|Optimistic at first. That quickly changed.|
|First catering gig: Veuve Clicquot Polo Match.|
I’m back in San Diego now, typing this entry from my old bedroom that overlooks our lush backyard. I began this post at the beginning of July. It’s July 21st now and I’ve yet to complete it. This afternoon is similar to the first day I started writing about my LA retrospective. There’s a slight breeze outside, thus making my room pleasant and airy. My dogs are a mere 20 feet away and my mom is in the family room watching a movie with my niece. I’m alone in my room, but I’m content. In LA, I was alone for days on end. That’s what happens when you move to a city with no job and no friends. No grasp on reality, basically. I moved there expecting myself to make shit happen, to be miraculously scouted as I was walking down the street. Unfortunately, it was quite to the contrary. Sometimes I’d mutter not 50 words in an entire day. I'd walk to the store to buy groceries I didn't need, walk down Santa Monica Blvd. hoping something would spark my interest, walk to The Grove to see a movie I wasn't particularly interested in. I was existing in that city, going out and socializing maybe once a week, if that. I'd hoped people go out with me, but frequently I found myself possessing the most idle time over anyone else. For a social person like me, that’s torturous. The most stimulating interactions I had were during catering jobs, which I'd jump on any chance I got. My friskier tendencies manifested through Grindr or Tinder, trying to somehow connect with anyone that’d show me attention. I’d turn to podcasts and old radio shows on YouTube for substance. I'd go to bed with music playing, or listening to Howard Stern. I seldom had anyone to talk to other than over text. I used to wake up every morning with no agenda, no lust for life, no zeal for the day’s potential. My initial concern was what I was going to make for breakfast, followed by exercise to counteract the inevitable sitting I’d be doing all day. I’d want to go hiking at Griffith Park, but dreaded the traffic-packed route to get there. I’d sit all day working on shoes, taking a few hours break because I got bored. I’d walk whenever I could – to the post office, to the movies, to my optical place - because I had nothing better to do. In hindsight, I honestly can’t recall how I utilized my time. I had no life, no purpose. I really don't know why I was there, nor what reason I had keeping me. Every time I was prompted with the question, “How’s LA?” I’d respond with, “Eh…” Now if that wasn’t a clear indicator of my sentiment throughout my stay then I don’t know what was. Not to suggest LA isn’t a fabulous city, it’s just that in my experience, I struggled.
|My apartment after getting my rug back from my ex. Homey, right?|
The first month I immersed myself in as many catering gigs I could work. After all, it was the easiest way to make friends. Which I did at first, then later lost. I literally had a bed, two chairs, my desk, and a table as my only pieces of furniture. No rug, no couch, not even a lamp. It was absolutely, positively, pain-stakingly depressing. The true antithesis of inspiration. And oh so fucking lonely. On the 30th of October I met a guy that would change my entire Los Angeles experience. I joined a friend at this club called Hooray Henry’s after working a 12-hour catering shift in Beverly Hills. I did not look cute and was in no mood to socialize, but I figured let’s see what happens. I showed up to the place wearing my catering outfit for that evening: at that point a food-stained white shirt and ill-fitting khakis. The interior of the club was loud as hell, full of what I’m sure were LA’s rich and fabulous set. These people were the epitome of bourgeois. You know those kids, the ones that think they’re hot shit and are constantly fed that nonsense because they’re either actors, models, “stylists,” or worse: YouTube stars. Needless to say, I couldn’t have cared less about the who’s who that night. I was, however, oddly fascinated by the whole scene of it all. While sitting at our booth, where we like totally had bottle service, I struck up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to me. Lo and behold he had an Australian accent, which is dangerous for me. Plus, he was sweet and offered his number up easily. What the hell? It's never this easy for me, I thought. Fast-forward a month: I fell madly in love with him, not only as a friend but as someone I cared about. Of course, the feelings weren’t mutual. Funny enough, we fought like friends that had known each other for years. He was going through a break-up and I was there to console him. He confided in me, I in turn offered advice. I saw him cry, cooked him food, even rubbed his head until he fell asleep. My fondest memories were us driving aimlessly around LA, listening to music and connecting on a spiritual level. I relied on him for companionship; therefore, we hung out multiple times a week. It was my first time having a gay friend my age, but I got emotionally invested. Side note: we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all compromised our time, our patience, our hearts to be there for someone we’ve lusted after, hoping that they’d eventually realize, I love you, too. We so want them to love us the way we love them. Well, that didn’t happen. I had to hear about his sexual escapades, his incessant ramblings about his ex, something funny someone else that I didn’t know said. It became annoying, and I got frustrated. He even admitted that he never told anyone about me, yet I was subjected to stories about his friends. It was that kind of friendship. I began to see his true colors, which had me torn because I still had feelings for him. Alas, I didn’t want to be just an earpiece for his thoughts. I didn't want to be the last resort person he'd text after everyone else said they were busy. I was better than that. I deserved better than that. I, more or less, ended the friendship.
