In the middle of 1999, I had a college degree, blue hair, and a job making genes at a lab in Alameda. I longed for something a little more….glamorous. My band Cameltoe had broken up, and I didn’t have a boyfriend. I needed a change. Let’s face it, I needed to reinvent myself.
That wasn’t possible to do in San Francisco. As a native San Franciscan, the city was a huge part of my identity. I consulted my best friend and confident Jessie about moving to L.A. She was supportive as usual- this was probably the least hare-brained scheme I’d presented to her yet.
(Jessie and I feign interest in someone’s photo album at the Bounty in L.A. The whiskey sour forshadows that night’s hare-brained schemes.)
She helped me get an interview with a new music production company that needed an “office manager”- their term for a receptionist. Paul Robb was “the talent”- the person who writes the music. His claim to fame- he was a founding member of Information Society- a band who’d had a number one single on the dance charts “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy).” I’d never heard of I.S.- but luckily this didn’t work against me in the interview. I got the job even though I couldn’t type more than twenty words a minute, and had no idea how to make coffee.
My first day there I faced the coffee machine. How hard could it be? I had operated PCR thermocyclers and DNA sequencers. I sat at the front desk reading the coffee maker manual while Paul waited…and began to go into caffeine withdrawal. “Hey,” he yelled at me, “It’s not MOLECULAR BIOLOGY!!!” And then he walked me through the process- put filter in, load grounds on top, fill water, push button. Turned out that most of the time he’d run out to Starbucks, as we didn’t have an espresso machine (thank God because I don’t think I could have figured that one out either.)
Paul had a great sense of humor and was known for writing the music for BMW car commercials. The new company was owned by the man who wrote the jingle “The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup.” It was a long way from Mercedes Benz, and I remember one night hearing Paul screaming in his studio ,“I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M WRITING MUSIC FOR CAT FOOD COMMERCIALS!”
L.A was rough. I lived in a dive in Hollywood. I’d never lived with cockroaches before, and I suddenly became fastidiously clean, and skinny, as I was terrified to bring any food into the apartment. It didn’t matter really because I was too broke to buy food- my cat got poisoned by the previous tenant’s roach killer powder (left all over the apt) and it cost me $2000 for a week at the pet hospital to save his life.
The music company producer took pity on me, as most people in L.A. “choose” to starve themselves. She recommended me as a bookkeeper for her husband’s set construction company. He was the original drummer of the Surf Punks, one the first punk bands in L.A in the 70’s, and was also Barry Manilow’s tour drummer. I tried to get him to dish on Barry, but he never did- he said Barry was a righteous dude who would pay for the band to bring their wives and families on the road. Hammer of the Gods it was not.
(Manilow proves that he’s a righteous dude.)
I would sit at the front desk, sign for packages, answer the phone, do the boss’ husbands’ books, and play the banjo. I wasn’t in a band in L.A. so I needed to do something musical. My one splurge was taking banjo lessons twice a month at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. But unease set in. While I was working at a “glamorous” place (I even got to meet the Folger’s jingle writer), I felt like my brain was starting to rot. I would call my friend Mari, who’d been my lab partner in college, and listen to her talk about her new great job as a technical support specialist at a biotech company. I liked hearing about the stupid mistakes her customers made, and how she helped them resolve the situation. I told her that I missed science. “Face it,” she told me, “you’re an intellectual.”
About six months into my stay in Los Angeles, I got a call from Shelley, who had been the guitarist for Bimbo Toolshed, one of my all-time favorite bands in San Francisco. “Hey,” she said, “I’m putting a new band together and I need you to play bass. When will you be back?” She knew I’d been in L.A. for six months, and estimated it would take about that long for me to crack. “Um…let me think about it.” I hung up, and almost immediately my cell phone rang again. It was Mari.
“Hey, they just announced another position open for a tech specialist. You should interview for it. They’ll fly you up here on their dime.” I emailed H.R. my resume, and they called right away to schedule an interview. When I got home from work, I thought it over. I missed fog, San Francisco style burritos, and walking. The only thing I would miss about L.A. would be the ability to see Jessie just about whenever I wanted. We’d have to go back to a long distance friendship, but we’d already proved we could handle that. I called Shelley back that evening.
“Don’t audition anyone else…..I’m coming home!”
(Technical support in pit crew lane! My rescuer Mari salutes, as Geoff and I stand by while Jodie warms the engine.)