Topanga Seed (Ch. 30)

Levi had nailed it. He was sure of it. He had gone in, confident, positive, and warm. He had played the part of the friendly, knowledgeable leader, capably giving strong examples of his leadership experience, his ability to prioritize, his understanding of not just film and film history but of experiential operations like museums. He was able to eloquently explain the experience of the visitor, the needs of the employees from teaching and training to continual feedback. Able to put numbers to initiatives he had developed in the past, stating not just the results he had obtained but specifically what those results were. He had, on occasion, made his interviewers—all three of them in this initial panel—smile and laugh. Not too much; he didn’t want to seem silly. But enough to show them he was not an atmosphere-destroying tyrant but someone who could get results and still foster a positive, fun environment. And, after an hour-and-a-half, the scheduled one hour interview ended with a follow-up interview scheduled for the following week.

Pulling out of the Academy’s Pickford Center offices at Vine Street and Fountain—the interview for the museum position being held there because the museum, still under construction, was no place for activities requiring certificates of occupancy—he was in a happy daze. He lived just down Fountain, could have walked to the interview, even. But new shoes and suit and resumes—and the gray sky promising a rare Los Angeles drizzle–dictated he drive. Oh, it felt so good to be dressed like a professional again instead of a fucking Technicolor Palace Guard. He had missed the feel of a shirt with the top button fastened and the respectability of a fashionably conservative necktie. And a jacket and shoes of freshly-polished leather and pants in a dark shade, not those ridiculous red pantaloons the store made even the managers wear. Fountain Avenue, when Levi had viewed it in the past, had normally been an ugly street of two too-narrow lanes made narrower by curbside parking, walled in by low-slung buildings, apartments and decaying homes, a sidewalk dotted by occasional, random trees but otherwise barren of life–aside from an occasional homeless person, prostitute or a parent walking their child somewhere (and likely vowing they’d get their family out of that part of Hollywood as soon as possible). Today, though, the glow of possibilities had transformed this stretch into a bright and charming, cozy street fronted by spacious parking lots, vintage homes, quaint buildings, and quiet sidewalks.

For the first time in an immeasurable time, he felt there was hope that his career could be regained. He might be able to quit that stupid toy store in a few weeks. Next week’s interview might be the last interview. A week later they might have an offer for him. And they hadn’t dismissed him when they had asked his salary requirements and he had given them that larger-than-he-was-currently-earning amount. An amount which would allow him to move out of that lousy building whose underground parking garage he now drove down into. That building whose “secure” entry seemed more often propped open by a trashy, lazy tenant than not. The elevators which took forever to get anywhere. And those gas fireplaces in every apartment which, with their dated pink and turquoise faux marble—and that annoying brass trim—screamed, “Sunset Park Apartments. Where You Can Relive 1985 All Over Again.”

He could quit his job, move into a nicer, more respectable apartment, wear nicer clothes to work, and feel better about himself. And Damien could feel better about him, too. It didn’t matter how often Damien said he didn’t care what Levi did for a living; the world cared. And eventually, Damien would, as well. And he had no intention on losing Damien because Levi worked in a teddy bear store because there had been that. . .situation. . .and he needed a job that didn’t offer much stress. But those days were over. He was okay now. He was on medication for his bipolar disorder. Everything seemed more normal than his usual abnormal version of normal. And he was going to get that job at the Academy Museum and leave that teddy bear shop and this shitty apartment behind.

When the elevator finally groaned its way up the shaft to his floor, he happily walked down the hall to his apartment door, calling out a greeting in passing to the Russian woman who always frowned at him and never returned his “hello.” Today, though—Levi credited the suit—she smiled brightly and, as if she had surprised herself, replaced her frown and continued on her way to the shared laundry room.

Once inside his apartment, he collapsed in a chair at his dining room table, grinned at all those books and his notes, and Damien’s Word document and his spreadsheet chronicling film history, all covering the table. He was so happy, he laughed aloud. Not since he and Damien had begun seeing each other had he been this happy. Not that he had acclimated to having Damien in his life; he still thrilled at the sound of his voice when he called each night., Still found the experience of having as his boyfriend someone who had just had a respectable box office hit movie and was widely regarded as a talented actor, albeit one who ran outside the usual Hollywood circles, as being a bit surreal. But unlike the happiness Damien brought to him, this happiness was a happiness he, Levi, had created. He had gone in to that interview, made a great impression, and made them like him so much, they did not do the typical, “We’ll give you a call next week if we’re interested (or haven’t found anyone better than you)”. No. They had immediately scheduled him for a follow-up interview next week.

He shouted, “Fuck yes!” and his hands made a thunderclap of victory that echoed in the apartment. “Yes! I did it.”

He just had to do it again.

And he would.

