The Road To La Crescenta


“So I gave my two weeks”

Bri said it quickly, like she wanted to get it out of the way.  I was grinding some coffee.  When I turned to her, she was looking at me.  I couldn’t read her face.  If had I had to pick a word to describe it, though, it would be anxious.

Anxiousness is expected when your starting something new, but this was something different.  Bri had worked at Starbucks for around two years.  She had even been a shift lead.  Now, she’s letting that go, abandoning comfort.  This was a big change.

“I know,” I said, “Mike told me.”  Neither of us really knew what to say next.  Customers swept in, like a tsunami, before we could figure it out.  It wasn’t too long before they were climbing over each other, fighting to be the one in their group to pay.  I saw a daughter swat her mom with a twenty dollar bill.

“No, It’s my treat!  No!  Here, take.  Take!”

When someone treats me, I’m grateful.  When these women treat each other at Starbucks, though, it’s like an insult.

My heart wasn’t in it.  I just let them fight it out and took the money from whoever had the longest arms.


Bri, Wayne, Joe and Maya.  They were all leaving.  It was a good chunk of my group of friends.  I’d only have a few left.

Bri had told me she was thinking about leaving a while ago.  She told me that, among the three jobs she had, she worked with a company that found musicians for filmmakers looking to score their movies.  They wanted her to work full time.  They also paid double what Starbucks does.

Bri was only staying at Starbucks to finish undergrad.  Starbucks has a program where, if you work a certain amount of hours a week, you can get your undergraduate degree from Arizona state for free.  It’s a surprisingly good deal but, as Bri told me, what’s the point in going to school if you’re so tired you’re not learning anything?

As much as it pained me, I told her she should go.  Chase the money.  Live the dream, man, live the dream.

And now she was.

I had already gotten over the others leaving.  That had been coming for a long time.  In fact, my buddy John, who left to go to San Diego two or three weeks ago, was hired specifically to help us with a staffing shortage.  We all had full knowledge that he would be going.  I’d known Maya would be leaving for over three months now.

Bri was a surprise though.  I don’t know what I would have said if Mike hadn’t already told me over the weekend.

I can sort of imagine what it’s like to live in a nursing home.  You’d have a specter looming over you.  Every touch, every laugh, every conversation, every interaction would be shadowed with the thought that this person could die very soon, and there is nothing you can do about it.

How horrible it must be.

Starbucks is kind of the same way.  They’re not dying, but from my perspective they might as well be.  I only hang out with two people from work, and even that is irregular, though i think that’s mostly because we are all very, very poor. There’s a good likelihood I’ll never see Joe or Wayne or Maya or Bri again.  I’ll say bye on their last dayand that’s it.

“Don’t worry,” Bri told me later, “You’ll be next.  How’d the Disney thing pan out?”  Poorly, at least so far.  Like everything related to the industry, promises get you about as far as you can throw them.  Words are wind.

It sucks when people you like go, but I guess it comes with the territory.  Part time, minimum wage work doesn’t lend itself to keeping people around.  Im sure the management has hardened their hearts to it, as have all the lifers.  For me, though, it still hurt.

Four hours later I was in my car, on the way to La Crescenta to a pool party in honor of my friend Ben, who was heading back to Wisconsin to start a family.

It was around five, my favorite time of day.  The sun was dipping, the shadows were long, and everything started to look orange.  There was no traffic, and the road was gorgeous.  The thirty minute drive wasn’t bad at all.

I’ve been listening to an album on repeat for the past week.  It’s The Mantle by Aggaloch, a sort of darkly beautiful metal/rock piece about life.  I didn’t realize it until that drive, but, as I wove in and out of the mountains, I remembered that it was the same album I listened to almost on repeat on my epic five-day trip out here, almost exactly a year ago.

To me, it’s an album of change.  As the opener starts, I can feel a door close, and another open.  I can taste the wind blow across my face.  I see the mountains of Tennessee, and the plains of Oklahoma.  I see Texas long-grass and the mesas of Arizona.  I see the Nevada desert, the grand canyon, the Mojave, and the rain.  I see great empty spaces, the sun setting behind them, painting all the nothing red and orange, the sky afire with pinks and the promises of the West.

