Topanga Seed (Ch. 11)

“You’ve got to apply for this job! It’s so you!”

Amber was always sending him job postings she found along the way of her own job search. Being that she was looking for a Curator position, this often meant postings from museums other than the one in which she worked as an Assistant Curator. That he had never expressed any interest whatsoever in working in a museum was further proof that Amber did not listen to him (he wasn’t even looking for a new job; he was content where he was and content, for now, was not only good enough but advisable, according to his psychiatrist). It also reinforced a suspicion Levi had that Amber thought his job as a manager in a store geared toward the toddler and slightly-above demographic was ridiculously beneath him and, perhaps, he assumed, she felt it was something he should be embarrassed about.

He didn’t feel embarrassed. He viewed his job—as lowly as some may have viewed it—with the same professionalism and precision he had the other, more “respectable” jobs he had held in his past. Jobs he had held without ever receiving a job posting from Amber.

This one was for a position at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s under-construction but soon-to-open and way-too-long-in-the-making Academy Museum. He had watched it take shape at LaBrea and Fairfax, glad to see the old May Co. “lipstick tube” being refurbished and revived with what was said to be actual gold, as a spherical theater took shape behind the old department store-turned-Academy Museum. But he hadn’t given working there any thought, as much of a movie fan as he was. But this particular posting did intrigue him, slightly. And so, after making his morning K-cup and downing his colorful array of pills and a bagel, he returned to his laptop, followed the link she had sent, and hit “Apply.”

Why people had to create a login and account for a site they would likely only visit once he did not know but that requirement ranked up there as a pet peeve alongside drivers who didn’t use their turn signals. But he did as required, creating a new account for a website he’d likely never visit again, and proceeded to receive a message that the application would take fifteen to twenty minutes to complete. “And chances are, nobody will ever see it because some algorithm will note I lacked a certain keyword in my cover letter and all my work and resume will never be seen by the person doing the hiring,” he muttered.

But he didn’t get that far. Before he could do more than upload his resume and cover letter, and right after he had to painstakingly enter, line-by-line, his references by name, title, employer, employer address, phone number, and e-mail (as opposed to just using the same technology used to upload his resume and cover letter to upload his references sheet), he was asked to identify if he had any disabilities. Being disabled would not prevent him from being considered, of course; some governmental requirement just dictated that he indicate on his application for employment if he had diabetes. Or cancer.  Or was HIV-positive.

Or bipolar.

He had never considered himself “disabled.” Hell, he had barely thought he had a problem until he had received the opinion—an opinion, not a scientifically-determined fact but an opinion—that, based on things he told a psychiatrist, he was bipolar. As if he hadn’t sat there, almost intentionally sharing examples of why he thought he might be bipolar and therefore geared all his tales to support his point. He certainly had never told her about all the other times he had been fully rational and what passed for normal. And he had been labeled bipolar. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy. How unpredictable! And now he was being asked to identify as being “disabled”?

By the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?

He was not disabled and he resented that anyone would thrust a label like that upon him. What bipolar person had plead for that classification? He could and did work. He wasn’t claiming welfare. He was supporting himself. In fact, he was supporting the whole damned team of people who worked at the store. Before Levi, the sales there had been dragging the store towards closure. He had come in and reenergized the place, blowing its sales targets out of the water.

And now he was “disabled”?

The word offended him far more than having to take pills, over and over each day, had depressed him.

He closed the website and shot an email back to Amber, punching the keyboard furiously. He hoped it pissed her off like finding himself qualifying as “disabled” had pissed off him.

“Apparently not qualified to work at museum. I’m disabled. Bipolar. Guess working with the kiddies is my only future. Sorry to cause you shame.”

 

***

 

Kyle opened his apartment door with the greeting, “Oh, Jesus Christ, Levi. Why did you have to go and piss her off? She had me on the phone for an hour bitching about you.”

“If you’re going to talk about her, we aren’t talking. I am in no mood right now.”

“You seem like you’re in seven moods right now.”

“Kyle!”, Levi cried in frustration, a warning not to press further. A warning Kyle, long used to Levi, ignored.

“Yes? I may not be able to see you, but I know you can see me and I’m right here.”

Levi entered the apartment and tried not to pet Kyle’s disobedient and always-begging-for-a-treat seeing eye dog, who ran around him in circles, panting for a pat on the head.

“Have they called you back about a new dog for you yet?” Levi asked angrily.

“No. And that idiot walked me right into traffic yesterday. I swear—he’s either homicidal or a fucking idiot. And my money’s on homicidal.”

“Where’s their number?”, Levi asked, angrily searching his cellphone. “He obviously was not trained well. I think they gave you someone’s pet by accident.”

“You think? He uses my cane as a chew toy.”

“Somewhere out there is a child with a golden retriever who won’t play with her but keeps her from running into the street.”

Levi resisted the urge he always had to take Kyle by the arm. He had to learn the layout of the apartment himself. And he had. And he moved about it just fine. But Levi always had that protective urge, even now, in the darkened rooms in which Kyle moved about the most and was therefore most familiar.

And then the dog began running circles around Kyle and nearly tripped him.

“That’s it. He’s going to the pound.” Levi grabbed hold of Kyle’s elbow, steadying him, and led him to his favorite chair, shouting at the world’s worst seeing eye dog, “Sit! Stop jumping on everyone. We’re not supposed to pet you! Sit! Idiot!”

“I love how you decide he’s a moron because he likes people,” Kyle said. “Now, I’m not disagreeing with that assessment. I just find it funny.”

“I’ll call the agency in a moment. Have you listened to all the radio shows?”

“All but the one CD on the counter.”

