Deciding to leave California would’ve been a lot easier without these jerks.
[P.S.: Arthur, I’m stealing your photos, thanks.]
We were truly, incredibly fortunate during our time in California to meet so many great people. In fact, I’d venture to say the proportion of swell-to-crummy people in California is much higher than in Philadelphia. Or, at least, they take better Instagram photos. Still, Arthur and Eric were in a league of their own (God, I can’t even get three paragraphs in without turning this gay.)
Arthur and Eric were fast friends to us, allowing us to consider California a home for however brief a period of time we lived there. They folded us in to their extended network of friends, inviting us two weirdos to parties and get-togethers when we knew nobody and hadn’t really earned it.
These fellas were one of the main reasons we struggled, even until the very end, with our decision to move back to Philadelphia. Good friends don’t come along all that often, y’know? You can’t break any ol’ person’s glassware or call them dumpy and get away with it so easily.
We ultimately made the decision to go back to Philadelphia because, looking at the whole picture, it seemed like the better move at this point in time, for both of our careers. But I won’t ever say it was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy to come back.
Thank you, Arthur and Eric. Thank you to my parents for visiting so frequently. Thanks to Phil and Michael flying all the way out to California–selfishly, we needed it more than you know. Thanks, too, to everybody else who extended a lifeline to us, even if you didn’t realize it. Thank you, thank you.
Lance and I had a Very Serious Conversation about six months into our tenure in California, after both of us found gainful employment and had sampled all the local fast food chicken fingers (Carls Jr=::thumbs up::, Jack in the Box=::go to hell!!!::).
It was in this conversation that we decided, hey, yes, we were going to move back to Philadelphia.
For many of the reasons covered in past posts, we had to leave that door open. As of October 2014, though, we weren’t actively pursuing employment back in Philly, since we were barely halfway through our apartment’s lease. We figured we’d wait until around February 2015; not only would that give us about three solid months for both of us to find jobs before our lease ended, but we could also use that extra time to assess our fit with California. Maybe we’d decide to stay, after all…
Having this timeline helped. It gave us a clear, if rough, exit strategy, a red eject button we could push if we needed to. And it was still far enough in the future where we could give California an adequate chance.
…Except we didn’t.
I found out in October, through the grapevine known as Google Chat, that a position had opened up at my old employer–a good position, a clear step up in title, responsibilities, and pay compared to what I had in California. The kind of position, too, that didn’t come along every day. The kind of position worth potentially moving for.
So…even though it was bucking our established timeline, I applied for it, except I didn’t tell Lance at first. I kinda just wanted to see what would happen without him emotionally investing in it too much, since I knew he would. Of course, I’m a terrible liar, so he ended up finding out pretty early on, even before my first interview (sorry to ruin the suspense).
Every day following my two rounds of interviews, Lance and I would talk with each other on G-Chat, and not long into any ol’ conversation, Lance would drop the, “So, have you heard anything yet?” bomb.
Me: Do you want to go to BJ’s [editor’s note: an actual chain restaurant in California] for dinner?
Lance: Did you hear anything yet?
Me: Did you pay the Verizon bill this month?
Lance: Did YOU HEAR ANYTHING YET??
Or the classic…
Me: What do you think about going down to San Diego this weekend?
Lance: OMG WHY HAVEN’T YOU HEARD ANYTHING YET? YOU SHOULD CALL AGAIN TODAY AND CHECK.
Lance still claims–to this day!–that he wasn’t getting his hopes up and that he wasn’t burdening me with undue stress. I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions.
Anyway! Lance, at the same time, had been working with his former employer, doing work from home part-time. With that foot-in-the-door, we figured Lance would have an easier shot finding a job back in Philly should the opportunity present itself.
I got a formal offer in mid-December, with a non-negotiable start date of January 5, 2015. There it was, our eject button.
Sorry for the delay in posts, youse guys. You know how it goes, you have the best of intentions and then Netflix drops a whole season of Marvel’s Daredevil on you at once and you just lose track of your entire life.
Oh oh, and I forgot to put the little flashback timeframe tag here. Ya walk away for a few days and you just forget everything, am I right?