I walked into the party, and everyone was there, including a bunch of kids that had just graduated film school, and a few who graduated the year before us.

The juxtaposition wasn’t lost on me.

Saying goodbye to Ben was easier than saying goodbye to Bri, because I know I’ll see him again.  Ben’s the kind of guy that would show up one day and say “hey, I’m making a feature film, want to help?”  I would say yes.

Then it’d be my turn to quit my job at Starbucks, and chase that setting sun, heading for the horizon, following something new.

“You’re next,” I could hear Bri saying, “I can feel it.”

Left Mitten Butte, Monument Valley Monument Valley, Utah, USA

Left Mitten Butte, Monument Valley Monument Valley, Utah, USA

Ten Minutes With A Dumpster Woman

dumpster woman

I hate taking out the trash at home, but when I’m at Starbucks, I absolutely love it.  It’s my favorite thing to do.  On any given day I’ll clock in and then immediately approach the supervisor and start trash talking.

“Can’s lookin’ pretty full,” I’ll start nonchalantly.  If they don’t ask me to take the trash out, I give them a little nudge.  “It’s going to overflow soon, probably.  Big mess.  I’d hate to be the one to have to clean that up.  Could attract rats.”

That usually works.  If it doesn’t, then I can wait.  Someone’s going to have to take it out at some point, and I’ve already planted my seed.

The reason I love taking out the trash so much is that it’s like a mini break.  Since I work at a Starbucks in the mall, the dumpster we dump our trash into is a few hundred meters away.  Maybe a two or three minute walk.  Getting the bags in the dumpster takes another few minutes, and, before you know it, your coming back eight minutes later, feeling refreshed.

Eight blessed minutes without having to talk to another human being.

If only it were that simple.

By it’s very nature, a mall is a communal institution, the dumpster pit doubly so.  Everyone in the mall uses the dumpsters.  Sometimes you have to make small talk.  Dumpster small talk.

It’s as uncomfortable as it is banal.

“Oh, hi!  How are you?  Yep, just taking out the trash!  Yes, I know.  Can’t wait for winter!  Work sucks, right?  Yeah, we’ll get better jobs one day!”

How I hate it.

It was night, and I had was bringing a bunch of cardboard boxes to the recycling dumpster, which is right next to the trash one.  I wheeled my cart up the ramp and threw a box in.

“Ow!  Hey!  Stop it!  Somebody’s in here!”

My heart seized up.  There was someone in there.  There was someone in there!  Both the dumpster have pneumatic trash compactors that could easily, easily crush anything left inside.  To death.

“Sorry?”  I asked.  I stared into the dumpster.

A head popped over the inside ledge.  A pretty head.  A woman’s head.

There was a woman inside the dumpster.

Meeting women by the dumpsters is not uncommon in my line of work, though most of them are pale, thin, and utterly unresponsive.


This one was different.  She wasn’t a mannequin.

So I asked the obvious question.

“Oh, you know,” she replied, “just looking for stuff.”

Stuff?  “This dumpster is for recycling only.  It’s mostly just cardboard boxes.”

“Well, that’s great.  You can never have too many cardboard boxes,” she said with a smile, and the disappeared again.

I looked over at the big, green button on the railing.  The one that started the compactor.  The one that would compresses her to a pulp.  The one that literally any unknowing passerby could press.

It’s loud.  The pneumatics would drown out her screams.

“They’re all squished!” she lamented

“That’s because you’re inside a trash compactor.”

The head popped up again.  “Really?

“Yeah.  You could die.”

“Huh,” was all she said.  She looked at my boxes.  “Are you gonna use those?”

I shook my head, and the woman climbed out of the dumpster.

I don’t know what I expected, but It wasn’t what I saw.  Here, crawling out of a dumpster, was a gorgeous twenty something woman in very chic clothing and, I kid you not, high heels.  Her hair was perfect.  Her nails divine.  She even had makeup on.

I stared.  She noticed.

“Sorry,” I said, “I just thought that someone… of the dumpster… wouldn’t look like…”  I took a breath.  “Aren’t you nervous someone might see you?   Someone you know?”

“Hey,” she said, “everyone needs boxes.”