|Having no money, the shoe I basically repaired for free.|
|One of the few times I got to showcase my services in person.|
|Catering selfie at Burberry.|
A huge reason for moving to LA was the hope of falling in love, which is always a dangerous(foolish) mindset to be in. I hadn't experienced much of San Diego's gay scene at that point so I figured LA was the place to meet someone. The guys there were and are hotter, and who knows which one would eventually become famous. I liked that notion, albeit a shallow one. Work had been slow, but my lust for men was racing exponentially. Seeing as my friends were busy with their own lives, in typical Joey fashion I pursued romantic ventures over social outings. I didn't have many friends to go out with anyway. I turned to Tinder for dates, Grindr for rondevues, OkCupid on occasion for when I truly wanted to get to know someone. I was slutty, I took risks, I embarrassed myself too many times to count. I, like most twenty-somethings, think about one thing more than anything else. Believe me, it's no different for a gay man than it is for a straight one. As such, I kissed guys I didn't even like. I even cringe at some of those memories. Deep down, though, I always longed for that deeper connection. I still do. The fingers intertwined, the soft kisses to the neck, the cuddling sessions; I love that. I take Redo My Shoe very seriously, but I take my heart even more so. I'm ashamed to admit, but this business is one thing I would frequently downplay when explaining to guys what I did for a living. I knew only a true artist would appreciate the craft, and I didn't encounter many of those. Therefore, I breezed passed the fact that it was a wildly creative, labor-intensive job, simply referring to myself as an artist and seldom elaborating on the title. I even considered just saying I was an actor because that seemed to be the default vocation. I found difficulty engaging in a meaningful conversation with anyone. Everything was surface because I wanted to get to the intimacy. How sad is that? Talk about selling myself short. I went on dates, made out with good kissers and bad, fell in lust with a few guys, and learned so much about myself in the process. Oh my God I learned. I'm a different person now. I realized that actors and models were guys to stay away from. A normal guy with a normal job was what I wanted, even that wasn't who I was. I had true feelings for one of those men, like gut-wrenching feelings. If he ever came on and read this, I'd hope he knew who he was. I wish I had acted differently with him, but I can't change the past. Wasn't meant to be, perhaps. You think finding a job in the city is hard? Well, finding someone to date is even more difficult. Landing a second date is a feat in itself! I cannot tell you how many numbers I got and never saved in my phone, how many stories I regaled to my girlfriends, how many nights I went to bed wishing I was next to someone. Love usurps everything in my opinion. Work comes second. I was unfulfilled by both and it only added to the sadness. I found myself hiding who I was just so I could land a first date. Then, once they met me it was up to them. That type of self-destruction started weighing on me. I was changing who I was to fit the mold of a city I didn't even enjoy. A city that wasn't fulfilling me in any way. A city, despite its shortcomings, was the place I felt I needed to be in.
It was a rough holiday season last year, one made particularly gloomy by the declining health of my older brother, Paul. Seven years ago, at the age of 23, he was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. The tumor had been located in his brain. The countless surgeries and reparative operations that followed affected him tremendously. He lost his vision, most of his mobility, and a portion of his speech. I had never personally observed such a profound decline in a family member’s health until my brother’s situation. On January 29th, Paul passed away. It was the first time I had ever seen a human life escape its body. I’d grown accustomed to seeing my mom break down on occasion, but seeing my dad cry was an unnatural sight. I didn’t cry when it happened. I felt wrong for not doing so. Five minutes later, though, I lost it. It was that indecipherable speech you utter when you’re overcome with emotion. From that moment on, I was forever changed. Since Paul’s diagnosis, I have been changed. I was so affected by the disruption of our family’s routine that I don’t think I ever quite recovered. I grew up faster than I wanted. My personality became reactionary; the sarcasm, the false confidence, the insatiable desire to relate to people all came back to my brother’s diagnosis. You see, when you’re left alone for a majority of your formative years, you conjure up an idea of what the world is predicated on your limited life experience. I didn’t have enough people telling me I was talented so I told myself I was. I built myself up because no one else would. I engrained it in my mind that I was hilarious, compassionate, beautiful, worthwhile all around. I convinced myself that I was an asset to LA. Needless to say, when these feelings weren't shared by my fellow Los Angelinos, it hurt me. I wasn't able to make many friends because of this. It sounds conceited because it is. If they couldn't see how great I was, then I didn't need them anyway. My residency was a bruise to the ego for sure.
When I first
started Redo My Shoe, I didn’t drink or socialize. I spent most of my nights
inside working or scheming ways to entertain myself. If I wasn’t going to have
a legitimate social life, then I’d have a prominent online presence. And I did.
