Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sleeping With Snakes...revised

In January 2004 I was living in Humbolt County, California substitute teaching at area high schools and finishing work on a book about the Red Sox, Portsmouth, Duran Duran and a 1982 Datsun named Poncho. The Red Sox had just recently lost the 2003 American League Pennant to the New York Yankees in an extra inning game 7 which saw the Sox give up a 3 run lead. Here's the play by play thanks to
RED SOX 8TH: Ramirez grounded out (third to first); WELLS
REPLACED NELSON (PITCHING); Ortiz homered; Millar grounded out
(shortstop to first); Nixon popped to shortstop; 1 R, 1 H, 0 E,
0 LOB.  Red Sox 5, Yankees 2.

YANKEES 8TH: Johnson popped to shortstop; Jeter doubled to
right; Williams singled to center [Jeter scored]; Matsui doubled
[Williams to third]; Posada doubled to center [Williams scored,
BATTED FOR WILSON; Sierra was walked intentionally; BOONE RAN
FOR SIERRA; Garcia walked [Posada to third, Boone to second];
Soriano forced Garcia (second to shortstop); 3 R, 4 H, 0 E, 3
LOB.  Red Sox 5, Yankees 5.

The Yankees went on to win in the bottom of the 11th. The Red Sox had not won a World Series in 85 years. I was devastated but also thought the opportunity to promote my book was at an all time high. The book, Memorabilia, was about the Red Sox and specifically about the Icarus-like 1986 Red Sox team that got one strike from a World Series. Here, history had repeated itself and I thought the interest in a book would be good. I sent the book out to agencies and did not get good results. Mostly I was spending money I didn't have to mail a document around the country. There was no money for heat or food or gas and there definitely was no money for stamps or the substantial copying fees. I decided that any attempt to get published from Northern California was futile. I would need to move to Los Angeles to talk to these people. I can normally talk my way into anything. Hell, it was 2004; I was 33 years old; Facebook had just been founded; The Patriots were on their way to becoming NFL Champions again; John Kerry was certain to defeat that monster G.W. Bush; I could type 100+ words a minute; I had movie ideas coming out of my ass (A talking cat becomes a pilot), and I was completely broke. Basically, I belonged in Hollywood.

So I bussed and trained down to Los Angeles. A man committed suicide by diving beneath my train as I entered the San Fernando Valley. The overheard cell phone conversations went like this, "I'm gonna be late. Start the meeting without me. Huh? Oh, some fucking hobo offed himself on the tracks. Yeah. Whatever. Listen, about those sales projections..."
I should have been chilled to the bone but as it happened I had been eating cannibis peanut butter and playing cribbage with a "hemp activist" all the way from San Francisco so was numb to the world. I was falling down the rabbit hole with every step south of Bakersfield, but, like so many ingenues, dreams distracted me from the obvious perils.

I ended up in Long Beach, drove up to this place called Venice Beach and decided that would work. It turns out everyone in California had the same idea and finding a room was complete hell. Luckily, I met a guy named George who spoke my language and had a cheap room for rent in his decaying house near the beach. So I rented it and bussed back to Humboldt, pack up everything and drive down in a van with my car in tow. (the UHaul leaked and ruined many books but that is another story). There were two conditions that I pinned my hopes on:
1. Being able to substitute teach at $120 a day in L.A.
2. Interest in the historic failure of the Red Sox.

Both fell apart as I learned that 1, L.A. county had recently passed a law requiring all substitute teachers to posess a full teaching credential, not the now worthless "emergency credential" that Humbolt County accepted. And 2, the fucking 2004 Red Sox won the world series, completely redeeming every past failure by winning 4 consecutive "must win" games against the Yankees in the ALCS. I had been writing Memorabilia since 1991. 13 years. And within months of finishing it the whole premise went from vaguely topical to obsolete. When I tried to describe the bitter irony in these developments George asked, "Have you seen my gout medicine?" Even die hard Red Sox fans now saw the 1986 season as a better forgotten memory...a footnote...trivial. Memorabilia was 1400 pages and over half a million words long. It contains the most references to Ray Knight and Kevin Mitchell ever made in a single text.

So I immediately got to work at a place called Labor Ready. It is one of the few places where the only test you have to pass is this:

"True or False: It is OK to steal what you want from the job site."

I'm pretty savvy and was able to think on my feet and come up with the right answer...which may have been a bad thing because the work I ended up doing was the kind of labor prison inmates should do as punishment if the economy wasn't so bad. I dug trenches, moved furniture, counted videos, installed lights and shelves. It was horrible. I'd drag home with $38 dollars after waiting four hours for work, driving an hour to get to the site, working for eight hours and then getting caught in traffic for two or three hours. My day started at 5 am and ended at 8 pm and more often than not I would lose money because I had to buy a $9 sandwich in Santa Monica or one of these towns where they imported labor.

Emails from my family would read, "It sounds like you're having fun in the sun. Say hi to Tom Cruise for me. ha ha. Love."

If I saw Tom Cruise after one of my marathon night shifts pushing a broom or washing cars I would have punched him in the face which is also what I felt like doing to anyone who thought I was having fun.

But George would have tacos or lamb chops and coconut creme pie ready for me and somehow I survived long enough to land a job writing the copy for a web site that sold mini motorcycles. It was in the Valley and it was staring at a computer all day and the bikes were complete garbage but I went with it because they told me they would buy me a car and get me health insurance (never happened) and also because a nearby store sold beef brisket sandwiches. At least it was regular hours and gave me a chance to write cover letters and book outlines for the literary agencies. But the answers were still the, no, no, and no response. I would submit poetry and stories to any contest or agency I saw...including one for stories specific to the Los Angeles Experience. The model writer was Charles Bukowski. That's all I needed to know so I basically described one moment from one work day I had at Loyola Marymount University. I changed the school name to UCLA.