Seven months ago…
I’m not sure there’s anything more depressing than expecting to be relieved only to feel defeat. It was like an Acme anvil dropping on my head: knowing that Lance was still not happy in California and that no job was going to help that…well, being the selfless hero that I am, I knew at that point we were moving back to Pennsylvania. It was only a matter of time.
To be fair, I wasn’t 100% sold on California at this point either–I certainly missed the creature comforts I’d developed over seven years in Philadelphia–but I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t struggling with California as much as Lance was. Disneyland wasn’t a Band-Aid for him like it was for me.
From his earliest challenges finding a job in California, Lance and I had discussed, with varying degrees of seriousness, moving back to Philly if this all went to shit. More on that exit strategy in a future post, but as the move back became more likely, I started asking advice of some pals in order to make sure we weren’t making another big mistake.
My friend and yours, Kelly Bakes, suggested drafting a pros and cons list about California. Why should we stay? Why should we go?
Pro: Weather. One of the major reasons we moved to the desert was so that we’d never have to deal with snow and rain again. Have you ever walked a dog when it’s downpouring? THE WORST. Anyway, some consistency would be nice.
Con: Weather. The consistency was messed up. We were in California for seven months and it rained MAYBE three times. Every other day was sunny, high of 90, wash, rise, repeat. This may sound appealing, but it could feel like a Groundhog Day, Twilight Zone-ish experience.
Pro: Relatively close proximity to the beach, shopping, LA, Disneyland, Palm Springs, and San Diego.
Con: Unlike Californians who have been nurtured into loving a good drive (which is how they must tolerate all that traffic), us jerks from the Northeast hate being in the car for more then 20 minutes at a time. Having to drive an hour in any direction to do something was torture. And the price of gas in California…!
Pro: California is made for people who like being outdoors-y!
Con: …but we’re lazy.
Pro: We made some good friends pretty quickly while we were in CA.
Con: Well…there’s no downside of having friends all over the country, but in Lance’s case, it’s pretty hard to separate yourself from the people you’ve known for 20 years. Social media connects us all more than ever before, sure, but being physically present still makes a difference.
“Oh, you’re going to Disneyland again?” I’ve been asked with a smirk.
Or there are the conversations that have ground to a halt when I said I saw Frozen before most of my co-workers who have kids.
Admitting I’m a Disney fan as a 29-year-old gets its fair share of raised eyebrows. Though nerdy fandoms have come a long way, this one still gets treated with a spoonful of judgment.
All of that is to say, you may not understand where I’m coming from with this particular post. BUT. We all have our things–be it fantasy football, Broadway, glamping–that bring us happiness. Disneyland was mine for a brief, burning moment.
I would be lying if I said, after we were getting serious about moving to California, that I wasn’t excited to be living within an hour of a Disney park. And when I was alone in California for several weeks after arriving, Disneyland, with all of its purposeful pokes at the nostalgic part of my brain, provided me with an immediate sense of comfort when I knew nobody else or the world outside the gates just seemed like too much.
Moving to a new place, thousands of miles from everything and everyone I knew, was thrilling but also a bit terrifying. Trying to re-establish yourself, threading a web of friends, searching hopelessly for any good pizza anywhere in California, etc., is both a wake-up call and incredibly exhausting.
Disneyland helped mitigate that constant uneasiness I felt from not having a sense of “home.”
Of course I understand why some people looked down their noses when I said, “I’m going to Disneyland!” instead of checking out, say, a historical landmark. Disneyland isn’t authentic! it’s a manufactured place trying to convince you that you need a $100 glitter-infused makeover! But that’s kinda the point–I didn’t want reality. At first it was my place to escape from loneliness; later it shifted to a place to escape the ever-scarier threats of going broke (we were way too optimistic and bought our annual passes before Lance got a job. Whoops.)
Disneyland was my extracurricular activity, where I was able to meet like-minded nerds and begin to call them friends. For somebody who’s struggled my whole life to overcome shyness and self-doubt in social settings, feeling that sense of, “Hey, I belong here,” was immensely meaningful to me. Disneyland gave me that opportunity to feel like I was part of a community.
