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21 Sep 2023 - 8:15pm

The Rest of 2015 (Part 3):

There was an interval of a few days between our arrival at Annik's house and my departure for Southern California. The dogs adjusted as best they could. There was no fenced yard, so I attached a couple of tie-out cables for their bathroom breaks. Horace found life as an indoor cat more or less to his liking, although he did get out once or twice.

A new bookshop had just opened up in town. I bought a copy of Infinite Jest, ostensibly to read over the phone to Shelby-Alice, but also out of a vague sense that I'd missed some essential Early 21st Century Experience by not having added it to my bookshelf. I bounced off it pretty hard. To this day it remains on the shelf, unfinished.

I need to self-interject: the plan on my end had evolved from me staying in the guest room of one of my old high school besties in Hemet, to staying in my (step) aunt Kate's guest room in Los Alamitos. This proved to be a significant improvement; Hemet is basically a remote sub-exurb, all Applebees and Walmarts... and deep, deep Red. It's also where the 'Scottish Highland Quietude Society' established their Gold Base in 1980 (IYKYK). But basically: nowhere to go, and L.A. (where I was planning to look for work) many, many hours away by public transit.

Los Alamitos, on the other hand, borders Long Beach, where I lived in the early 80s. It's a known quantity. Some of my old coworkers/D&D buddies had lived there. May still be living there, for all I know. Close (enough) to what I'd need to stay sane and begin the process of un-fucking our lives.

The night before I left, Annik and her sisters took us to dinner at a nearby lakeside restautrant. They'd all lived in Southern California in the past, and we shared some stories about the place (their watching Los Angeles change over the decades, my grandmother enthusiastically taking me to Clifton's Cafeteria in the 70s). S-A fled the table in tears. I caught up with her. "I'm never going to see you again, am I", she sobbed.

I reassured her. I consoled her. I apologized for blowing up her life. Our lives. I promised I would bring us all back together as soon as I could.

I found an agency in town that would rent me a car for a one-way trip to Long Beach. I procrastinated the actual driving away part until late in the day. I kissed Shelby-Alice goodbye, assured her I'd meet her at the Pinedale Greyhound station in two weeks. I promised her I'd be safe, and that I'd pull off and rest if I got tired, and that I'd call her the minute I got to Kate's place.

I held Juno's sweet, boxy head in my hands and told her that Daddy would be right back. I hugged Kodi and told him to look after his sister (although I knew it would be the other way 'round). I thanked Horace in advance for keeping the rodent population down.

And then I drove away. I listened to Morning Phase (still a mainstay a year later). I experienced a truly uncomfortable mix of heartbreak, guilt and excitement.

I stopped at a Borders Books and picked up the latest copy of Cinefex (the Jurassic World issue). On a whim I browsed the DVD section looking for the Criterion edition of Equinox, to replace my original copy which I'd had to sell a few months prior for dog food money. The kid at the cash register asked me if I was looking for anything in particular, so I told him. He went to check, came back with a copy in less than two minutes. I don't remember if I returned his helpful kindness with a brief dissertation on the film and its odd significance in the pantheon of monster movies and vfx... but it's likely I did just that. Poor kid.

Further down Hwy 99 I pulled off and ate dinner at BT's, the last actual fully-operational Naugles in existence. The Mexican-ish fast food chain had long since been acquired and absorbed by Del Taco, but it was all over Southern California when I was growing up. Not quite as ubiquitous as Orange Julius (the Starbucks of its day), but at the time it seemed like there was a 3-Naugles minimum in every town. The brand had been revived in 2014 and a couple of locations re-opened in Orange County, but with limited hours and incomplete menus. BT's is owned and operated by the Naugles family and uses the same ingredients in its menu, which differs only from the original in name. Sitting in the hard plastic booth, I felt as if I was putting a small bit of my childhood in my mouth. I chewed slowly, savoring.

The drive was supposed to take about 6 hours. But I'd left so late in the day, and took so many breaks that I was falling asleep before I reached the Grapevine. I bought a neck pillow at a gas station in Wheeler Ridge, the one that sells oversize Kachina dolls. The cashiers at this establishment can best be described as "methy".

I slept in the parking lot at that place. I slept in the parking lot of a Shell station 40 miles down the I-5, in Castaic. And then, again in Santa Clarita only 7 miles further south, because I really wasn't as good to drive as I thought I was.

I made it to Los Alamitos sometime before 5am. It seemed too early to wake Kate, so I drove a short distance to where the Marina Pacifica outdoor mall had been, last time I'd been there (1984). Like the Riverside Plaza, it has been razed and rebuilt into one of those complexes with a line of big box stores on one side and a vast parking lot filling the remaining area. The Starbucks was open. I sipped black coffee while I watched the horizon brighten above the distant smokestacks of the power station to the east. It was featured prominently in the early 80's sci-fi miniseries V. I'd forgotten about the all-pervading stench of tar and petrochemical byproducts in this part of town.

I returned to Kate's place. She was already up, a bit concerned that I hadn't arrived the previous night. I called S-A to check in and to let her know I'd safely arrived. She told me that Juno was not at all happy with my being absent, that she had started crying the minute I'd left and had been sitting inconsolable, head on paws. I hated myself extra hard in that moment.

I put my stuff in the guest room and tried to sleep. I was so exhausted that I couldn't, if that makes any sense. After an hour or so I got up and got my workstation set up. Kate loaned me a WiFi adapter. Later I dropped off the rental in downtown Long Beach. I was planning to ride the Metro Blue Line up to L.A., hopefully soon, hopefully to an animation/vfx job, so I walked over to where I remembered the transit center had been. It was still there, only now with a light rail station in the middle.

Back in Los Alamitos I crashed hard. Got up sometime around midnight. Checked my email. A client from earlier in the year had some kind of a rush job, and had sent a 7-page spec for a product promotion animation, most of it confused and misspelled gibberish. I got up and walked to a nearby 7-11. The plastic-wrapped burrito I microwaved was barely classifiable as food. I ate a lot of them -far too many- back when I was living in Long Beach. Chewing on the pale imitation of the burrito I'd dined on the day before, I felt like I was enacting some kind of a "this ain't home any more, but welcome back to where you are now" micro-ritual.

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