Frank Lloyd Writing

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In middle school and high school I spent a lot of my free time on computers. I played a lot of video games, but I also put in a lot of time on architecture and computer aided design software (yes, I’ve always been this nerdy). I’m a proponent of art in all its forms, but I’ve always had a soft spot for architecture. I love how tangible, interactive, and practical the end product is.

This weekend was Chicago Open House – an event put on by the Chicago Architecture Center where architecturally significant buildings are open to the public. In the spirit of the event, and in line with my love of the craft, I went to tour the former home of one of the American greats – Frank Lloyd Wright. I love his work (pictured above), but I also love what a weird dude he was – an artist in every way.

He was raised in a broken household like any good artist, and mom had him play with geometric blocks, and put up pictures of cathedrals in his room as inspiration (or strong-arming depending on your vantage point). He enrolled in the University of Wisconsin, and by 19, he dropped out, moved to Chicago, and began work as a draftsman at an architecture firm. By 22, he had begged $5,000 away from his boss to purchase his first plot of land to build his first house – the one I visited today.

He raised his family there while his designs leaked into the surrounding town of Oak Park via his neighbors/clients. He took full responsibility for the aesthetic in his homes, even after the design phase was over. He designed dresses for the women to wear around the house. He would buy a vase for a client to put on a mantle, then send a bill, then drop by occasionally to make sure they hadn’t moved it. If they told him the roof was leaking onto their desk in the office, he told them to move the desk.

In his early 40’s, he wooed the wife of one of his clients, and they whisked away to Europe, leaving their families and his business behind. He also left behind all of his debts, as he usually didn’t pay his bills. When payday rolled around, he bought a new piano instead of paying his employees. But he was in love, and I totally get how going Europe with a new love interest sounds better than dealing with any of that.

Eventually, he married Mamah (pronunced May-muh), and they moved to Wisconsin. One day while Frank was away on business, one of the servants of the house murdered seven people – including Mamah and her two children – and burnt the house to the ground. His family would later say that a piece of Frank – the warm, loving one – died with her that day, and the egocentric side of the artist took the reigns from then on.

Together with his third and final wife, Olgivanna, he started an architecture commune complete with drama circles, dance groups, and Sunday morning gospels. He died of a tummy ache (abdominal pains and attempted surgery) in April of 1959.

The man was a genius, and like all geniuses, he was weird as could be. Standing in the home that he designed and built at the age of 22 was awe-inspiring, and I won’t waste my time trying to describe it to you – the flow was perfect, the mix of detail and simplicity was elegant, and the materials were all locally sourced. All I can really say is that I certainly wouldn’t mind living there, even if it meant wearing a dress of his making, or keeping that ugly vase on the mantle. The guy knew what he was doing.

“Every great artist who ever lived is a philosopher. My work is great insofar as its philosophy is sound,” he once said. Well, it seemed pretty sound to me (design-wise, at least – many of his structures were plagued by his overconfidence and attempts at coming in under budget, but whatever – art, right?).

 

Rollin’ in the Hamiltons and Lincolns

I presently make $15.00 an hour, and work between 40 and 50 hours a week. I get some overtime pay, but I’m limited by the amount of hours in a day and the scheduling needs of my workplace. Would I work more? Sure, but my newly adopted dog is already pretty upset with the amount of time I’m away from the house (as indicated by the new urine stains on my mattress, which I did not personally put there to my knowledge), so it isn’t really an option.

I could hire a dog walker, or pay for him to go to daycare while I’m at work, but at my current wage, it feels like I’m barely scraping by. I get paid biweekly, and rent eats up about 81% of the first paycheck of the month. Then my electricity, phone bill, car payment, car insurance, and medical bills from the past combine to get rid of 59% of paycheck two (student loans would be on that list if I cared enough to get them out of default, but clearly I do not). Groceries, gas, dog food; alcohol – that takes care of the rest of the money I’ve got.