Honestly, I don’t know what I would’ve done without Disneyland during our darkest days in California. Without it, we wouldn’t have met the friends we made. Without it, I think I might’ve been crushed, Giles Corey-style, under the stress of everything going on around me.
Disneyland, and by extension, all of the people we met through the crazy, passionate community that orbits it, gave us a justification to moving to California when we had little else in which to pin all this effort spent and money wasted.
Yes, Disneyland’s expensive, and crowded, and I know I went too often and Instagrammed about it excessively. But I’m okay with it. That experience got me through a rough time and I’m grateful for it.
It’s obvious I don’t plan these things more than a day in advance since Lance just reminded me that I forgot to shine a spotlight on his tenure as a stay-at-home puppy daddy while we lived in California.
(In this scenario, we don’t count Kitty, since: 1) she’s pretty self-sufficient; and 2) Lance hates her.)
While, sure, we were increasingly stressed by the financial crunch of Lance’s unemployment, there were several good things to come out of our time in California, one of them being that Lance finally got to live out his lifelong fantasy of being a stay-at-home parent.
Sure, Ripley isn’t a baby (a baby would probably take away too much attention from Lance’s Cher impressions, so that’s a nonstarter right there), but he’s cute and just dependent enough on us to be endearing and not obnoxious.
Before California, Lance claimed that his true calling, besides the Broadway stage, was the home. As somebody who came from a family where both parents always worked, I admittedly couldn’t quite grasp this concept. Nevertheless, I didn’t care for being perceived as seemingly anti-“stay at home parent,” so I just went along with it.
Over the first several weeks, Lance’s newfound free time led to a wealth of great dinners and an inversely proportional decrease in my bank account…hrm… Lance baked under the sun near the pool and gained the nice shade of taco-flavored Doritos (I’m obviously hungry while writing this.)
Lance and Ripley, already two peas in a pod, fused at the hip over those few months (there’s your Side Show reference, Lance.) I’ve been told from reliable sources that Lance and Ripley would just stare at each other for extended periods of time when they had nothing else to do.
I often told Lance that I was surprised at how much he was holding it together during the never-ending job search. If I were in his shoes, I imagine I’d just shut down out of how unfavorable the forecast looked.
But I realize now that if it wasn’t for Ripley to take on walks, to take weird selfies with, to snuggle with during naps and to indulge with treats at every opportunity, I don’t know if Lance–and, by extension, we–would’ve gotten through it as relatively smoothly as we did. Ripley was our little fuzzy light in the dark.
He seems like an unassuming doofus, but we owe a lot to our little noodle-head doodle-butt.
The Darkest Timeline concept will be, perhaps, Community‘s enduring legacy on the Internet. In the season three episode “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the gang play a board game where, with each roll of the die, we are presented with a different timeline based on how the die falls, one timeline being the most depressing and cynical of them all.
After about two months in California, Lance and I fell into what we would come to refer to as our Darkest Timeline, and maybe we should’ve seen it coming. As Lance went longer and longer without a job, the clouds started rolling in (see what I did with the picture above? Clever girl…).
As I mentioned previously, we had been hoping to jump ship from Philadelphia for awhile; my concern with that was always the long odds of us both finding work around in a new city around the same time so we weren’t taking too much of a financial hit. Eventually, though, the itch was too great and we began talking about how long we could go on one income while the other looked for a job.
I found mine first, while Lance kept looking. At the beginning, I wasn’t too concerned. “Lance will have no problem finding a job,” I’d joke. “Lance could charm the pants off of a priest.” Err, bad example and probably not all that difficult (I can make this joke because I was raised Catholic.)
Perhaps we were a little too optimistic. A month dragged by, then two, with barely even a bite. As I saw our savings starting to dip to concerning levels, the panic inside me started to fester. Every morning, I would wake up early and scour Indeed, Monster and CareerBuilder. At my own job–the only network I had in California–I begged everyone who would listen for any job leads for Lance.
