Here Lizard, Lizard, Lizard

How long has it been – twelve years or something? Note to person who left me a message on Facebook six months ago – I never remember to check “other” messages, and now it won’t let me reply.

Anyway. The last two months have been…lame. So I’m going to pretend they didn’t happen, and we can just move on from there, ‘kay?

My alter-ego has completely taken over my life (the part that isn’t being taken over by my day gig – oops, I forgot – I wasn’t supposed to go there), so it’s very difficult to remember that there’s this other person named Wren Andre. Sort of like the premise for the Stephanie Meyer book “The Host“, soon to be a major motion picture. Hopefully, the first half of that film won’t be as excruciatingly boring as the book was. It got better after the first four hundred pages. Good thing I don’t give up easy.

I am feeling the need however, to hang on to a tiny part of me, and to not just completely let my Host envelop me. Especially since she spends way too much time contemplating naughty situations and positions for her characters to get in. For those who are wondering my opinion: Yes, I think Fifty Shades is going to help the genre and garner new readers. And despite the level of writing, you have to give credit: she created two characters that transcended horrible copy-editing and rampant overuse of the term “Oh my”. Isn’t that what readers want – to be engaged and lost in the lives of these fictional creatures? Most people don’t read fiction to critique it for an English Lit. class, they read it to enjoy it. Get over your jealousy people. I have. Almost.

With that said, let’s see if I can get back into some nostalgic writing here soon. That’s the plan, as I’m happy to say that my one year-anniversary happened somewhere around now, I’m pretty sure. For those of you following my pod-person’s journey, she has just completed the final line edits to her second release coming out in September, and is wrapping up the submission draft for part one in her three book series. That has been gruesome – I estimated each book would be 30 – 40, 000 words – and the first one comes in at almost 50 K. It’s not even the writing that’s the epic part – it’s the re-writes for something that long. Seriously – one of the characters somehow stole the other character’s Ford Bronco halfway in ( I accidentally switched their cars around – duh), and things like time of day (was it morning or evening?), name of a restaurant, have three or four days gone by – all of it becomes monumental the longer the thing is. No pun intended.

I’d might as well throw this in as well – my publisher has opened up a new line called “Clandestine Classics”. Remember Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Well, take out the zombies and add in smutty scenes instead. They announced it to the world a couple of weeks ago, and the press has been crazy. Yes – my alter-ego made a proposal since they sent out the submission call only to their authors, so we’ll see. Sorry – I can’t tell you which one! Here’s a you tube video with a segment that Jimmy Kimmel live did on CC when the press broke (pretty hilarious):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5ZIlC5vZ48

Finally, the most exciting news of all: I pick up Lord Chumsley, my bearded dragon, tomorrow morning. He’s a big fella’ and will keep me company here by my computer. I shall post lizard photos soon.

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But It’ll Learn Ya’…

…way, way better than school. ( Heart – “Cook With Fire” from Dog & Butterfly.)

Yes – I am still on a tangent. Billie and her evil spirit buddies will have to wait a few more days – so I will understand if you fast forward to the future. And if you are capable of that skill – please let me know how you do it. Anyway, here’s a little story from when I was a young pup back in the eighth grade. It was not a more innocent time; frankly I don’t believe such an animal exists. The times have all been varying degrees of anti-innocence. The differences have primarily been the era – and the degree to whether or not fast food was available – in which the lack of innocence occurred.

A few of you had the rare privilege of attending the same crappy private religious school with me. For those few I say: sorry to remind you it existed. For the rest of you, I offer some background. Crappy private religious school in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley: check. Typical awkward middle schoolers fighting for their spot on the ladder of eighth grade society: check. Teachers and administrators kissing up to the parents with the most cash to keep said school from sinking into oblivion: check. Come on everybody, here we go! (Peter Pan)

I’ve always had a not-so-healthy dose of drama bred into me, and even though I was finally coming out of the weird anti-social cloud I had previously inhabited when I was in grade school, I was hardly the epitome of awesomeness. Especially acceptable eighth grade awesomeness. I was a nerd, and it wasn’t until a couple of grades later that I learned how to work my nerdette into some sort of grand – albeit limited – social status. In the eighth grade I was merely one of the faceless masses that slogged through each day.

I longed for more. Like everyone else, I wanted to better my space in the universe. I just never considered accomplishing it by squashing others around me. I had already been infected by the acting bug earlier, and I saw hiding behind another persona a good ticket to escaping from whatever loathsome creature I perceived that I was. The eighth grade teacher – lets call him Mr. Roberts – was a young, blond cutie that most of the girls and one angry, rotund fellow teacher swooned over. We weren’t allowed to lust, it was against the rules. He was somehow put in charge of putting together some colonial play of some sort to support what we had supposedly learned in American history that year. Since I have no recollection of what this play was actually about, it’s rather apparent how compelling it was.

Several of us, including my eighth grade best friend – lets call her Joanie – excitedly got ready for the auditions. I don’t know if I blocked a lot of this play out like a bad Vietnam experience, but I seriously can’t remember the auditions, or much else about the specific play. The events surrounding it however have that memory imprint in my brain the way that some things do from the past. Finally the results were announced – I was in! Joanie, however, wasn’t. She was not at all gracious about her loss and my win. She was actually quite angry and hurt. I felt really bad.

I became determined that I would find a way for her to be involved. There were a lot of ensemble groups – I have a vague memory of a courtroom and jury – couldn’t she just be on stage during one? I mean, what would it hurt? I brought it up to Mr. Roberts.

“I’m sorry Wren. We’ve already announced the cast, and it would be unfair to others who didn’t make it, they would want to be included too. Plus, we are already having trouble coming up with enough costumes for this thing, I couldn’t possibly add another person.”

“Well,” I said, suddenly coming up with one of my bright ideas that have a tendency to kick me in the ass rather than help me, “Her mom is a seamstress. She could make Joanie’s costume for her, and maybe, if her daughter was in the play, she might be more likely to help with the other costumes!”