Again with the boxes.  Who was this woman? Did she live in a box?  Did she and her lumberjack, rugged, cover of Men’s Fitness husband construct a house out of used cardboard?  Do they sleep on a cardboard bed?  Eat cereal out of cardboard bowls?  Did she send a lot of packages?

“I guess…” I said, as the woman picked up all of my cardboard and carried it to an infiniti CRV not too far away.

She left me alone with my thoughts.

Why?  Why would someone who didn’t have to climb inside a dumpster?  Who would do that?

She stayed on my mind as I walked back to the store.

I was mopping the floor when my friends showed up.  Nate and Britt had just graduated from the same graduate film program I had, and had made the move to LA less than a week ago.  Nate has two internships and film production companies.  Britt has some set jobs lined up.

I was in a green apron, mopping the floor, and I’d been here for a year.

Time flies.  When I first moved out here,  lived in a beach house thanks to a mix up with the apartment I would rent.  I stayed there for a week.  I was interning at a production company, the same one Nate was interning at now.  I was living the dream.

beach house

And now I’m mopping floors in a mall, taking trash to dumpsters, talking to strange women who dwell within.

At this point, I thought I’d be writing for TV show.

“There he is,” Nate said as I walked around the bar, “Looking good in that apron.  Has it been a good day?”

“Sure, it was busy earlier, but it slowed down now.”

Nate looked around, smiling.  “So do you like it here?”

I looked at my mop.  I thought about Starbucks.  I thought about the customers.  I thought about bills, and paychecks, and rent.  I thought about student loans.  I thought about fixing my car.  I thought about my health insurance, and my free coffee, and my computer, and my writing, and the industry, and movies and TV and socks and money and beer and people and friends and life and death.

Most importantly, though, I thought about a woman in a trash compactor stealing cardboard.

Hey, everybody needs boxes.

“Yeah, I do.” I finally said.  “What can I get for you guys?”

He got a very berry hibiscus.  Just like I knew he would.

very berry hibiscus


A Tryst With Racism

pour over

He said his name was Carlos, and I wrote it on the cup and passed it down the line.  I, as I often do, immediately forgot his name as the plastic left my hand.  It’s a bad habit, but not an uncommon one at Starbucks.

He told me he needed another caramel macchiato, but this one was a hot one .  I wrote his order on the cup, along with a name, and slid it down the line of drinks.

Moment’s later, someone went on a break and I had to go bar.

It’s weird when you go on bar from register and there’s a long line of drinks.  You end up making drinks for people you already connected with at register.  It feels sort of dirty, like seeing someone you used to date while you’re on another date.  You hope they don’t tell everyone else you’re up to your old tricks again.

“Have a nice day?  A nice day?  He told me that not five minutes ago, and look how nice my day turned fucking out to be, waiting in a line for my god damn hibiscus.  Nice day?  Please.  Come up with something original.  And don’t listen to him when he says you have a nice bag.  He told me that one, too.”

So I just didn’t talk to the people I had already talked to.  They didn’t talk to me either.  There was shared understanding.  We both knew too much.

And then I got to Carlos’s hot caramel macchiato.

I doubt there’s anyone who seriously considers them self a racist, just like I doubt there’s anyone who considers them self a villain or a serial killer.  No no, they say, I’m not evil.  It’s everyone else that is.

I’m not a racist.


I wrote Jose on Carlos’ caramel macchiato.

I don’t remember doing it, but there it was.  His name is Carlos, not Jose.  Jose is what a racist person would write on Carlos’ cup.  Jose or Pedro.  That’s what fat rednecks or Donald Trump call Mexicans when they complain about them taking our jobs or jumping the border or whatever.  And I wrote it on a cup,

I was terrified.  To me, for some reason, at that moment, Jose and Pedro were the most racist names possible.  I looked over at Carlos.

He hadn’t seen it yet.  Thank god oh praise the sun he hadn’t seen it yet .  He was watching, yes, he was watching, but he hadn’t seen it yet.  I reached around in my pocket and ah ha!  A sharpie.

The milk finished steaming.  The shots were done.  I had about six seconds to make the drink before the shots died and I had to start all over.

I scribbled out the name.  What was once Jose was now a big, black, angry scratch.  I looked up, and Carlos was watching me.

