heat stroke so intense it rendered my vision entirely in sepia before making me violently convulse.
If I had my druthers, I’d buy land up in temperate Gold Country, up where my grandfather had a cabin when I was a kid and where you could smell the air but good and pick wild blackberries and a stream born for eons can gush through your backyard. I want this as desperately as I want my grandfather to be agile again, but wanting won’t make it so and nevertheless rising real estate prices persist and so here I am, the owner of a land that will never smell nor grow that still, despite my disappointment, has worth.
I loathe xenophobia yet paradoxically relish in self identifying as a Californian, mostly because I live in Southern California and as a result almost entirely interact with people who are not from here and purport to loathe it while simultaneously engaging in an industry that exists nowhere else, an entire economy solely designed to support those who have no other marketable skills but the generation of ideas.
I am from a part of California where ideas go to die (and by “die,” I mean “get dragged behind a truck until they suffocate”), but people who aren’t from here don’t know about that part and they’re the only ones who are ever given the opportunity to disseminate culture and so I guess no one gets to know about that part — I guess everyone in all of the Flyover States gets to think the entirety of California is just chock full of fruits and nuts, a whole woke wonderland where Gavin Newsom forces gender reassignment on kids “whether they like it or not!”
And now, a poem:
I want to write a book about California so fucking bad I tried to get a lit agent
She (her assistant) said diplomatic things about my samples
She said I need to develop my voice
Bitch, I’m 39
Bitch, I’m so old, I wrote for Vice when it mattered
I cried in a gutter about it and Clare offered to loan me money to write it but I don’t want her money, she’s from San Jose
And now, a return to prose:
When a wore a younger woman’s low rise jeans, I traveled east, by choice (albeit a choice made by someone whose brain was not fully developed) — to Cleveland, to New Orleans, to Australia — the only thing this wild wandering did was confirm that California was the one, whether, ahem, I liked it or not. Life would be so much easier if I could live elsewhere — my husband is on tour in the South right now and reports that gas is there is $3 a gallon — but I cannot.
One does not buy two acres with a shack upon it for twenty thousand dollars cash earned via unemployment after Warner Brothers eliminated their entire department during a global pandemic thinking one would immediately make it habitable. I bought said acres from a child who looked 16 yet already had two children, with another on the way. The county worker who wrote my citations says the child was fined copiously for the same ones that have now befallen me; whenever I tell someone this sordid tale, they always incredulously respond, “Wait — They didn’t tell you the shack wasn’t permitted when they sold it to you? That’s fucked up.” To which I say, “I would have done the same thing.”
I don’t begrudge the kid who deceived me, because I understand his desperation, his necessity to make paper. I think about the way I can’t help but light in the eyes whenever I come across something at Goodwill I know I can flip.
I’ll make $9, if that, a fraction of minimum wage, but it’s a numbers game, babe. I sort of abandoned writing this newsletter in the interest of selling the shit it requires in order for me to live but, in my defense, from the beginning of my writing career and with few exceptions I have never been ethically compensated for my labor so I have no reason to believe such ethicality would begin now — in much the same way “content creation” is not a meritocracy, there is also no seniority.
One cannot say I never tried to get credit in the straight world — I took many meetings, drank many bottled waters, in a foolish attempt to sell a show based upon my life entitled “Unmarketable” but lost my enthusiasm upon the realization that successfully doing so would mean my life story would share a co-creator credit with a man who never lived said story.
Side Note: The closest we got to a sale was with truTV, who ultimately declined because they already had a show in development with another female comedian whose only commonality with me was being born a bitch.
I have resigned myself to the knowledge that, if you don’t peddle marketable and therefore meaningless shit (or “gen pop slop,” as my friend Howard calls it), you’re gonna have to do it yourself, but that does not make the making any easier.
I lionize, I gaze in awe at, I lick the boot of, writers like Lisa Carver, someone who is completely filterless even when it makes her appear monstrous and has been doing so for decades to little fanfare, to the dishonor of having to beg people to buy her self-published books on Instagram, yet keeps doing it because the alternative is death (I highly recommend her book The Pahrump Report, a beautifully visceral account of moving to and subsequently getting divorced in the Nevada desert, which I’m sure you can still buy directly from her). Her work ethic is incredible, her lack of pride honorable. And she fucked Bill Callahan? Icon.
Emboldened by Lisa, I am going to be completely honest with you, dear reader — I haven’t been writing this newsletter because the doing so doesn’t financially sustain my existence and, unrelatedly, because I worry I’ll repeat myself and yet uh oh, here we are again, talking about being Californian and poor. And yes, much to my chagrin, the title is also a Pavement reference, and don’t I talk about Pavement too goddamned much?
Side Note: I talk about Pavement, to be sure, too fucking much, but listening to Brighten the Corners and Terror Twilight while sitting in my grandparents’ kitchen staring out their picture window facing the orchard kept me alive until, well, today, and you’re reading this now, and if you’ve it read this far, I suppose you enjoy the fact I’m still alive, right?
End Note: I’m shuttling this out before I overthink it. Thank you for reading, and thank you more if you pay to read it, despite my lack of punctuality. I loathe when people use mental illness as an excuse to get out of things, but my mind is a minefield. I’ll write the next one when I can.