“I brought you some more. I’ll add them to the listening stack,” Levi said, crossing to the kitchen counter where a lone CD sat and to which he added six more. Levi found old radio serials and radio plays from the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s on the internet and downloaded them to ensure Kyle had something to listen to when he was at home alone. Of course there were movies and tv shows with descriptive audio, but Kyle often needed some assistance in finding those shows and making the right selections by touch on the remote. The radio plays were easy; he just had to take one of the new CDs, put it in the CD player, and press the familiar play button. And the programs, written specifically for the audio realm, were perfect. He had never liked watching old movies with Levi but he sure loved listening to old radio shows and plays starring Tallulah Bankhead, Barbara Stanwyck, and all the other stars from the Golden Age as they acted through audio versions of films and plays. The CDs he listened to stacked up near the CD player, in the living room, ensuring the two stacks stayed separate. Kyle was still learning how to be blind and he and Levi had devised a number of tricks like that one.

“By the way,” Kyle said dryly, “you may have not noticed the Braille books and the very specific placement of everything in my home, but I am disabled.”

Here we go, Levi thought as the dog circled him, tail wagging furiously.

Kyle turned his head in Levi’s direction. “Are you my Amber? Are you embarrassed by me? Because I’m disabled?”

“No!”

“Then what offended you so much? Being labeled ‘disabled’?”

“Kyle. I’m not disabled. I’m moody. I don’t think that qualifies as disabled.”

“Well, just so you know, as soon as I can find some work I can do, I’m going back to work. And I don’t care if the employment application says something about me being disabled. I won’t be offended by having to say, ‘Yes. I am blind.’ I have a funny feeling they’ll figure that out within a few months or so.”

“I didn’t want the job anyway. Amber just always wants me to do what she does.”

“Just not better.” Kyle added. “She’d have a cow if you got a job at the Getty and earned more than her. You should actually do that, now that I think about it. I bet she’d want you to work in a stuffed animal store then.”

“I’m about to stuff this stupid animal like a taxidermist,” Levi muttered as the golden retriever jumped on his lap and began licking his face. He found the agency’s phone number and pressed “dial”. The dog would make someone a great pet, but not a life guard. He didn’t want to get a message that Kyle was killed crossing Venice, Washington, or Culver simply because the dog decided he wanted a head-scratch from an approaching Volvo.

 

***

 

Driving home from Kyle’s apartment in Culver City, that birthplace of King Kong and The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, he headed north on Fairfax. He knew it would take forever that way–rush hour, traffic signals at every block—but it was a straight shot up to Sunset and a simple right turn onto Sunset would bring him on another straight shot to home. And after dealing with the seeing eye dog organization all afternoon, he was in no mood to think.

Sometimes, his bipolar moodiness worked in his favor. This afternoon had been one of those times. Impatient, sharp, and relentless, he had Kyle’s dog traded for another dog. That particular seeing eye dog was still a few weeks out from being fully-trained but was, so far, performing beautifully in learning her duties. So, Levi would just have to help Kyle a bit more these next few weeks and that was fine. And Amber and the others could learn to pitch in, too, for a change, he decided. But, in the end, in two weeks, Kyle would have a dog that actually served him in the purpose for which the dog had been trained.

There it was. The Academy Museum, the old four-storey May Company department store building surrounded by scaffolding near the lower levels and jammed in there between the street and LACMA. It really was taking shape. The golden tube, the black wings, the short windows that indicated the second, third, and fourth floors. And the giant cranes behind, shaping that spherical theater and observation deck which would have a view of the Hollywood sign (until some developer between here and Beachwood Canyon put up a tower and ruined the sightline, Levi thought.)

A little pang hit his heart when he glanced upon it as he sat in traffic at the claustrophobic Wilshire and Fairfax intersection. It really was a perfect opportunity for him. He wasn’t an actor or a writer or anything, really. Just a movie fan. That’s why he had come here. After the world had ended for him in Atlanta and he had no choice but to start again, why not start off in the land where all his favorite films had originated—even if the originators had long since faded out for good on that giant silver screen of The Real World? And if he was going to continue to live here—and he saw no reason to leave—and if he had to work—and he saw no Powerball jackpot headed his way, allowing him to retire—why not apply to work at the Academy Museum? Why not work in a museum celebrating the very films and filmmakers he loved, and the modern-day filmmakers and films which had been inspired by them?

Because he was going to be labeled disabled?

The traffic light turned green and he glided his car over Wilshire and up Fairfax, glancing at the museum under construction on his right. By the time he made it back to his apartment, he had skipped dinner by drive thru. He threw open the laptop and began applying for the job again. But calling himself “disabled?

He lied.

That was none of their business. None of anyone’s business.

It was odd, he thought. He was completely open about being gay. Unapologetic and truthful. Always had been, Since his teen years on, he was gay and god damnit, if you had a problem with that, you could go fuck yourself. He did not apologize, he did not teach. He lived his life and if you judged him, out the door you went.

But bipolar?

He was in the closet there. That was a secret of sorts. He could verbally call himself that to some people and even some strangers at the Braunstein Center. But to label himself as such. . .on an employment application? To have anyone and everyone who might see that application possibly know that he was bipolar?

He couldn’t do that.

And so he didn’t. And he thought little of his lie.

When he finished the lengthy application process and digitally signed his application, he turned off his laptop, happily. Hopefully.

Maybe this would lead to something better than what he was doing for a career. Maybe this would make all the past finally make sense. Maybe, he thought, this was his way back to him, his way to merge his professional abilities with his personal passions.

Maybe.

And maybe. . .maybe his moods would ruin it all. Maybe he’d get the job and he’d snap. Or something would happen and it would be the wrong time for something to happen.
Levi did what he always did when a thought bothered him. He ignored it.

Tonight, he ignored it by turning on Turner Classic Movies, getting lost in one of the Whistling films.

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