I handed him the drink.

I told him to have a nice day.

He asked me if I scribbled out the name.

I looked at the cup.  The name was clearly scribbled out.  There was no getting around this one.

I told him I had.

He asked me if it said Jose.  I blushed.  My throat itched.  I couldn’t stop blinking.

He knew.

I told him I’m not racist.

He said what?

I told him it was an accident.

He cocked his head and asked me why writing Jose was racist.

Well, you know, it’s like, a stereotypical name.  It’d be like writing George or something on white guy’s cup if you forgot his name.

He told me no it’s not.  It’s a name.  There are plenty of people named Jose.

So it wasn’t racist?

He said no.

Are you sure?

Yes, writing Jose on a cup isn’t racist, but thinking it was racist was.

I said oh.

He said bye.

And everyone was watching.  I went back to my drink, feeling like a big racist.

But then I realized that, since bad guys don’t think their bad guys, and evil dictators don’t think they’re evil dictators, and racists don’t think they’re racists, then, by thinking I’m a racist, I just proved to myself that I wasn’t a racist, right?  Right?


caramel macchiato

1800 Seconds at a Starbucks With No Line


I’ve often thought that opposites are the scariest thing in the universe.  What could be more frightening to a being accustomed only to light than darkness?  Only land than water?  Only existence than nothingness?

There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to ask himself the hard questions.  What’s he afraid of?  What’s his opposite?

I work at a Starbucks in a large mall. It’s not a bad job, and it’s actually a great break form writing screenplays and thinking all the time.  I never thought I’d have an existential moment there.

And yet I fucking did.

What’s my opposite?

I found it, this very night, while working the register during the late shift.  It all happened in the span of 30 minutes.

30 terrifying minutes where I had the opposite of a line.

Minute 1:

The two women stood about five feet back form the counter.  The squinted at the menu.  I asked if I could help them.  They didn’t respond.  They just stared.   I wondered if they even heard me.  They were probably going to order Very Berry Hibiscus Refreshers.  They had the look about them.  The thirst.

Minute 2:

They finally ordered very berry hibiscus, just like I knew they would.

Minute 3:

They went over to the bar.  There was no one else in line.  I drummed my fingers on the counter and let out a long sigh.

Minute 4:

Joe finished passing out their drinks.  I watched him do it.  His eyes were dead.  The smile was forced.  I could tell he couldn’t hang on much longer

Minute 5:

There still wasn’t anyone else in line.  Joe went to the back to do some dishes.  The shift was in the storeroom counting supplies.  I was all alone.

Minute 6:

I couldn’t believe it.  There wasn’t even anyone else in the mall.  The phone rang.  I picked it up.  There was no one on the line.  I crumpled up a receipt and tried to shoot it into a trash can.  I missed.  I picked it up and tried again.

Minutes 7 – 10:

I continued to miss.

Minute 11:

I heard a scraping sound coming from the somewhere by Bloomingdales.  It sounded like somebody was dragging a shovel on the tile floor.  The phone rang again.  There was no one on the line.  I walked out of the store.

Minute 12:

I looked toward Bloomingdales.  One of the overhead lights about 300 yards down flickered.  The scraping sound didn’t stop, but no one was there.  The phone rang.  I didn’t answer.

Minute 13:

Still no line.  I heard a splashing by the fountain.  The sound of a child’s laughter.  I wanted to go investigate, but someone had to stay at the front of the store.

Minute 14:

Things started to get weird.  A woman in a dress walked back and forth between the Disney Store and the Sporting Good store.  She carried an old, one-eyed teddy bear.  The phone rang.

Minute 15: I asked her if she was okay.  She turned to me.  She had no eyes.  “Today is National Hot Dog Day.” She whispered.  My heart seized up in my chest.  I told her I already knew it was national hot dog day.  Facebook told me.

Minute 16: The woman just stared at me.  I just stared back.  I noticed she actually looked more like a little girl than a woman.  Perhaps the girl from the fountain.o-BLACK-EYED-CHILD-570

Minute 17: This was certainly the longest I had ever gone without a customer at Starbucks.  The girl recommenced her wanderings.  She eventually walked away.  I went back into the store

Minute 18:  The phone rang.  I picked it up.  “It’s National Hot Dog Day.”   That’s when I started to go mad.

