Southern California is a great place to spend your 20’s, even if you’re in the high Mojave desert, a world away from Hollywood, Malibu, Venice Beach, and Beverly Hills, but in the same county. People were able to live with a small town feeling and, at the same time, be in the hub of a wheel of fun with spokes radiating to San Diega, Tijuana, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, and so much more.
In 1986, after moving over a thousand miles from my hometown to the land of Joshua trees, sight unseen, figuring I could live anywhere for a year, I was excited to see things like the Hollywood sign, Santa Monica pier and Rodeo Drive.
When I received my first month’s teaching paycheck, I was so excited – it was over a thousand dollars! I’d been making minimum wage as an aide at a residential rehab center for adolescents back home. I felt rich, and there were all these great places to go and things to do! After three weeks, with seven more days before my second paycheck, I had $7 left in the bank. I freaked out. How the hell did that happen? I was definitely on a steep learning curve.
With a roommate I’d just met and literally scores of young teachers recruited from states near and far to serve the handful of school districts with exploding populations spread out across the desert, there was always a group of people ready for the next adventure, usually down the 14 freeway, past the Vazquez Rocks, to “down below.” The first time someone asked if I wanted to go down below, I probably said something like, “Well, I’m not really set to go to Australia just now.” “Down below” is the way residents of the high desert refer to anywhere in the greater Los Angeles area.
Just as “down below” doesn’t immediately bring to mind Southern California, Lake L.A. doesn’t accurately reflect the environs of my school district. Apparently there had been a manmade Lake L.A., but, funny thing, it dried up in the Mojave Desert; not before the developer sold some waterfront homes, though, right on the lake! The water disappeared but the houses remained. A small community took root.
In the spring, my roommate wondered if it would be okay if a friend of his from back home stayed with us while he interviewed for teaching positions. Sure, I said. Besides which I felt more like I was being told than asked.
This new guy bugged the crap out of me before we even got out of LAX. He talked a mile a minute, thought he was funny, which I didn’t want to admit, and didn’t seem all that appreciative. Of course, knowing how little my roommate communicated the big picture to me, I could imagine that he hadn’t filled the new guy in on minor details, like the fact that I did not want him to live with us. I told my roommate his friend had 2 or 3 weeks to figure his shit out – and then I wanted him gone. Doubt very much the new guy ever got that message.
So, I tried to make it clear. Man, I could be such a bitch back in my early 20’s. Nonverbal communication – all in. I was silently giving him the finger every chance I got. He didn’t get it. Or pretended not to notice.
Over time, he kinda grew on me, I’m not gonna lie. When a group of about 30 teachers and staff from my district went on a weekend adventure to Catalina Island, my roommates were on board. The building attraction between my unwanted roommate and I found expression sweetly, romantically but definitely rated PG that weekend. Not long after, the annoying extra roommate became my live-in boyfriend, just like that.