Trying to find a job where you know almost nobody, it turns out, is really freaking difficult, much more than we initially assumed. Jobs for which Lance would’ve been perfect just responded with form rejection e-mails. It was incredibly frustrating and intimating to me, and, though he did his best to manage it around me, devastating to Lance.
“How long can we go without another income?” Lance asked me one day.
I ran the numbers in my head. “Another two months,” I responded, startled that it was drying up so fast. “Then we’re in big trouble.”
The risk we took to move to California and add a jolt to our lives was now taunting us as a mistake. Why did we, two relatively rational-thinking people, leave jobs we liked to move across the country to where we knew virtually nobody, burn through our savings and end up broke and homeless and have to turn into streetwalkers to pay the rent except we’re so old by gay standards so who would even pay us to turn a trick?? How stupid were we?
By late summer, Lance finally got a few interview requests, though many were less than ideal. On a day with three interviews, Lance called me at work and said, “I just can’t do these jobs.” So many of these jobs, at this point, where compromises, something just to put food on the table.
Other interviews and positions seemed promising, and we’d invariably get our hopes up before the generic HR e-mail would come saying Lance didn’t get the job. Things started to look bleak, which is not something I say lightly; usually I take a cautiously optimistic view of these kind of things–keep your head down and trudge along and something is bound to happen–but I became increasingly worried over time.
Finally, finally, finally, right after Labor Day, Lance got a job, one he seemed happy with–good pay, good benefits, a good team of co-workers in a location not far from home. This was just in the nick of time, too, as we were perilously close to running out of cash to pay our bills. The sense of relief I felt was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.
I got home the evening after Lance’s first day at his new job, ready to pour some drinks and revel in that beautiful cosmic save in the last few seconds of the game. Instead, I found Lance in bed, visibly upset.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. Seeing him there, experiencing the exact opposite emotions of what I assumed, crushed me.
It wasn’t the new job–that was fine. Lance was devastated because of everything this new job symbolized: he was so far away from the friends he’d made over the last twenty years, the family he’d left behind, the career he had just started to build. A new job added a permanence to those facts.
That moment and the days that followed were my own Darkest Timeline. All emotions seemed counter-intuitive: we were distraught when we should be elated. Everything was topsy-turvy. I honestly had never felt as helpless, as hopeless, as I did then: after months of effort, to feel a sense of victory crumble right in your hands? Where were we supposed to go from there?
Places can wear you down over time, and that’s how we’d grown to feel about Philly toward the end. California was, at first, a much-needed mental reset button for us.
The first time I can recall being sold the California dream was when I saw the 1997 hit(?) animated film Cats Don’t Dance. In the film, protagonist Danny (a cat, obvs) makes it to California and shares his “I want” dreams and how Hollywood is going to make them come true:
The streets are paved with gold! Who wouldn’t want that?
For the first few weeks, it was just me and Ripley, as Lance was off galavanting in Las Vegas, flying to Tulsa to see Dolly Parton, and heading back to Philadelphia one last time for his brother’s wedding.
Our apartment complex in California sat at the base of a hill, and every few nights, Rip and I would head to the park at the top, which overlooked downtown Riverside, CA, and the surrounding Inland Empire. When the smog was clear, you could see for miles and miles.
My mind was clearer, too, with a new job and a new place, where things were so quiet! I could take a book (The Charm School, which I still haven’t finished) and a glass of wine out onto the balcony and just relax, which it felt like I hadn’t done in years.
Lance and I were excited. Seemingly well-positioned, an hour drive from LA, the beaches of Orange County in one direction and Palm Springs in the other, we were itching to explore a locale so much different than what we grew up with and were used to. On weekends, we’d drive to Disneyland or Laguna Beach, go to a film festival in downtown Los Angeles or visit the Santa Monica Pier. We’d hike Mount Rubidoux or head up to Big Bear.
It was the promise of new possibilities, new opportunities, new stuff to discover (new favorite restaurants! New favorite malls and drives and beach towns!) that energized us in those first few weeks. They comprised, I suppose, our Californian Golden Age; we were rich in hope if not in money, when everything was in front of us and for the taking. And that feeling? It’s exhilarating–terrifying, yes, and daunting, but those new possibilities are what we moved for in the first place, and it’s something I think so many people should try. Shake things up and make yourself do new things.