Minute 19 – 25:

I don’t remember much.  The phone kept ringing.  I think I stacked cups into castles on the counter.  I made sugar packet guards and used the drink sleeves as gates.  I laughed a lot.  The children kept laughing with me, too.

Minute 26:

I thought there was someone in line.  It turned out to be no one, though.

Minute 30:

I woke up on the floor.  An old lady looked over the counter at me.  She had a Nathan’s Famous bag on the counter.

“Are you okay?”  she asked.

I wasn’t.  I just asked her what I could get her to drink.

“What goes well with hot dogs?”  She asked.  There was a strange smile on her face.  “It’s national hotdog day.”

And that’s when I heard the phone ring.

And that’s when I started to go slightly mad.


Ah!  Another person!  And another.  A line, a blessed line, and I was swept up in the moment.  The fear vanished and I told her, I told her…

I told her a Java Chip with an add shot would go great with hot dogs.  It was a lie.

creepy kids

An Accidental Correspondence with Kim Jong-un

I’ve been receiving strange emails in my inbox.  I think they’re from this guy:

In this image taken from video North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, salutes during a military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the country's founding, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/KRT via AP Video) TV OUT, NORTH KOREA OUT

What follows is the entirety of our email exchange.


Sent to from kimjong@nk.nk at 11:24 PM

친애하는 일반 황 ,

그것은 멈추지 않을 것입니다 ! 시끄러운 스피커 는 국경 을 통해 끊임없는 대중 음악 을 폭발 , 나는 나의 아름다움 잠을 얻을 수 없습니다 입니다. 당신은 포격 을 계속 해야합니다. 내 최대의 궁전 심지어 벽은 음악 밖에 없는 블록 ,하지만 폭발 금속 의 소리 는 확실 하지 . 또한 저녁 식사 목요일 밤 사용할 수 있습니까? 나는 나 자신이 점점 외로운 찾을 수 있습니다.

사랑 ,


Translated via google translate

Dear General Huang ,

It will not stop ! 
Loud speaker explosion of popular music through the endless frontier, 
I can not get my beauty sleep. You have to keep shelling .
 Even within the palace walls up to the block with only music , 
but the sound of exploding metal are not sure. 
It can also be used for dinner on Thursday night ? 
I find myself more and more lonely .

love ,

Kim Jong-un

My Reply

Dear Kim Jong-un,

I think you have the wrong email address.  I am no one of your generals.  I’m not sure how you possibly made this mistake.  Also, this can’t actually be the real Kim Jong-un. Is this some sort of scam? Send me a picture of you at your computer.


The Corn Goblin

Sent to from kimjong@nk.nk at 11:28 PM

친애하는 옥수수 고블린 ,

어떻게 저를 믿지 감히 ? 내 말 은 금 이다. 내 입으로 는 하나님의 입 이다. 그것 에서 , 진리 는 깨진 베개 에서 깃털 처럼 떨어진다. 태양 광선 은 내 엉덩이 에서 와서 나는 방귀 때, 계피 냄새 , 하지만 난 단지 방귀 를 할 때 .

어떻게하면이 잘못된 이메일 주소 로 보내 나요?

여기에 사진 입니다.



Translated via google translate

Dear Corn Goblin ,

How dare you not believe me ? I mean, it is gold. 
My mouth was the mouth of God. 
In it, the truth will fall like a feather pillow from broken . 
When the sun's rays come in my ass , I fart , smell of cinnamon, 
but only when I fart .

How do I send emails to the wrong address?

Here is a picture .


Kim Jong-un


My Reply

Why are there so many people around your computer?  Why are you talking about farting?  Is there going to be war?  WHO DOES YOUR HAIR?


The Corn Goblin

Sent to at 11:31 PM

친애하는 옥수수 고블린 ,

오 예.

온라인 내 장군 을 사칭 계속 하면 전쟁 이있을 것입니다.

나는 물론 , 내 자신의 머리를 않습니다. 누가 그렇게 잘 할 수 있을까? 내가 처럼 아무도 다른하나님 의 손 이 없습니다.