Mr. Roberts pondered this interesting piece of information. “Let me think about it. I’ll talk to Joanie and see if she thinks her mom would really do that.”

I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to tell my friend that I had gone out on a limb for her, and everything would work out. And it did. For Joanie anyway. One day before rehearsal, Mr. Roberts took me aside. Maybe I was going to get an even bigger part, or maybe he just wanted to thank me for helping out. Joanie’s mom had really stepped in and taken over the whole costume thing.

“Wren, I need to talk to you about something. It turns out that the play is a little too long, and we need to cut a couple of the scenes. Unfortunately, your scene was one of the ones we had to cut. I’m really sorry.”

I was stunned, and yes, my stomach did drop. I’m sure many of you know exactly how that feels. “But, I can still be in the play, right?”

“Uh…I guess you don’t quite understand. I’m really sorry, but we have nowhere else for you to be. And we’re actually going to be needing your costume back so that we can give it to one of the other cast members. It will save us some time and money.”

Since rehearsals took place after school, and everyone – except me – was still in rehearsal, the halls were pretty much empty when I dazedly made my way back to my locker. Somehow the act of turning the combination dial on my locker unleashed a fit of sobs. Cristal, an acquaintance who shared a class with me and Joanie, noticed me and came over to see what was wrong. I told her my whole wretched story. Apparently, Joanie had already filled her in. Mr. Roberts had told her and asked her to be really nice to me – oh, and to make sure she got the costume back from me. Joanie was intimating to the other kids that she was much better than me in the play, and that was why they were using her instead of me.

As you can imagine, I had some pretty hurt feelings, and confused ones as well. Would my best friend, Joanie, really say such a thing? It seemed unlikely. I was thirteen folks, I didn’t fully get yet that we were all in a life rehearsal on how to treat one another. That this kind of crap would continue. And continue. And continue. The one thing I should have been paying attention to, as if I were the protagonist in a horror novel, is how to recognize the cues of bad human behavior, and then how to run screaming away from said human. In novels, it’s a device called “foreshadowing”. In my story, this was the foreshadowing, but I was thirteen and clueless. Unfortunately, I continued to be clueless many a time after that. Thankfully, I’m in clueless relationship recovery, and am a little better these days.

But we’re talking about the eight grade, right? Once I had regained a modicum of composure, I decided I needed to talk to Joanie about it. She was obviously more advanced than me in the intricacies of game-playing and manipulation, and she thwarted my efforts with excuses and such, until finally, it was sort of swept aside. I did notice a change in our relationship. She was often times too busy to hang out after school as we once did, and I found myself spending a little more time with Cristal, who was stuck everyday at the school until her mom could get her after work.

But Joanie was still my best friend, and I was loyal, dammit. I didn’t want her to think I was cheating on her with Cristal, so I made every effort to always choose her first. This held true for the big year-end Six Flags Magic Mountain field trip coming up. We all had to pick a field trip partner, and obviously, Joanie and I would be amusement park buddies. I verified, and re-verified. She seemed irritated that I kept bringing it up.

The wonderful day arrived; we would all get to go to Magic Mountain instead of school. I had been waiting for this trip for months. I arrived at school, and saw the two big buses ready to take us to this Magical – albeit, roastingly hot – roller coaster paradise. I looked for my park buddy, and finally spotted her standing next to Miss-More-Popular-Than-God. Let’s call her Buffy. Buffy noticed me approaching, and elbowed Joanie. We locked eyes, and I saw something I couldn’t describe. She most definitely had an odd expression on her face, one that said she was less than thrilled to see me. I had that stomach-dropping thing going on again.

She walked up to me, away from the other girls. “Hey. Uh, I’m going to hang out with Buffy today. You’ll have to find someone else to go with.”

WHAT?!?!? Someone else to go with?!?! Everyone else already had their buddies! I tried to keep it together. “But…you…we…” I’m not so great at forming sentences when under emotional pressure.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Sorry.” And walked away.

Everyone was looking at me. Would she cry? Would she scream? Would she punch Joanie in the face? I wish I could say I gave them a good show, but instead, I started walking home. Fairly easy to do, as I lived across the street from this portal to the inner sanctums of hell. Fighting back the inevitable tears, I tried to walk as fast as would appear dignified away from there. Shit – there was my mom. How would I explain this to her? She would be lurking at home, ready to grill me and then make it worse by pitching a fit at the school.

Cristal saved me. She ran up to me, and as soon as I saw her face that clearly portrayed how sorry she felt for me, I burst into tears. She already had a park buddy, but that was okay, the three of us could hang out – it would be fun. I was shaking my head, I didn’t want to go, I was too embarrassed. She kept insisting, and being the amazingly funny and goofy person she still is to this day, she got me to laugh, and I went. And we had a good time.

I was held prisoner at that CPRS (crappy private religious school) until I graduated, and even after Cristal transferred out (in a fit of great wisdom), we remained friends. I watched Joanie meticulously work on reinventing her persona to match the expectations of the most holy crowd of popularity, and it worked. To a degree. After she cut and colored her hair, got the braces off, got model head shots, took up cheer leading, etc., etc. she was “in”. As I had moved on with my life, I wasn’t stalking her enough to find out what actually happened, but she and Buffy had some sort of falling out. When I got my agent, and started going out on acting calls, she started sniffing around.

Nope. I had about five minutes in my junior and senior year where I had a lot of confidence and clarity, and knew better than to hook up with a manipulative climber who only wanted what I could offer them at that given moment. I back slid for quite awhile after that, but I saved myself from any further humiliation and hurt from Joanie. The protagonist triumphs!

