Jeff Smith 1:30 p.m., Jan. 16
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My Three Lives
I am living three separate lives in three different cities. No one can understand this but I, and I am slowly becoming confused as my three lives attempt to merge like conglomerates once in competition but forced to join due to the market and economy. Even that metaphor causes me to grind my molars.
In Los Angeles, I run around in the movie business, going to pitch meetings, strategizing with my manager, hanging out with various actors, producers, directors—professional and wannabes alike. I only work on my scripts on the Amtrak Surfliner that goes back and forth between Los Angeles and San Diego. Sometimes I have lunches with famous people, people you have seen in films and television shows, people you have read gossip about. You might not believe me if I told you, unless you’re someone I know in Los Angeles who knows that particular life. The women I date, if you can call it dating, are actresses and strippers, quite fitting for Tinsel Town romance; one leaves me when I tell her about the child in Tijuana—these two lives cannot intermix, these two lives loathe each other. I stay away from other screenwriters: all they do is gripe and bemoan how their careers are going nowhere, how the studios don’t know they exist, how hard it is to get a rep, how fly-by-night and Name producers alike lie to them. I know all this, I have experienced it, I don’t need to hear it from them, these angry people with their film degrees and grandiose dreams of accepting an Oscar.
In San Diego, I am a hermit. I can hole myself up in my studio apartment by the beach for two, three weeks, just two cats and me, and not speak to a soul—all my communication is done via email, Facebook, text messages. When I do speak to someone, in person or on the phone, my voice sounds alien, my throat hurts if I talk too long. I order delivery for food, or walk down to the corner store for milk, Gatorade, Snapple, the occasional beer; I walk another block for fast food or good food, depending on my mood. I stay inside and write, and write, not screenplays but essays and stories and novels and the occasional work of academic criticism. Sometimes I will head out to Borrego Springs and become the desert hermit. Sometimes, I will hide in a cubbyhole at a library—SDSU, UCSD, the Law Library downtown, whatever feels fitting for my needs, a space and place I can write non-stop for 8-12 hours, returning to the world a little dazed and fatigued but feeling good about the progress of whatever project I am working on. I do no date: too many relationships in San Diego having ended badly and interfering with my work: women in the bug house, in rehab, the fear and loathing of failure and age.
In Tijuana, I am a journalist (“periodista”) and an accidental father. I still cannot comprehend this life as something real. For years, I have been a reporter for the news wire services, transmitting the latest facts about drug cartel shootings, corrupt cops, corrupt politicos: the next series of headless bodies, of heads rolling down the streets of the blood-stained corridor, of stray bullets and kidnapped gringos. I take rooms in the Hotel Nelson or Santiago Hotel, cheap with an eye on the street: the mariachi bands, the paraditas, the many stray dogs roaming the alleys searching for food. In these small rooms I have two laptops and an iPad. I work on short stories or novels when the journalism is done. I have written one novel, Hard Cold Whisper, during the Three Day Novel Contest. For two years I have been working on a non-fiction book, culminating all my news wire blurts, chronicling the rise and fall of the Arellano-Felix Family and their murderous reign over the region, these Kings of Tijuana, these dealers of meth and death. Some people think I am crazy, my family thinks I will get killed or kidnapped or both; they do not understand the need for this next book, this book that I know will define me as a reporter.
And now I come to Tijuana for another reason: for my little daughter, born two months ago, and the woman (much younger than me) who is my daughter’s mother. We share a home, an apartment five times the size of my San Diego studio and 1/3 the rent of said studio. It works out between us, that I am only there 10-12 days of the month, 10 days in Los Angles and 10 days in San Diego. It’s for the baby. We don’t get along sometimes, the age difference is a factor of experience and culture. I am a secret to her family as she is to mine. I am not, here, the man in Los Angeles pitching movie ideas to Dino de Laurentiis at Universal or Robert Evans at Paramount; I am not the guy who wrote the indie film The Watermelon; I am not the guy whose novel Wild Turkey is being made into a movie; I am not the guy who can skip the line at the bar in the Roosevelt Hotel because I “know” someone who works there. Nor am I the guy in San Diego, the novelist, the sociologist, the isolationist who keeps to his own self. The mother of my daughter has no interest in my two other lives, she is only interested in that I am there to hold our child, to help with bills and food, to take her to movies when the Nanny we’ve hired watches over the baby.
These three lives resist when I try to mix them up. What will happen when my daughter has her US Passport and her mother has a visa and both can cross into a foreign country where I am someone else?
I can only wait, and then I will know if it is good or bad.
Illustration by Nachito, used with permission.
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- Back At My Parent’s House But At Least I Can Breathe Again — Nov. 30, 2010
- Psychoanalysis — Aug. 24, 2006
- Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir — Feb. 23, 2006
- Go to Julian, Open a Vein — Dec. 6, 1990