내가 다시 얘기 해야하는 경우 , 내가 당신을 죽일 암살자 의 치명적인 팀 을 보내드립니다.

최고의 소원,



당신의 " 대통령은 오바마 대통령 이 " 그 빌어 먹을 음악을 거절 말한다.

아니면 .

Translated via Google translate

Dear Corn Goblin ,

Oh yes .

If you continue pretending to be online in general there will be a war .

I , of course, do my own hair . Who could be so good ?
 No one another the hand of God as I do.

Why do you keep talking about farts?  Damn this google translate.  
It messes up your english into my Korean.  I don't think very accurately.

If I have to talk again , I will send a team of deadly assassins to kill you .

Best wishes ,

Kim Jong-un


Your " President Obama ," says reject the fucking music .

Or .

I did not contact him again, for fear of deadly assassins.  I think I learned something that day, though.  I learned that even iron fisted dictators have frustrations with technology, which sort of humanized Kim (as I now call him) a little bit.  I also learned that they apparently have access to Google in North Korea, and that Google Translate isn’t very accurate sometimes, be you a lonely blogger from Los Angeles, or a maniacal dictator from North Korea.

In that way, we’re sort of kindred spirits.  It’s the human condition, really.

Someone, please help me.



He Is Risen!

Behold!  On the top of a wind swept hill a lone tree stands.  It’s knots and gnarled limbs make it seem cancerous and dead, but some life still yet lingers.

Look!  There!  In the twigs and branches, dark green pokes through clumps of dust and decay.

Track down the base, where dark holes and cracked fissures house spiders and other vermin.  Past those, gnarled roots dive in and out of the cracked earth like worms.  Around them, gifts and offerings languish, coated in inches of dust.  Their wrapping papers are browning and brittle flakes.

One lone supplicant kneels at the base of the tree, a young boy, no older than fourteen.  Dressed in peasant’s garb, he gently rests a single beer against the largest of the roots.

“This land is suffering,” he whispers to the tree, “the crops fail, bandits raid our storehouses, and pretenders rise to claim the throne.”  He looks down at the ground and, even more quietly, “some even openly mock your name.  The peasants, they laugh at you, have spun you into myth and legend.  A mockery of what you once were.  A stain on your tapestry, glory defiled.  How I hate them.”

He sniffs.  A tear falls, wetting the dirt below.

“Why are you crying, peasant?”

The boy turns and sees a grizzled crone watching him.  She wears a black cloak and a hood pulled low over her eyes.  It obscures her face, but does nothing to hide her large, hooked nose.

“Who are you?”  The boy asks, wiping a tear away.

“I?  I am but an old crone, feeble and decrepit.  Why are you crying?”

“Our lord has left us.”

“Who is that?”

“The great one,” the boy’s eyes sparkle, “the Corn Goblin.”

The crone gives a knowing smile.

“Ah,” she cackles, “the corn goblin.  I have heard tales.  Where has he gone?”

“No one knows, but the land… the land is dying without him.”

“Then I have good news.”  The boy looks up.  Hope crosses his face for the first time in months.


“He can return again.”


The Crone grins.  “You have come here to his altar.  You see it here.  It is dry.  It needs to be watered.”

“But there is a drought!  We barely have enough water for the wheat!”

“Foolish boy.  It doesn’t need water.”  The crone pulls out a long, grizzled knife, and grins again.

The boy stares at the knife for a long time.  He turns around from the hill, and looks back at the countryside.  It’s dusk now, and the lights of the farm houses and barns glitter prettily in the growing dusk.

Brown pervades.  Brown and black.  Rot and drought.  Death.

He feels the presence of the crone behind him.

He bows his head.

The knife’s steel is cold against his throat.

“Who are you?”

“I am him, and you are him.  We are but his creation.  This blog once served a purpose, but now… now it decays.  No longer.”

“I’m scared”

“Don’t be, for you aren’t even real.”

A tug scrapes the knife across his bones.  He falls.  His blood pools around the roots.

The roots suck it up.

On a branch, a dark crimson flower blooms.

The crone sees it, and smiles.

A green hand punches through the dirt.  The fingers clinch into a fist.

The crone’s face lights with adulation.

“He is risen!”


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