And as David Byrne would say: Same as it ever was…   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKlrkBJozuc

The Saga of Crazy Billie Pt. 3 & More Publishing Updates

Here I am again, trying to sort out the confused madness of the last few weeks. I have been glued to my computer, and have figured out how to use my Word 2010 software so that my alter-ego can properly communicate with my publisher and editor, turned in the third – and final – edits of the story coming out May 7th, finished and turned in one of the new story ideas, and began research on the 3 book series that my editor requested a synopsis on. Plus, I have been preparing promo spots for my alter-ego, because yes, writers have to be promoters too.

 

My final comment on my first experience with a professional editor is that it ROCKED. I have learned so much that will make me a better writer. I’ve heard so many horror stories about writer/editor relationships, that I was going into the whole process with a lot of jacked up nerves. My editor was the most amazing, respectful, fun and professional person I could have dreamed up for the job.  Especially as I’m a newbie and we were both working with a slight language barrier. My publisher is in Britain, and even though I did a pretty good job of turning in a British English manuscript, I did miss a few. Then there were also slang and terminology differences, so that part was pretty interesting. In addition to her, the two final line editors were great, and their marketing and promotions person is fantastic. I feel very blessed.

I also feel overwhelmed, and more grateful than ever that I was demoted at my day job. I’m pretty sure my family appreciates it too. This way, they can occasionally interact with me on a personal level. Fortunately, my hubby and I have discovered that the “poke” feature on facebook can be utilized repeatedly in a matter of seconds; we tested that out earlier while he was in the bedroom and I was in the living room.

But on to other things! Billie was such a not-so-hot mess, that I could probably carry on about her ceaselessly. I’ve been going over various episodes with her in my mind since my last post, and it’s going to be tough to just hit the highlights. For now, I’ll pick up where we left off.

The sounds of something charging towards us was getting louder and louder, yet, we couldn’t see it. In reality, all of this happened in seconds. I didn’t even have a chance to say anything, when I felt something brush roughly against my right ear and right leg, as if it had flown past me, and right into the Suburban I was leaning against.

“Something just flew over my head!” yelled out Billie, who was standing to my left.

None of it made sense, we could hear something loudly crashing through the bushes, charging towards us, and running into us from all sides. However, we had seen nothing. I had pretty much reached my tolerance for other-worldly beings, smells and sounds at that point. Valuable garbage or not, I was out of there.

“I’m going home,” I calmly announced.

“Wait! What was that?”

“How should I know? You’re the one with the weird creepy house. I’m not sticking around in case it comes back.”

“Do you think it will?” She was looking at me as if I’d suddenly become the freaky occurrences expert.

“Well, I can assure you that if it does, I will not be here to welcome it. See ya’.”

I left, and fully intended not to go back. I tried doing garbage runs with some other people, feeling that it wasn’t the safest thing to do alone late at night, but no one was really into it like me or Billie. I was putting more time into the yard and estate sales again to stock the store, but people wanted you to give them money for stuff at those places, so it just wasn’t the same as helping yourself to free things. Free has always been my favorite price.

Billie started calling me late at night because she couldn’t sleep. Duh. I wouldn’t be sleeping either. I’d be curled up in the corner with the shivering whippet jumping at every little sound that house made, and apparently, it had now taken to humming. Yes, Billie told me her walls were singing. You’d think after all of the wacky stuff I’d personally experienced, I’d be accepting of it. But I was being Agent Scully to her Agent Mulder. No matter how many times I’d been probed by aliens and seen ghosts and other weird creatures, I couldn’t accept that this stuff was really happening. At least I didn’t behave that way for 8 seasons – I caught on a little quicker.

 

So, I eventually drifted back. After all, it had been late, I was tired. The farther away from the actual event I was, the less dramatic and scary it seemed. It all happened so fast, right? It could’ve been anything. It was highly unlikely that is was some demonic creature that had manifested from beyond. I should just get over it and move on.

Oops.

Still skeptical regarding the whole singing walls situation, I was at her house one evening, and we were just hanging out in her living room. It was pretty late, and one of the things she had said to me was that the later it got, the louder the singing would get. So far, nothing odd had happened – wow – and I was sort of lazily rocking in an old rocking chair she had, while she was sitting across from me in a big easy chair. While she was talking to me in her breathless Marilyn Monroe voice, I heard something to my left, where the living room tunneled into the rest of the the house. To the right of me, was a big front picture window. Since the house had about 3 or 4 steps leading up to the front door, the bottom of the picture window was actually about four to five feet off of the ground. Many Valley homes have that same building design – they’re stucco with wood trim, and are set up on a foundation.

“Did you hear that?” I said.

Billie stopped talking, and listened. We both could distinctly hear a humming noise from the wall on my left. It’s difficult to describe. The way she described it opposed to the way I experienced it was very different from my viewpoint. But it was very much as if someone, a person, were humming a little tune, except that it was coming from the wall. It didn’t seem to move around, it would be in one spot on that particular wall. But then another wall might start to hum as well, but that tone and tune would be slightly different. And she was right. It was getting louder as it got later. There was no doubt in my mind that I needed to leave.

I stood up to put my jacket on, and I was turned so that I was facing the picture window. I froze in absolute terror. It was one of those moments where all you can do is stare. Anyone remember the Amityville Horror movie where the red glowing eyes are staring in the window? Yeah. That was what was happening. I don’t remember any demon pig attached to the eyes – just the eyes. They were in the the middle of the picture window on the outside, so they must have been six to seven feet off the ground. Really tall pig or whatever. With glowing red eyes. And it was outside where I had to walk past to get to my car. Not good.

“What is it?” said Billie in a worried voice.

The red eyes blinked once, and then they were gone. Instantly gone.

I’m not sure how to spell all of the stammering and blubbering that came from my mouth, but at some point I was able to explain to Billie what I had seen. So far through all of the psycho goings-on at her place she had really come across as rather blasé about it all. This might have been the one though, because she was acting very concerned.