Still…there were imperfections from the beginning, cracks that seemed manageable at first but slowly opened up into crevasses we couldn’t avoid. Lance and I took a risk by moving to California, and as thrilling as it all was, not everything was working out the way we’d hoped.
“Nope.” Lance shook his head, like he was angry that the thought had even crossed my mind. “It’s not going to happen. You take her or she stays here.”
This was one of our first of many fights about our move to California. Perhaps an omen we should have paid attention to?
At this point, we had submitted our resignation letters, ordered a Door-to-Door moving pod (recommended!), and plotted our cross-country drive from It’s Always Sunny Philadelphia to actually sunny California. After a few months of throwing applications into the electronic wind, I got a job in Riverside, a significant suburban area inland from Los Angeles.
Things were going pretty smoothly until we got to the problem of Kitty. There was no way she, as an elderly little feline, was going to make it 3000 miles over five days in our little Ford Fiesta (also recommended!). How were we going to get Kitty to California?
Lance probably saw this as a golden opportunity to give Kitty the ol’ heave-ho, considering her white undercoat essentially destroyed two chairs. But, c’mon, she’s furry family and there was no way I was leaving her behind.
Thankfully, good fortune presented itself: we had to be back in Philadelphia a few weeks after our move for the wedding of Lance’s brother. Afterwards, we’d both fly back from Philadelphia, thus creating an easy way to transport Kitty west, like a fuzzy Manifest Destiny.
Problem was, Lance and I were taking separate flights, Lance leaving a day later as he said his goodbyes to his Philly family and friends. His flight was a straight six hours from Philly to Los Angeles, whereas mine had a two-hour layover in Denver. Obviously, Kitty would travel back with Lance, as the total travel time would be less than seven hours.
“If she goes with me, she’ll get a urinary tract infection!” I cried.
“Good,” said Lance. Lance could not foresee a future where he was responsible for taking a cat on a plane. To him, it was a non-starter.
So I begrudgingly took Kitty to the airport, paying US Airways’ $125 pet travel fee to carry Kitty into the plane’s cabin, where she would sit under my seat to Denver, then connecting on to LAX. Oh, no room for any personal items underneath your seat because of your pet? Well, too bad, because if you have a pet you somehow also lose the right to a carry-on bag too!!!! SCREW YOU, ECONOMY TRAVELERS!!!–major U.S. airlines.
After about four hours, Kitty and I landed in Denver, where of course tornado sirens were going off every few minutes. Ugh. Though Kitty’s little travel carrier was lined with lots of pee pads, I was positive we couldn’t afford a significant delay without an ammonia-scented accident.
Our two-hour layover slowly increased to two-and-a-half, then three, then four as the weather wreaked havoc on the flight schedule.
And then the Bad Thing: our flight out of Denver got cancelled.
“I’M SO ANGRY RIGHT NOW THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT YOU SELFISH JERK,” I texted to Lance.
Finally, we were placed on stand-by for a later flight out to LA. My nerves had caused me to drink excessively so of course I was dragging my cat into the men’s room of the Denver airport every 25 minutes (maybe I had a urinary tract infection?).
“I’m sorry, sir, you’ll have to pay the pet fee again,” the attendant at the gate counter said as we got cleared to board the later flight.
“What? Why?” I stammered, frazzled, angry and tired. “I paid the pet fee already on my last leg.”
“Yes…” she went on, “But since you were on a US Airways flight and now you’re boarding an American flight, you have to pay again.”
“Are you kidding me?” I said. “Your two airlines merged. It’s the same ticket number. Are you saying that even though you’ve merged your reservation system, you haven’t merged your ‘pet fee’ system and therefore I’m stuck paying another $125?”
“That’s correct, sir.”
“You do realize that’s ridiculous, right?” I was, at this point, outwardly indignant, which I don’t get all that much.