Is this livable? Clearly – I’m alive right now to spin this yarn for you. Am I living in excess? I don’t personally think so, given that I’ve not even adequately furnished my apartment after two months of living in it (I just got a dining room table last week for $35 – I’ll be sure to point it out in my upcoming Cribs special), and I can’t manage to pull together any real social life. Oh, and I still get help from my parents, so I’m really doubling down on the whole “artist” thing.

If you’ve been reading that in a whiny tone – that’s fair. I’m equally unenthused with the way all of that sounds. So why am I complaining at you? Well, with the minimum wage debate swirling around Amazon’s choice to pay all its workers a minimum of $15 an hour, I thought having an example of exactly what $15 gets you would be helpful.

I’m not paying all the bills that I should be, but I’m paying the other ones on time. I’ve got a roof over my head, and I’m able to feed myself and my dog enough for us to both look healthy. $15 an hour doesn’t get you a lot – it gets you barely enough, and I know with certainty that I could not live with less. Money – and how I don’t have enough of it – is constantly on my mind to the point of obsession.

I mean… maybe I could drink a little less, but take it from me, all this obsessing makes a body thirsty. Cheers.

Vote, Dammit!

FB_IMG_1539352785553.jpgDo you remember when you were young and you cared about things? I find myself thinking a lot about Younger Me lately. I was politically engaged, well-informed, and most importantly I gave a damn. I had an interest in the way the world turned out, and I was willing to put an effort in to make things happen.

In 2016, I sat around a television set with my closest friends in Sacramento drinking quite a lot of well-aged whiskey as they announced that Donald Trump would be President of the United friggin’ States. It seemed surreal at the time. My lady friends were in tears, and honestly I might have been, too (it really was a lot of whiskey).

I ‘m pretty sure that I had already started checking out of the political world at that point, but this certainly didn’t help things. My faith in the American people was shaken, and I all but stopped paying any real attention.

Now here we are, 25 days from a midterm election, and like many other Americans, I’m pumped about voting again. According to a Pew Research poll conducted last month, 67% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans say they’re more enthusiastic about voting than usual. I would feel more optimistic about those numbers if Mitch McConnell wasn’t saying that the Kavanaugh hearings have “been a great political gift” for the Republicans. Historically, the Republicans are better at riding talking points into midterm victories, while Democrats get bogged down in the details.

The Pew Research Center also notes that Democrats are more politically active than the Republicans right now, with 22% of Democrats saying that they’ve been to a political event in the past year, versus just 8% of Republicans. That’s great and all, but in all likelihood every single one of those people was going to vote anyway. None of the people going to fundraisers and meet-and-greets are or have ever been on the fence. Those people know how they’re going to vote before the candidates are even announced in most cases.

The real task is getting everybody who isn’t going to rallies to actually show up on election day. This year’s primaries were promising, in that there was a 56% increase in the number of people who voted in them as compared to 2014’s midterms. Still, that only amounts to 19.6% of registered voters who did their damn jobs as citizens.

My point is, if you’re truly upset by what’s been going on in the news and in your country, do yourself a favor and vote on November 6th. Better yet, tell your friends to vote, too. Join Current Me and Younger Me in giving a damn, so we can all stop feeling perpetually frustrated and angry when we read, watch, or listen to the news.

The Ones Left Behind

Screenshot_20181011-080012~2.pngTrees and power lines knocked over, hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, $125 billion in damages, and thousands of lives uprooted and floated away – this was Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August of 2017. Hurricane Michael is currently battering the Florida coastline, and while the damage has yet to be quantified in the same ways, it will certainly be extensive and life-altering for the residents of that area.

It’s not just human lives that are permanently changed by events like this. In the rush to evacuate during Harvey, dogs were left tied to trees in backyards, and back doors were left open so cats could fend for themselves during the coming disaster.

Thanks to the giant hearts of Dr. Lisa Newell and a large number of donors, I got to be part of a team that traveled to Houston in the wake of the hurricane to provide medical services to displaced animals. The rescue facility I spent most of my time in was a strip mall that had been hit hard by the economy, leaving it vacant and available to house the thousands of pets we saw.