It took me at least another half hour to leave because I didn’t want to run into the evil pig from beyond when I went to my car, and she had to promise to stand on the porch and watch me when I left. And leave I did, this time, to never return. But the saga of crazy Billie wasn’t over. Because even though I refused to go back to her house, I was to learn that sometimes the house is not the problem. Sometimes it’s the person in the house.

More on that next time…

 

 

The Crazy Saga of Billie Part Two & Latest Publishing Updates

Okay – I know – it’s been two weeks. So before I dive in with the Billie freak-fest, this is what’s been going on. I finally received my alter-ego’s manuscript with the edits from my editor. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Or am supposed to be doing.  I have never worked with a publishing house before. I AM NOT COMPLAINING. I am just terrified to look like a complete idiot – no easy task at times.

After agonizing for the first few days over this 47 page long document with all of these blue highlights and little boxes with suggestions in the margins, I have figured out that I don’t have current enough software to “track changes” in the document. That dilemma solved, I shall now buy Word 2010. For some odd reason, many people have moved past Word 2002 by now. Silly me. Seems like I just took that class and paid $125 for the textbook. Dammit.

Anyway – this was all just the technical nonsense – never mind any creative considerations. So I have also been trying to figure out the most efficient way for me to go through the editing process, and have it all make sense at the other end. I have been tempted a couple of times to just send it back with her own suggestions and a note that says “looks good to me”. Somehow, I don’t think that’s exactly the partnering process she was looking for.

Just minutes before I received my edits from her, I dropped her a line to tell her about a couple new story ideas I had, one that would involve a 3 book series. She responded positively, woo-hoo! But now she would like to receive synopses for all of them. One has to be in prior to an anthology deadline of April 1st. Have I gone insane? My hubby warns me not to bite off more than I can chew all the time, but I became overly excited when I stepped down at my job and was given more time to write. Plus – I’d better start writing my ass off now that I’ve seen my first post-demotion paycheck. Yikes.

Enough of that. Here is a little more in the crazy saga of Billie:

My life had settled into a routine with Billie. We had the regular Wednesday night trashing, and occasionally we would add on other nights. Thursday was Encino, Tuesday was Northridge, but I liked Sherman Oaks trash the best. One night, we were bringing in such an awesome haul – including big pieces of furniture – that we needed to go unload for round two. After getting the stuff out of the truck, Billie said she had to go in and let out the cats, let in the cats, let out the dogs, let in the dogs – the usual.

I opted for the truck. Her house had been creeping me out lately, and sometimes when we’d talk on the phone late at night, she would tell me about some of the strange things that were supposedly going on there. I sort of believed her, based alone on my first night at her house with the weird light, but then again, there was also the Clint Eastwood and dead husband story to consider. She had reiterated many times since the first telling about how she was waiting for Clint Eastwood, and he was waiting for her. It was that one look while she was standing in line at the movie theatre. No words were spoken, but they both knew. Even though he was with Sondra Locke, and her husband was still alive, someday they would be together.

Wow.

So one didn’t want to take everything Billie said as the absolute incontrovertible truth.

It was pretty late, getting close to midnight, and it was quite dark on the quiet street where she lived. Only one street lamp could be seen across from her corner home, and it was at the very corner of the street. Something caught my eye. In the darkened driveway of the second house from the corner across the street were shadowy figures, maybe three to four feet tall at most, and they were dancing around. I kid you not. I sat bolt upright in the truck and leaned forward. It was absolutely pitch black on her side of the street; her automatic porch light had already gone off shortly after she went inside. The only light at all was the glow from that one street lamp two houses over from the figures.

I squinted my eyes, trying to process what I was seeing. I must be really tired. I needed new glasses. I’d finally lost my mind. All of these seemed much better explanations than actual dancing shadow figures. If I could give a shape or form to them, the best I could come up with is what my perception of a little wood nymph would be. Yep – pretty crazy. I could see pointy, thin limbs and edges, but absolutely no detailed features. They were like dancing silhouettes. Did I mention they were dancing in a circle too? Yeah – super crazy.

That was it. I would face the stench of Billie’s home any day over dancing wood nymphs at midnight in the driveway of suburban San Fernando Valley.

“Billie – I think you should come out here and see this!”

“SHUT THE  DOOR – ARE YOU CRAZY?!”

Why, yes I am, I wanted to say. But I realized that she was mid-cat corralling, and I had almost given those poor creatures their only opportunity of escape.

“Sorry, sorry, but there’s something really weird going on out here.”

“IN!”

The blurred stampede of cat flesh flew by me into the guest bathroom, and she slammed the door.

“Oh my God, what is it?” She ran excitedly over, and threw open the door. I wanted to stop her so that I could give her a head’s up, but she was always up for anything strange and other-worldly, so there would be no holding her back. I followed her reluctantly out to her front yard. It was a cool night; we weren’t into spring yet. I was trying to readjust my eyes to the darkness, and squinting in the direction of where I had seen the figures.

“What did you see?” she whispered at me.

I was still trying to ascertain if they were still there, but I was getting distracted by the fireflies buzzing around. Fireflies?! In California at the end of winter?

“Did you see that?” I asked excitedly, pointing in a couple of directions all around me. Those little buggers were flitting around, there one second, gone the next. It was almost more surreal than the figures had been.

“I know,” she said, “I see them on occasion, but only in my yard. Sometimes I smell oranges too, but the orchards are long gone, and I’ll smell it all winter as well.”

As it turned out, I would experience that with her on a couple of other occasions. I told her about the figures I’d seen, and we stood in the yard, waiting for them to reappear. Obviously, based on what she was always dealing with, she had no problem believing me. After awhile, it was also obvious that we weren’t going back out. Our paranormal hunt had become much more interesting than the local garbage. But I was getting tired, so I was just about to call it a night when we both heard a loud crashing noise. It reminded me of stabby guy. Not again.