Finally we got on the plane. Of course, throughout the entire, near 17-hour trip from door-to-door, Kitty was an incredible trooper and slept most of the time, never peeing in her carrier once.
We made it to California in one piece, though a little worse for the wear. Lance would arrive the next day and things, in flux over the weeks leading up and through the move, would finally level out.
Lance and I always had The Itch to cut ties with Philadelphia. Like most cities in the Northeast, it’s dirty, full of trashy, abrasive people, and overcast about eight months of the year. When I moved to Philly from Michigan for grad school, my relocation was intended to be temporary–I ended up staying for love (SICK!).
Heck, Lance has even tried to escape Philly before. For some reason, though, he decided to live in the only places worse than Philly, Delaware and Baltimore, and was eventually sucked back via the City of Brotherly Love’s unbreakable gravitational pull of “youse” as a collective pronoun.
Early on in our relationship, when things were getting serious-er (ooh la la), Lance and I starting stringing together lists of places we’d like to relocate at some point, cities or equatorial island chains that seemed streets ahead of Philly. It would only take a strong enough itch to leave for us to finally scratch.
In rough chronological order of conception, here’s our Itch List:
Chicago:Google Maps, Google Maps on my screen, which is the fairest city I’ve seen? Y’all, I love Chicago–it has the metropolitan feel of New York while being as clean as Toronto (gotta love those Canucks). Just ignore the horrific murder rate.
Las Vegas: Though Lance imagined a life of glitz and glamour, neon lights and Showgirls re-enactments involving pools and pushing people down stairs, I pulled the plug on this possibility real fast, for obvious reasons: Vegas is terrible.
New York City: there was a brief moment where Lance and I thought maybe we could swing the Big Apple, since NYC is the epicenter of the world, basically. Then our friend told us she paid $3500/month for a 350-ish square foot apartment in the Village and we laughed and laughed…
O’ahu/Kaua’i, Hawaii: Maybe some day, but right now it doesn’t seem super realistic, being one of the most remote places in the world and all.
And then there’s California. To people native to the East Coast, California is either where the streets are paved with gold, or where a bunch of crazy whackadoos have bizarre gubernatorial recall elections featuring Gary Coleman, the Terminator, and porn stars, all while bracing for The Big One.
We’d been to SoCal together once before, and enjoyed it for what we saw–San Diego and, of course, Disneyland. But last winter, when Lance went on a trip to Palm Springs without me (don’t worry, friends, he was with a proper lady), he called me on his first morning there and said, with palm trees and mid-century modern architecture all around him, “We have to move here.”
And for some reason, this time after years of talking about it, we finally scratched that itch.
Remember the season 2 finale of “Alias” where, after fighting the genetically-warped clone of her dead roommate, Sydney collapses only to wake up in Taipei two years later. What?! And Vaughn is married, that son of a bitch! WHAT?? And Sydney has a mysterious scar on her torso which we later find out is from where a secret society was harvesting her eggs for…
OH JESUS. I should’ve just stopped watching.
What I’m getting to is that, well, Lance and Jeff and Lance+Jeff is/are back after a long, semi-amnesiac hiatus. A lot has changed in the year or so since we last updated, but, like network TV shows, things are also exactly the same.
Over the next couple of posts we’ll be “in media res”ing this shizz, filling in the gaps on what’s been happening. Unemployment! Going broke! Disneyland! Cross-country moves! Cats on planes!
CATS ON PLANESSSSS
For those of you just joining us, let’s introduce you to our cast of characters:
Lance: stylish Broadway diva, loves a good cocktail and all things tropical. Easy on the eyes. Smells good (usually.)
Jeff: reserved unless he has a strong opinion about something, which he will then not shut up about. Scored a hot piece of ass when he married Lance and is forever grateful.
Ripley: A dopey ragamuffin.
Janney: a/k/a Kitty: a cat who barfs on sofas that cannot be cleaned.
Recurring guest stars to follow.
Now that you’ve got your foundation (you may also want to check out some “prequel” material to bone up on The Story Thus Far), we’ll start recapping our journey west (I really want to use the joke-y title “Westward Homos” but I hate that word even if it’s clever) tomorrow.