The cats and the dogs were kept in separate buildings for some pretty obvious reasons. The cat building was an old bank with most of the cats in cages, and some of them wandering the rafters, eluding volunteers. Cages were stacked three or four high, and many of the cages had whole litters of kittens in them. The dog building was the hollowed out shell of a grocery store, and was nearly at capacity with kennels. There were droves of RV’s, vans, and trucks rotationally shuttling animals deemed “healthy” to neighboring towns outside the hurricane’s reach.

The ones that weren’t healthy enough to travel were kept in isolation areas as they had pneumonia, upper respiratory infections, contagious stomach viruses, skin parasites, lesions, and just about any other malady an animal can have. We walked them, fed them, and administered donated medications to the ones in need. Some of these animals had clearly been strays, and wandered the streets long before the hurricane, but many were apparently abandoned just recently.

One dog’s anxiety would’t let him rest. He’d cry incessantly unless he was in my arms. When I got called away to help other animals, the crying picked back up again. While I held and comforted him, I had to push away intrusive thoughts about what kind of life this dog might have when I left. Would he find a home? Would he find a family that would give him the love and attention he needed and deserved? Focusing too much on these questions made it impossible to stop tears from clouding my vision, so they had to be shoved down somewhere for long enough to keep me functional.

When the rains and the winds die down in Florida, we will undoubtedly find a similar situation. There will be thousands of pets in need of medical attention and – arguably more  importantly – love. Once the medical professionals have done their jobs, these pets need someplace to call home.

If you aren’t in a place to take in one of these pets, I implore you to find outfits like Austin Pets Alive, Houston Pets Alive, and Best Friends Animal Society, and donate time or money to aide them in their efforts. Trust me, it feels good knowing that you contributed to making the lives of these animals even marginally better, and if you could like into their eyes like I did, you’d know how much they sincerely appreciated it.

The Shark Limo

Screenshot_20181005-161552.pngPer my party prep SOP, I perused the aisles of the nearest Goodwill, looking for outlandish dayglow pieces that would really pop under blacklight. They couldn’t just be regular glow-in-the-dark pieces of clothing – they had to be nonsense enough to stand out in a sea of people aiming to stand out. Pro tip: the children and women’s sections have better party clothes by a mile and change than the men’s section.

I settled on a highlighter yellow pair of boy’s running shorts, and a neon pink puffy vest. I barely fit into both, so they were perfect. On my out, I also spotted a neon green hat with “VIVA” printed across the front. After wriggling myself into my new outfit and some concerted effort on the inebriation front, I was ready to go.

On the way in, I went past the bouncers searching people at the main entrance, to the side of the building, and slipped what I had into my shoe. I saw a guy next to me put his hand to his ear as I went back around to the front.

“Throw away whatever you have in your shoe. I’m not going to argue with you – just make this easier for all of us and throw it away,” the large, suited man said. Clearly he had been on the other end of the communique I walked away from.

“Damn fine work, gentlemen. You got it.” I reached down to my shoe, and simultaneously into my pocket pink pocket (in the vest – get your head out of the gutter). I pulled out a cigarette wrapper and threw it into the trash as I palmed the contents of my shoe behind my phone.

“Thanks for being cool about it – you good,” he said with a nod.

Sucker.

At parties in club or bar settings, I go into autopilot. I bounce between the bar, the dance floor, and the bathroom with fairly reckless abandon, letting Whim guide me around at its leisure. It’s normally too loud inside to have conversations longer than, “I LOVE YOUR OUTFIT!” And I don’t always appreciate the amount of spittle involved in those close-quarter convos.

This party was no different, and I found myself on the smoking patio for much of the night. I preferred it there – partly because of my nicotine addiction, sure, but mainly because I actually got to speak to people and get to know them. I’m a glutton for conversation with strangers, and I was feeling particularly ravenous that evening.