As we had been standing there staring intently at her neighbor’s dark driveway across the street, we had gradually moved over to the Suburban, and were leaning against it. The crashing noise was coming from bushes at the opposite end of her yard. Then the automatic porch light came on – but there was nothing there. Yet, the noise was advancing closer to us, and seemed to be coming towards us at a high rate of speed. It sounded almost like horses hooves – without the horse.

That’s it for this week – I will be sure to get the next part of this creepy tale to you next Sunday. Until then – buy something legal that Paypal has deemed objectionable.

Trashing & The Saga of Crazy Billie

“Have you ever gone trashing?” Billie looked at me as we sat in lawn chairs in her toasty front yard one summer, with an expression that indicated she had just asked me the most normal question in the world.

You’d think I’d be used to Billie’s little surprises at this point, but I was still trying to pretend that I had a regular life. Completely giving myself over to the expectation of the weird was something I wasn’t ready for. Yet.

“I don’t know what that is.” The Old Country Store had been plugging along nicely. The only real problem I still had was how to keep consistently restocking a 3,000 square foot building on very little capital. The gay landlords filled it with furniture, but I only received a ten percent commission off of that, and sales on big pieces were few and far between.

“Well,” explained Billie, “I go trashing two or three nights a week. Basically, you go around on trash night, and look for good stuff that people are throwing away. You’d be amazed what you can find.”

Oh God. First I’m placing fake personal for sale ads in the Recycler Classifieds so that I don’t have to pay the dealer fee. Now I’m thinking about scrounging around stranger’s garbage to stock my antique store? No way.

“Uh, I don’t know. That seems kind of…” what was the word I was searching for? The one that wouldn’t insinuate that I thought she was a freak?

“Look,” she said, “I know you’re thinking that it’s kind of embarrassing to do something like that, but really think about it. After all, it’s just going to be thrown away, right? Shouldn’t it be saved and put to good use? Isn’t it a waste to just leave it for the garbage?”

She was very good. Especially when it came to the word “saving”. She was saving the animals. She was saving the garbage. Of course it made perfect sense. Now to explain to my husband what I would be doing between ten and two a.m. that night.

“You’re kidding, right?” He looked at me as though I had finally given up on reality altogether. He fancied himself the philosophical intellectual, and despite our rather meager existence and his tendency towards the slovenly, he maintained an above-it-all stance.

“Look, it’s just for tonight. She swears that she gets great stuff all the time, and I’ll confess I’m curious.”

He gave me the look. That one that always said to me that we were the last two people on earth that ever should have been together. But I would deal with that later. I had trash to attend to.

We set out that night at ten p.m. It was Tuesday night, and the good people of Sherman Oaks were dragging their trash containers to the curb. We waited until then because most people would have taken their trash out, and gone to bed. Less complications, and more pickings.

As we slowly drove down the street in her old-school, bashed up, solid steel behemoth of a Suburban, I felt like the biggest idiot ever known to man. My humiliation barometer was peaking, but I was trapped in the launching pad: the passenger side where I could easily leap out and grab someone’s discarded treasure and hurl it in the truck before I was discovered. This was lame. Why didn’t I have the truck so that I could do the driving, and she could do the leaping? I now understood why she had let me in on the location of her gold mine. She needed someone to do the dirty work.

We spotted out first target. There were the requisite cans, but next to them in the darkness of the quiet neighborhood were larger items of an indeterminate nature. Billie slowed down to a stop. It was so damn dark.

“Go see what it is.”

Shit. That meant me. I sighed and jumped out of the truck. My legs were literally shaking. It was silly really. I wasn’t stealing anything, and even if someone saw me, it’s not as if I’d ever see them again. But at that time I was still so filled with the toxicity of my early years as to not be able to get past certain situations. Anything involving being seen as something less than perfect and respectable was hell for me to deal with. Since I was the farthest thing from perfect on a daily basis, you can imagine the stress without adding digging through other people’s trash into the equation.

As I got closer to the items, an outdoor light flew on. Almost peeing myself in terror, I blindly grabbed an object at my feet and dove into the truck.

“GO,GO,GO!” I screamed at her, and she did the best impression of peeling out that she could in the tank-like vehicle. She drove down several side streets before she slowed down to a stop. We were both breathless with the adrenaline of the moment.

“What happened? What did you see?”

I looked down at the item in my hands. I couldn’t believe it. “Hey,” I said, “Turn on the interior light.”

The light went on and we both stared at the thing I had grabbed. It was beautiful. It was a small wooden, hand embroidered foot stool. It was definitely antique, probably Victorian, and in really good shape. Only one of the legs was a little wobbly and needed to be glued. But it was ours. For free.

“Let’s go back.” I said.

I was hooked. I even got one of my best buddies from high school, who was making piles of cash as the head of a cruise ship company, to go trashing with me in Beverly Hills one night in his convertible. It was better than yard sales. We found jewelry, boxes of old Christmas ornaments, a wagon wheel hanging lamp, more old furniture that could be restored, a box of antique dishes, old books, toys, and tons of little knick-knacks. I might never have to buy another thing for my shop.

There was one tiny glitch that I overlooked however. I was doing this intoxicating new pastime with Billie. The crazy lady. With the weird haunted house. Things couldn’t be awesome forever. The first night something went south on one of our expeditions was when her Suburban wouldn’t start. I was actually surprised every time it did start, but Billie took it very bad. We had my two door Bonneville Pontiac – seventies style – but it wouldn’t hold nearly the loot the Suburban did. Plus – we wouldn’t be able to haul any furniture. It put Billie into one of her dark moods.

She was nasty and snippy when those moods hit, so I would typically leave when she got to that point. They wouldn’t usually happen until she was into her second beer six-pack, but the car not starting thing set her off this particular evening. I needed my trash fix, so I was willing to put up with her.

“Come on Billie, let’s fill up the car, and then we can drop it off and go back out again.”

“Fucking waste if you ask me!” Apparently she had perfected her growling technique from the dogs.

“Okay… well, I could go out alone and…”

“Steal everything for yourself! Oh no. I’m going with you. Let’s get this over with.”