Redo My Shoe made a big splash its first year of operation. I was so busy.
Money was rolling it and going out just as swiftly. I was not afraid to let my
feelings be known about any problem I had with a client. I had no other outlet,
after all. A majority of my posts were inflammatory. I was just a stupid,
inexperienced boy. Freshly out of the closet, I had my own issues. I really
didn’t know how to relate to people beyond Redo My Shoe. So I started blogging, and opening my life up to the public. Sometimes to my detriment, but in most cases with open arms. Fast-forward to
now and I’ve never been so raw, so personal, so open about my life and my
struggles. Nor has my attention to detail ever been precise. As I evolve, Redo
My Shoe does. I have seen a decline in clients, yet an improvement in my
skillset. My competitor is flourishing, but her work is inferior to mine. Her prices are lower, though. Oh well. From the looks of it she’s a trust fund baby.
|One of my best commissions this year|
|Dom's graduation; a trip that would've been difficult with Paul.|
Now that I’m back in San Diego, the thought of going back to LA gives me anxiety. In fact, I’ve rescinded my availability for multiple catering gigs because the days leading up to them have been so anxiety-ridden. I figure the extra $200 just isn’t worth the stress. That city really did a number on my confidence. On more than one occasion I’ve wanted to post an LA-related picture as a Throwback Thursday on Instagram, but scrolling through my iPhone’s camera roll prompts feelings of melancholia. I look back at my face in the hundreds of pictures taken and I know, although I may be smiling, I wasn’t happy. I was so absolutely miserable there. I was just always so depressed about what wasn't happening, that my delusions of grandeur weren't actually coming true. Is it self-indigent to feel sorry for yourself? If it is, I’m guilty. I reflect back on my eight months in the city and I pity that Joey. I look at pictures and think, Poor guy… You were so scared. I got annoyed with the perpetual pity party. Ask me a few months ago about leaving LA and I would have told you I "needed" to be there. I had something to prove to myself, but there's only so much weight one heart an take. Ask me about LA now and I'll say that I escaped. When I find out my peers' plans for moving to LA I think, Good luck with that.
One of the most difficult aspects about my entire LA experience - December 2012 until now - is the notion that I missed out on something. 23 to 24; a year and a half of struggle. A twenty-something is typically wrought with indecision, societal pressure, and financial hardship. Being a gay twenty-something, that's another story. Social media further perpetuates all my insecurities. I frequently make the mistake of comparing myself to my contemporaries, feeling left out when I see them attending pool parties, bars, clubs, you name it. It's such irrational thinking, I know. As a young gay man, I feel expected to do these things too. Alas, my wallet and my body can't tolerate such socialization. I already struggle with my weight and seldom have no more than $200 to my name, so constantly drinking and going out isn't necessarily conducive to my reality. I do get bummed out, though. I think it's natural to feel left out when you know you have a lot to offer. I just reassure myself that my time will come. Relative to my peers, the advantage I have is the fact that I struggled. Struggling gives you a perspective unlike any other, one that trains you to acknowledge lapses in communication above anything else. It's a mindset that allows you to think one step ahead of the next person, to anticipate every reaction. I'm highly intuitive and fairly intelligent. I don't have the patience for small talk or superficial conversations, which is mostly what you encounter at these types of outings. If anything, I want to be the exception... Yet again. I want to have beauty and brains. I want to experience the bourgeois lifestyle, because I know it's bullshit. You know why? Because there are always a select few guys that are doing exactly what I'm doing. We know how to play the game. We know how to market ourselves to the right person. We know that our outfits are always on point, but as soon as we get home we're in our underwear within 30 seconds. The challenge I'm met with in San Diego is becoming known, but not overexposed. I mean, who the hell else is going to wear crystal shoes here? What I wasn't in West Hollywood I can be in Hillcrest. Down here, I have the potential to shine, pun intended. I'm surrounded by loved ones every day and am now in an environment that encourages authenticity. I've been back less than three weeks and have already made some great new friends that like me for me. I even have a prominent fashion store that wants to interview me for their new and only San Diego location. That has me excited for the future. All I need is for someone to take a chance on me. At this point, a second job is what I'm craving. Redo My Shoe has currently been relegated to the backburner of my life. I'm prioritizing my happiness more than anything right now. Ironically, San Diego is exactly where I need to be. I'm just a constant work in progress, a young man simply going through the motions of being a young man. I have moments of nostalgia, missing the catering gigs and the great friends I made from it. I have those memories in my heart, though. What I don't miss is the excessive effort to accomplish anything. It's easier here, more lenient and less judgmental. I was raised to have standards, but I wasn't brought up to possess inferiority. LA is its own beast. I tried it, I failed, and I learned. I'm a better man because of it. With this new-found confidence, I'm excited to start the day.
|At San Diego Gay Pride, confidently wearing a strassed shirt.|