2am came screeching in behind the veil of smoke and alcohol I had erected in front of me. As we were getting booted from the place, the guy I was chatting with said, “You seem cool. You wanna come with us to the after party in my limo?”

Why yes, I did. I went to the club with friends, but the allure of a privately owned limousine was too good to pass up, so I was a shitty friend, and I said goodbye to the people I came with. I was down on myself about that for as long as it took the limo owner to pull out a magnetic shark fin that he stuck to the top. “How fuckin’ cool is this?!” he shouted. It was really cool. My mood improved.

The ride to the after party was rowdy. The attractive couple that owned the limo also owned a champagne gun – like a squirt gun that you could affix bottles of champagne directly to – and I was immediately shot in the eye with it. But dammit what fun! Scantily clad and covered in sticky, bubbly goodness, we danced and slid around the back of the limo, randomly yelling at passersby out the windows (how else would they know we were enjoying ourselves in there?). I was glad my outfit only set me back ten bucks – money well-spent.

We poured out of the limo and into what can only be described as a party house. It was a dark labyrinth with a different theme for each room and cushions packed into every available space. There was a DJ booth in the darkest depths, and I vaguely recall dancing, but again, most of my time was spent on the smoking patio.

My voice tends to carry, and it might have contributed to the cops finally showing up to shut the thing down. They wandered in and did their best to kick everybody out. They were largely successful. I wandered away, but because I didn’t have a ride, I just kind of meandered around for a while, then the cops left, so I went back inside and continued partying. The windows were all blacked out, so I was surprised when 10am showed up on my watch.

The next time I looked at it, it was 3pm, and I was just waking up. There were very few party goers left, and I was underneath a large area rug that I equated with a blanket at some point. I stumbled around until I found the guy who ran the party den.

“Hey, can I use your phone to call myself an Uber?” I asked.

“I don’t have Uber on my phone, man.”

“Okay, well can I download it, then use my card to get myself an Uber?”

“Sure,” he said finally.

I squinted my eyes as I walked out into the afternoon heat of the San Fernando Valley. I don’t think that I audibly hissed, but I might’ve. I had 45 minutes to explain my outfit to my driver on the way to the house of the friend I abandoned at the club. He was enthralled, but I had a hard time sharing his enthusiasm because I was now quite aware of how much I needed a shower. When the ride was over I thanked him for listening, apologized for the smell, and begrudgingly stumbled back into real life.

The Process

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Look at how contemplative and artsy that shit is! LOOK!

Ya know… I didn’t go into this writing thing with the thought that my perspective on the world and its goings on needed to or would change in any way, but I’ve noticed a shift that’s worth mentioning. The process of sifting through my past for things worth discussing is a strange combination of cathartic and anxiety-provoking.

I find myself flying over forests of memories, then every so often a single tree catches my eye. Most of the trees are too obfuscated by time, a life of rotational inebriation, or a lack of enough interest to recall their details. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I see one clearly – I circle over it, looking at it from different angles, trying to decide if it’s worth landing on. Sometimes it isn’t, and I resume my aloof perusing from the comfort of the clouds, but other times I like the shape of the branches, or the feel of the bark, or the color of the leaves, so I land.

Some trees have a beautiful aesthetic, and I can play around in them for my enjoyment, and ideally the enjoyment of the reader. Some trees are riddled with thorns that I must endure, ideally also for the enjoyment of the reader. Some feel like coming home, some feel like I’m standing on fucking thorns the whole time (I don’t need another metaphor there – thorns suck and so do some of my memories).

Sometimes the damn things are just too uncomfortable to get close to. It’s both exciting and frustrating to find these particular memories, because I know I’ve struck writer’s gold when I can’t bring myself to confront them, and eventually, I’ll have to endure the shitty feelings for long enough to get it in writing. I’m sorry to say, you’ll have to buy the book to get those stories (I’m not that sorry – it’ll be a good book).