I submitted it and after a revision or two it was accepted. Finally, things were going my way. I was going to get published in a book. Horray! This would open so many doors for me. I celebrated with a can of beer and a $5 slice of gourmet pizza. Then I never heard from the publisher again and what followed after that would fill a volume of books. For example, I was recently talking about that time period and someone had to remind me that my house had been hit, some might say rammed, by a moving truck. Compared to the other things that happened the moving truck incident was commonplace. The story about Loyola Marymount faded into legend. That was 2004.

Just today I clicked on an old bookmark and saw that the book is nearing publication. I thought I would promote it. I don't know what the story is. Maybe it is on my old blog. I can't find it on my computer. Buy the book and read it. Maybe it was good. I'm a guitarist now. Writing was a childish dream.
Here's the info page, printed here without permission. The sub-sub title is "Stories of greed, debauchery, jail, and dead-end jobs." Really, if I had read this book before leaving Arcata I still would have gone. I wanted to taste the same wine Bukowski drank and you can't do that from a leather couch...or even a broken cloth recliner, which is what I had in Humboldt County. Sleeping with Snakes turned out to be an apt title. My bitter story of thankless underpaid labor ended up getting forgotten and then published after I left Los Angeles. At least they spelled my name right.

Note: At this time the book is nearly ready. It probably won't hurt to order it but don't expect it to be delivered like two days later. Remember, it was 2004 when I thought I was the next Samuel Beckett. Just last week I was hauling buckets of concrete at Poco Diablos. Get it? Be Patient. If you really want to be smart then you will wait for me to buy a few copies at my special author's discount and I will autograph them and send one out to you. Really, that makes a bit more sense and you do deserve some kind of compensation for reading my self-absorbed ranting.

Notes from the Los Angeles Underbelly

270 pages
8.5" x 5.5" Trade Paperback

You don’t need to flirt with the waitress because she is the actress you slept with two years ago...

In a town made up of transplants and implants, where devils never sleep and a drug score is like a trip to the ATM, one would assume that everyone has as story to tell. Well, within that thick layer of guilt that LA holds above her – call it smog, call it sin – something ain’t right and good or bad, real or fad, you’ll read about the rotting souls that live among the streets that are paved with gold.

Truth and fiction become a blur in this collection of 32 Los Angeles based authors – including an early 80s commentary by the late Charles Bukowski. All of these authors have placed their own spin onto the culture that is so uniquely LA. From sinfully delicious tales of murder to porn and drugs to love, you'll read everything you ever thought you never wanted to know about this town.

Put your plastic surgeon on hold, fire up the Range Rover and become a part of this capitalist, commercial, celebrity obsessed, self-indulgent community that we all call home.
+ Compiled & Edited by Ron Sievers

Authors in this collection include:
+ Charles Bukowski
+ Brandon Christopher
+ Marc Shapiro
+ Gordon Basichis
+ Michael DiGregorio
+ Sari Domash
+ Brian C. Weed
+ Melissa Rosen
+ Darin Bennett
+ Matt Dukes Jordan
+ Drew Scott
+ Josh Gloer
+ John Dooley
+ Kathleen Fisher
+ Dan Fante
+ Chris Iovenko
+ Marna Bunger
+ Trevor Nathaniel Rager
+ David Villanueva
+ Todd Eliassen
+ GN Harris
+ Alexis Lockman
+ Oggy Bleacher
+ Ray Sikorski
+ Gavin Hignight
+ Carla Garcia
+ Mike Golden
+ Thomas Fuchs
+ Coury Turczyn
+ Rob Neighbors
+ Deidre Woollard
+ Kevin Rogers


Sleeping with Snakes is our “series-brand” [ ]. We compile collections of short stories from new, up and coming authors in the vein of Bukowski, Fante, Hammett, Welsh, Capote, Hemmingway, et al. We choose a city and find authors that are based there - the stories don't really need to be set there, but the authors usually are (or have spent a considerable time there).

The goal is to capitalize on the uniqueness of major cities around the globe and collect a moment in time with its citizens, writers and their stories. Imagine Sleeping with Snakes [Vol. 7]: Notes from the Bangkok Underbelly… New York City, New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago and more! We feel that this style resonates with the inner community as well as interested parties outside of the local area. There are no real guidelines that our books follow - although most of the stories we select are stories of sub-culture interest; greed, drugs, relationships, drinking, true crime, gutters, thievery, cheating, lying, stealing etc. - You may find a selection from an unpublished novel or an excerpt from an old screen play that never saw the light of dya. You might even read a story that was written solely for a certain volume. Nothing is set in stone.

Most recently we published “Sleeping with Snakes [Vol. 1]: Notes from the Los Angeles Underbelly”. We’re now slated for volume two where Seattle will be our focus.

Of all the reasons we created this compilation, these are but a few...

* The short attention span of people today is ideally suited to the short story format.
* There is a fascination with Hollywood and the greater Los Angeles area. Interest follows the people that live there and the stories they live.
* And of course, when we tried looking for collections based on city specific authors, we came up empty handed. This series will fill that void (other cities around the world will see their own volume in the coming years).


Ron Sievers is from Chicago, IL. and now resides in Seattle, WA. His love of literature, music and all things left-of-center helped him to conceive this series. Ron compiled and edited "Sleeping with Snakes [Vol. 1]: Notes from the Los Angeles Underbelly" while living there between 2001 and 2004. He also runs Orange Recordings [ a record label: ]. He is currently working on "Sleeping with Snakes [Vol. 2]", which will be set in Seattle and should be out in 2010.
Creative Commons License
Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.