It was destined to be a jolly time. We drove in silence, Billie in the hot seat now with me in the luxurious driver seat. This didn’t help her disposition at all. After we had stuffed an unusually large amount of useless crap in my car – again I was partnering with someone whose perception of “sell-able” greatly differed from mine – we headed back to her place to add to what was now becoming a complete hoarding experience at her home.

My two door all steel Pontiac had these enormously long, heavy doors on it. Due to the supposedly sleek seventies design, when the door was fully open, the bottom corner came to a sharp point, like the tip of a pair of metal wings. Billie was stomping around, yanking stuff from the car, and shoving it into increasingly tight crevices in her garage. I stood by the car door, helping her dig everything out. We finished the first load, and for whatever reason, she slammed the door shut. It turned out I was standing a little too close to the car, and the tip of that metal wing sliced across my shin.

I screamed. I looked down, and blood was gushing out of an inch long cut. The worst thing in my mind about the whole experience, was I didn’t have medical insurance. She was immediately contrite, and flittering around in a nervous, breathless panic.

“Oh no, oh dear, you have to go to emergency. Oh no, oh dear.”

I looked at my leg in dismay. “Do you have a band-aid or something?”

I couldn’t go to emergency. That would suck away all my trash profits!

“Band-aid? You need stitches!”

Stitches. That sounded expensive.

We eventually did go to emergency, and the intern who was there on his first night, didn’t seem too keen on giving me stitches either. We both agreed a butterfly bandage would be in everyone’s best interest. Except for the scar that I have to this day. It’s a nice back line on the front of my leg, a reminder of a night out trashing with Billie.

 

Next week, I’ll go further into my journey with Billie. It continues in the realm of the bizarre, with some of the creepiest paranormal encounters I’ve ever had. Or ever thought would be possible to have.

Promote or Die Part 3

It was a light. But not just any light. This light was hovering approximately eight feet off of the ground to account for the fact that the house was set about three porch steps up from the ground. It was traveling at a very slow pace, slower than a person would walk. About the size of a baseball, it was white with a yellowish glowing cast, and seemed to just be floating across the yard. Oddly, the dogs were completely quiet.

“What do you see?”

Billie was staring straight at me, as I had stopped mid-sentence to stare at this anomaly, and try to get my brain to decipher what it was. She said it with an almost breathless excitement, yet she didn’t bother to turn around. Right as she spoke, the light vanished.

“Uh, I, uh, it was, hmmmm…”

I didn’t want to say something and sound like a crazy person. Little did I know there was zero chance of that ever happening around her, as she had already taken the top crazy prize at the awards show that year.

“It’s okay,” she said soothingly, “Stuff happens here all the time.”

“Stuff?” Now I was becoming concerned. Or should I say, more concerned. The incarcerated animal display had already been rather concerning. “What kind of stuff?”

She had a sly smile on her face, as if she perhaps held the secrets to the lost treasures of Atlantis. Come to think of it, perhaps she did.

“This house is haunted. Bizarre things happen here all the time. So – what did you see?”

“It was a light floating across the yard, but it was high up…”

Suddenly we were interrupted by the dogs going completely berserk. Billie leaped up and flung the door open, racing outside to begin shrieking at them. I heard a wild crashing noise, as if someone were tearing through some bushes, a scream, and then mere seconds later, Billie ran back in, shut the kitchen lights off and yelled “HIDE!”

The Legendary Michigan Dogman - follow his movements here: http://michigan-dogman.com/wordpress/

She raced out of the kitchen, leaving me sitting in the dark with the back door wide open. I dove under the kitchen table – really, the refrigerator didn’t seem to be a good option – and huddled close to the wall listening to the utter melee going on outside. I expected some wild beast, man or dog, or possibly even mandog, to come in at any moment and rip me to pieces. I couldn’t believe this was even happening. I just wanted to make fifty bucks off some old jewelry for chrissakes.

Then I could hear voices. Someone – a man – was yelling for someone to get the dogs. Then there was a banging on the door from the front part of the house. Oh God. What the hell was going on? The kitchen light flew back on.

“Wren, are you in here?”

 

Suddenly feeling like a raging idiot, I crawled out from under the kitchen table. In my terror, I hadn’t even considered the consequences of the grimy animal-christened floor.

Billie looked at me, two uniformed police officers standing next to her.

“What on earth were you doing down there?”

As usual, I had an expert answer. “I, uh, well uh, you said…”

“Oh, never mind. The officers want to get your statement.”

My WHAT?!

“Statement?” I said, starting to get a little miffed. “About what? I have no idea what even just happened!”

“Calm down Miss,” replied one of the officers. “We just want to know what you saw.”

I sighed.

“Okay. There was a light floating in the backyard. It was about eight feet off the ground, if I were to guess. It was traveling at about this rate of speed…” I gestured helpfully with my hands. Billie stood behind them slowly shaking her head, eyes wide as if to indicate for me to shut up.

The officer who had questioned me turned to Billie. “Is she like the other one – the girl from another planet?”

“No officer,” said Billie, “She’s a business acquaintance, but I don’t think she saw anything, did you?”

I shook my head, giving up on this entire episode.

Finally, they all left. I sat in the kitchen in semi-shock, mulling what had just occurred over in my head and waiting for Billie to return and give me something resembling an explanation for what had just happened.

“That was close,” said Billie, plopping down on a kitchen chair. “I was terrified they were going to say something about the animals.”

“The animals? Are you kidding me? What the hell just happened back there? Why did the police show up?”

Billie looked at me, confused. “Oh! That. Well, there was this naked guy who got into a fight with another guy in the neighbor’s yard. He stabbed the guy he was fighting with, and then jumped over the wall into my yard to get away.”

“I see,” I said, trying to remain calm. “So naked stabby guy could’ve come bursting through the back door here when you left it open – would that be correct?”