I suppose that even in those instances, I get some sense of enjoyment, or at least some long-term benefit. Even when it’s at its worst, this process can offer some degree of healing. I had a spent bullet casing lodge itself in my collar once, and by the time I got it out, the water forced from my skin had already cooled it to a manageable temperature. I ignored the burn for what was probably too long, and it got infected. After my first shower in a while, I scrubbed away at the wound with a rough washcloth until it was raw again. Now it’s healed and you can barely see the scar.

Point is, the process can be like scrubbing an infected burn wound with a rough washcloth, but eventually it’ll heal over more completely than it would have if you hadn’t done that. Or at least that’s the hope. If it doesn’t, I’ll at least try to make the scrubbing look choreographed. Either way, I hope you enjoy the spectacle.

The Shadow Dragon

I had never seen – no less purchased – LSD before, so when the young man handed me the small strip of paper I asked, “About how many doses would you say this is?”

“About eleven,” he estimated. Normally they’re cut into small, individual tabs of paper, but this was one long piece that I would have to cut myself. I was preparing for a visit from a high school friend, and a colorful trip to Golden Gate Park with him the next day. I couldn’t very well embark on the trip without trying the stuff first, though – I had to make sure it was good and suss out what the effects were before a more public excursion.

I sat in my dorm room, cut off a small piece of paper, and stuck it in my mouth per my instructions. I waited about 45 minutes and thought, “Well I’m not feeling anything. Must not be that good. I’ll cut off another piece.” I did this another four or five times before I started to feel something. Turns out, the onset time is longer than I originally anticipated, and I probably could’ve stopped at one.

I stayed in the safety of my room for a while, then reasoned that I better eat something – I hadn’t eaten all day. I got up the courage to walk down the long flight of stairs to the cafeteria. Halfway down the stairs I stopped and stared at the trees, that were now clearly waving hello to me. I thought it’d be rude to ignore them, so I waved back saying, “Hello, trees,” then I continued down the stairs.

I stood in line, scanned my card, and collected my tray of roast beef and mashed potatoes with gravy. I sat in a table by myself, and was certain that every conversation happening around me was now about me. Not only that, but the small cafeteria I entered was now a giant and expanding food hall. As for my classmates, they were all now dinosaurs a la the 90’s television show Dinosaurs.

I hunched over in my seat trying to focus on my food and ignore the gossipy reptiles around me, but when my roast beef moved as I cut into it, I decided to give up on eating. I pushed my plate of living tissue away from me, and made my exit avoiding eye contact so as not to upset any T-rexes on my way out.

Back in the safety of my room, I turned to Guitar Hero for solace. I played better than I had ever played in my life up to that point or since. It was like I was one with my fake guitar. After a while I couldn’t handle the pace, and I was satisfied with my performance, so I turned out all the lights and got into my loft bed. I tried pulling the covers over my head, but my eyes were glued open.

I pulled the covers off, and was confronted by the Shadow Dragon. His beaming eyes looked right at me, and his long whiskers and body shifted around ceaselessly as if blown by a light breeze. He spoke to me in a deep, rolling voice that sounded like thunder. We talked for a while about life, then he was slain in the instant my roommate threw open the door and drenched the walls he called home with the light from the hallway.

“What have you done?!” I yelled at him.

“Uh… What are you talking about?” he asked, looking around the room. I explained everything to him about the dragon, and he said, “Hold on a second.” He ran out of the room, and returned a few moments later with four other people from our floor. They sat me in the middle of the room and quizzed me about the goings on in my day. I told them about the trees, the dinosaurs, how I killed it at Guitar Hero, and finally about the Shadow Dragon.

Eventually, I stopped mid-sentence, and sat there silently for a second. “I’m sorry, but I feel like I’m on stage and it’s freaking me out.” They all courteously excused themselves and I returned to the waking darkness of the room by myself, hoping for an opportunity to say my goodbyes to the Shadow Dragon who had guided me through a tumultuous time in my night.

Alas, I fell asleep after an hour or so, and I never saw or spoke to him again. If you’re out there reading this, Shadow Dragon, thank you, and farewell.