He took a few deep breaths, closing his eyes as he did so, to lower his mood. The high was great. It had been hard-won and a credit to his still-there professionalism and business skill. But the war to lock down the job hadn’t been won yet, just the first battle against the first round of candidates. He didn’t want his mood to get out of control. That was dangerous. He needed to be even-keeled all the way through the interview process.

He went to the kitchen and took the required afternoon dosage of medications—Lithium, Seroquel, Risperidone, Lamotrigine, Zyprexa, Depakote, an extra Klonopin—which would help keep his moods level. He’d grab lunch on the way in to work; he had told Greg he’d be in late today for his closing shift so he’d go to Mel’s Diner, maybe, before heading in to the store and sending Greg home for the day.

Ugh. Going to that damned store meant taking off his suit and putting on that stupid costume. He couldn’t even think of it as a uniform. It looked stupid and he felt stupid wearing it. And he was better than that. He was smart. He had just shown that he was smart. No idiot would have aced an interview with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Before he stripped out of the suit, he shot a photo of him in the full-length mirror of his sliding closet door and sent the photo to Damien in a text message. “This is what I look like when I do well in a job interview. Follow-up interview scheduled for next week. Don’t have it yet but am on my way. Thank you for being you, for being helpful and supportive. Virtual slow, long kiss. I adore you.”

He sent the message with a thumb press and moist eyes. He so wished Damien was here; Damien who could make him swoon with a congratulatory kiss.

As he placed his suit jacket on a hanger, his phone rang. He had changed his ringtone from a sample of Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” to a sample of the Ramone’s “I Want to Be Sedated.”

“You aced it!” Damien virtually shouted, joyfully, into his ear.

“It’s just the first round,” Levi said, modestly deflating his win. He put it in show business terminology for Damien, “Think of today as the cattle call and, uh, next week as my, um. . .my call-back audition.”

Damien woo-hooed like a cowboy and then more discretely moaned into the phone, “Way to go! And, also. . . you look hot in that photo. Remind me when Track and I get home to take you out somewhere we have to get all gussied up. I like you in a suit, Mister Hastings.”

Unfortunately, after their call, Levi had to regretfully don that goddamned Fab Friends Factory uniform. Why the Hell did he, the manager, have to dress like this? The manager, he had even said to the District Manager about a year ago, really should be allowed to wear, if not suit and tie, shirt and tie. And the District Manager, to his credit, had run that idea up the flagpole to Corporate. After all, Levi had worked a miracle in turning that store’s sales around since he had joined the company and taken over the Hollywood store. But Corporate was adamant—and unappreciative of his achievements: “If he wants to wear a shirt and tie, he can always get a job elsewhere. That uniform is good enough for the one-hundred other store managers in the company.” His District Manager had altered the message into, “They feel a shirt and tie would be inconsistent and too formal for a children’s store. They think the uniform keeps you approachable.”

Looking in the same mirror in which he had just a short time ago been standing wearing a well-tailored suit only to now have to wear those bright red pants and that stupid, aqua and fluorescent yellow and purple and orange shirt, he no longer had to worry about taking his own mood down from the highs of the victorious job interview. That uniform did it for him.

What a loser, he thought dejectedly as he looked upon his reflection.

He began to tie his shoes and froze in a fog of confusion. His fingers had somehow forgotten the relatively ancient way to tie a shoelace. Something he had been doing without thought since he was five years old suddenly required deliberation. “How do you do it again? This forms the loop and—”

He held the shoelaces with fingers which refused to move, two ballerinas who have forgotten how to dance.

“What the hell?” he whispered to himself, as if by asking aloud, he might find an answer. For a moment, he had a vision of that woman who had been talking to herself at his psychiatrist’s office not long ago. He shut his mouth tightly.

He hadn’t given the methodology of tying a shoelace thought since he had learned how to do it thirty years before. How had his fingers seemingly forgotten how? It was as if his brain had to tell each finger what to do, step-by-step. And his brain had to figure it out. The instructions weren’t just sitting there in a file cabinet somewhere.

What the hell was that? He was too young to be going senile. Too awake to blame a slow mind on being sleepy. . .

He felt rising in him a fear that he’d actually have to call out sick. Because he couldn’t tie his shoes.  “Calling out shoelaceless.” How could his fingers, by instinct alone, not know what to do as they had done every day for decades?

His fingers trembled as his brain slowly worked the instructions to them. Pinch that end. Loop that end. Wrap that lace around that one. Pull through. Pull tight.

Repeat on other shoe.

Once both shoes’ laces were tied, he stared at them, horrified. What was that?
He shook his head, decided it was easier to ignore than address.

The matter pushed aside, he got off the bed and went into the kitchen to take that afternoon’s pills.

Again.

He had completely forgotten that, just a short while before, he had already taken that afternoon’s pills—and an extra Klonopin on top of those. And now, just a half hour later, downing another seven pills, he was overdosing.

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