“Did I leave the door open? Huh. Well, the police said another unit was close to tracking him down, so it should be fine now.”

“Right. I just remembered that I have to leave.”

I hustled out of there as quickly as I could, Billie back to wanting to haggle over rhinestone baubles, me telling her I’d call her later.

I meant to never call her again. Who needs this kind of drama? Well, maybe I didn’t need the drama, but I sure needed the cash. And in reality, she wasn’t that different from what I was used to. Like I said, I was bred on kooky, on functioning insanity and those who only dealt with reality as a last resort. The next couple years I spent with her lived up to those expectations splendidly. I even have a small one inch scar on my leg as a souvenir of those times.

More on the saga of crazy Billie next week….

Promote or Die (Part Two)

Her name was Billie. I met her through a free Los Angeles rag called the Recycler, a big newspaper of ads that had everything from lawn furniture, pets, yard sale postings, musicians wanted, and of course, antiques and collectibles. It had it’s hey-day in the eighties when The Recycler was the only thing you had to find awesome stuff at a steal. Remember, this is pre-internet and eBay days.

As I said in my last post, I needed to find new and creative ways to sell my stuff. Fortunately, I had caught on fast and was able to find things such as an antique pen in a leather case at the bottom of a box at a yard sale for a quarter, and then sell it to an antique pen dealer for $85. But sometimes I just didn’t have a connection for some of my things. So when it got a little slow, I turned to my friend The Recycler.

Now, you could put in free ads as a private party, but dealers were supposed to pay for ads. That sort of didn’t work for my whole “I-have-no-budget” lifestyle. So, I was careful to only put in a few items every once in a while, and use my home number as a contact. Then I would meet the person at a coffee shop or something to see if we could strike a deal. I was only able to do this with things where I had such a huge margin (like the pen) that I could afford to let it go at a steal.

This is how Billie came into the picture. It seemed that Billie had the same strategy for using The Recycler. She was definitely a dealer, she just didn’t have a shop. She would buy and sell to various dealers, and made her living that way. I would find out later that she was a widow with a home in the somewhat tony area of Sherman Oaks, someone who believed she would marry Clint Eastwood one day because of one look they once shared, an alcoholic, an animal hoarder, and insane. But the night I met her, I learned something even more disturbing about her.

Typically, dealers have a specialty that they focus on. This way, you can know a lot about this one area, and spot a deal from a mile away. Billie’s first love and expertise was jewelry; I had a similar inclination. She answered my  for some signed rhinestone jewelry from the forties and fifties, and we met at a Mexican restaurant in the Valley to see if we could do business. She asked me up front if I was a dealer, and assured me that it was fine, she was too and did the same thing. The transaction was fantastic, and we both felt we could do business again.

She also gave me the impression of being a little kooky, but I had been bred on kooky. She was in her mid-forties, at least twenty years older than me, but still dressed in super tight jeans and these blousy tops to hide the giant midriff roll she had to yank up to fit in the jeans, that was then oozing out the top. She spoke in a sort of breathless Marilyn Monroe voice, but was far from looking the part. She also smoked constantly.

Once we did a few more deals at various restaurants, I was comfortable enough – and wanting to avoid anymore restaurant bills eating (haha) into my profits – to just meet her at her house. She had a nice little three bedroom bungalow that was where she and her late husband had lived. He died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. She said he went to sleep and just never woke up again. I hate to sound cruel, but once I got to know her, saw ( and smelled) all the animals, and found out about her weird house, well…I might have also just gone to sleep and never woken up. She claimed the doctors could never give an explanation as to what happened. In retrospect, this could have also been one of her dramatic stories – akin to the “Clint Eastwood glance” – that she liked to tell.

When I arrived that first evening, I was given the official animal instructions. The healthy cats (about a dozen) were kept in the bathroom off of the hall. I should never, ever open that door. It was imperative that she control where they went, so that they wouldn’t get mixed in with the ones that had distemper, or some other incurable kitty sickness. Those cats were kept in cages out on the patio where she had built a big area with rabbit hutches (with many rabbits), and were gated from the rest of the yard where the outdoor dogs were. Yes, there were indoor dogs. I forget exactly the difference between the outdoor dogs and indoor dogs, but it may have been a size thing. One exceptionally chosen and blessed dog – a whippet that shivered and shook constantly – was given the coveted spot on her bed. Maybe it sensed the dead husband vibes, who knows.

There was a continuous cycle of moving these animals around. She would corral the indoor dogs into a room with much chasing and yelling, then twice a day open the bathroom door for the cats and scream “OUT!”, and they would pour out to their bowls in the kitchen. They would then get about fifteen minutes of in-house freedom, and then she would scream “IN!”, and they would all race back to the bathroom. It was actually quite amazing. She would do a similar routine with the dogs, so that the indoor ones could at least shit outside occasionally.

Billie claimed that she had saved every one of these creatures from a horrible fate at the hands of some other horrid pet owner or pound, or that they were strays she had rescued. She used the word “rescued” a lot. It’s amazing to me that I didn’t fully grasp just how cruel she was being to these animals, but at the time, she was such an animal rights expounder, and constantly talking about how she had “saved” these animals, that I somehow thought she was doing a good deed. Plus, there weren’t reality shows about animal hoarders back then. Sometimes television just has to tell you what to do.

Okay, so the same night I met the menagerie, I also met Starchild. This wasn’t her real name, and what I mean is, she really wasn’t using her real name. She was using her alien name. Starchild was  renting a room from Billie, who was finding it harder and harder to make the mortgage payment. This young girl was about my age, and was some type of artist, but really, other than hide in her room for days without emerging, I’m not entirely sure what she did.

So after some awkward introductions and unintelligible comments from Starchild, we retreated to the kitchen to conduct our business. It was at the back of the house, with a door leading to the backyard where the outdoor critters were. Another door I should never, ever open. Every time one of the outside dogs would bark, she would freak-out and scream at them to “SHUT UP!”. She said she didn’t want the neighbors to complain about the noise. The only thing the neighbors were likely to complain about was the incessant screeching. For someone with such a quiet voice, she could really shred the decibel levels when she wanted to.

Yet none of this craziness prepared me for the next phase in my relationship with Billie. As I sat at the kitchen table that night, I was facing the window to the backyard. She was facing me, with her back to the window. It was pitch black out, and halfway through our negotiations, I saw it.

 

(To be continued next week)

Promote or Die (Part One)

I spent a ton of time today promoting my alter-ego’s new ebook release. It sucked the life out of me. I can’t stop promoting, pushing, searching for new and innovative ways to make it happen – it’s like a sickness. A lot of it revolves around the lack of cash principle: I have no cash to advertise or hire promoters, therefore, I must do it myself. This is a recurring life theme for me.

I’ve always had my own businesses, in one form or the next. When I say “always”, there is very little in the way of exaggeration there. I figured out when I was a kid that random strangers would buy my old crappy stuff if I threw it on the lawn of my parents house, and hung up a few “Yard Sale” signs. And so it began. How can I get people to give me money for stuff? There really should have been an intervention for me somewhere along the way. Or possibly a complete college education. Taking unrelated college courses because they look interesting, doesn’t necessarily add up to the coveted  diploma.

When I was around 22 years old, I began my first real business. There were business licenses and sales tax filings; I even went to official city buildings that made you do official business-like things. This brick and mortar business was located in the city of Tujunga, in Southern California. I opened it  with a friend who had more of an “if they give us cash that’s ok, but I just think it’s cool we have a shop” sort of attitude, whereas I had more of the “I NEED MORE CASH” way of thinking. I soon spotted an opportunity.

Our landlords were two eccentric gay men who were more sexually turned on by antique furniture than they were each other. Possibly it was the way they dressed (70’s polyester brown plaid bell-bottoms with bright orange and pink Hawaiian shirts – or some variation thereof) that made broken up Victorian sideboards appear so much more appealing, but it’s hard to say. All I knew was that they had an amazing shop filled with all sorts of interesting and mysterious objects. However, said shop was hardly ever open.

“Why is the shop closed all the time?” I asked landlord one – let’s call him Larry.

“Oh, well, we have no one to run it. The girl that was supposed to be running it never shows up. We agreed to let her have the shop for no rent, all she had to do was open for regular business hours, and we would give her ten percent of whatever she sold. So we closed it when she stopped coming in.”

“I see,” I said, my mind threatening to explode from all the visions of entrepreneurial greatness that were sprouting up. “What if I did that for you, and you also allowed me to sell my own stuff – no furniture, don’t fear.” (I could see his face pale at the mention of me hocking my wares.)

We came to an agreement. I would be the new proprietor of the Old Country Store. Now all I had to do was learn all about antiques and collectibles – of which I had zero knowledge – and tell my friend and partner at a Boutique Unique that I was abandoning her to loll around with the increasingly questionable merchandise she saw fit to bring in.

I was sort of a bitch when I look back on it. I suppose if we had been more of the same mind-set, it would’ve helped. It’s just that she was happy to strip the thorns off of $5.00 a dozen baby roses at 4:00 in the morning, and  offer for sale weird old used plaster clown statues that she would mark at $2.00. Then we would sell a piece of restored (their real talent I believe) antique furniture that we had on consignment from the landlords for $500, and pocket $50; well it just made more economic sense to me to go the antique route.

There was a little bit of a Lucy/Ethel moment when for the first month we had a “Who has the best deal at their shop” war – since the shops were right across the street from one another – but we eventually went back to being buddies. Probably the fact that we also lived across the street from each other and our husbands and kids were friends, well, what can you do? We had to kiss and make up.

I absorbed all that I could about antiques and collectibles. I became a dealer. I was voracious at the weekly yard sale and estate sales. Other dealers began to recognize me and say “Let’s move on, Wren is here” if they saw me when they pulled up at a sale. They would assume all the good deals had already been snapped up by me.  They were right.

Something in my brain triggered into overdrive in these heady first few months. I have to succeed, I have to succeed, I have to succeed. It was like some sort of perverted mantra that I couldn’t control. It would be humiliating and unacceptable if I were to fail. If a day went by – and frequently did – when no one came in, I panicked.

To give you perspective, this was  – and primarily still is – a sleepy little town deep in the foothills of the San Fernando Valley of the Los Angeles area. When I had my shop on Commerce Ave., the freeway that connected the Valley to Pasadena – the 210 – had just been open only four or five years. Prior to that, you had to drive a little highway to even get there at all. It’s history was as a tubercular and asthmatic destination early on (“Mountains of Health”), and a resort hangout for some of Hollywood’s finest. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had a ranch nearby in Shadow Hills.

Here is a great link to Old Towne – where my shop was located: http://commerceavenuetujunga.com/historic-olde-towne/

My shop was on the left, about where the car is parked. If you go to the above link, my shop would have been one of the meat markets - I used the old locker for storage.

As the years progressed, it lost its value as a resort.  In the sixties, the bikers and hippies took over. The famous stone houses that were built there from the local river rocks began to crumble – one was used as Dennis Hopper’s home in “The River”, and was destroyed after filming. Families tried to build year round homes on oddly misshapen lots, but it was years before subdivisions were put in. The first neatly parceled neighborhoods could only find room in the upper foothills overlooking the mish-mosh of residences below. One of those first subdivisions was home to E.T. Hollywood loved Tujunga, but antique buyers, not so much.

From the MCA/Universal Film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

This meant – with no advertising budget whatsoever as I was making up this whole business-owner thing as I went along – that I had to be creative. Fortunately, this was something I knew about. My acting lessons, singing, story writing and performing were more conducive to creative than practical thinking. I had to think outside of the box, since I couldn’t afford the damn box.

That was when I met her.

(To be continued next week)