|I found this fortune in my wallet by accident the first month I|
was in the city, seeing it as a sign of great things to come.
"Life is what you make it; you’re in control of what happens to you." My dad reiterated this affirmation to me on more than one occasion, usually after I recounted that day's stagnant, uneventful schedule. One of the most difficult things to admit is defeat; moreover, take accountability for your actions. Too many of these meaningless, unproductive days found their way into my life, or through my dad’s perspective, I created too many of these days myself. I evaded responsibility for my circumstances, manifesting my unhappiness by not being motivated. In my eyes, blaming my problems on the city was just easier. After all, it had crushed the dreams of so many others before me so why was I any different? I dwelled on what wasn't happening rather than making something happen. I was simply scared to put myself out there, despite coming to the city full of promise. I mustered phrases of discontent all too often, leading to the inevitable question: What are you doing here, Joey? What was I doing in Los Angeles anyway? West Hollywood out of all places. I had traveled to the Bay Area in late May and had had an epiphany while on that trip. Needless to say, it was the catalyst for me wanting to leave the city. In San Francisco, I was surrounded by so much culture. I enjoyed the energy. From what I observed, people don't blatantly stare at you while I walking down the street. Everywhere isn’t a “scene”, nor do people walk around with a sense of entitlement. As a whole, it lacks the aura of desperation L.A. has. It possesses an intimate, small-town vibe, yet a tangible level of sophistication. You can be famous and not be known. You can live how you please without being bothered. I quickly realized the Bay Area was more my groove, more cohesive to my style, my pace, my values. It’s a walking city, at least for me. I don’t mind the hills. In L.A., you can definitely walk places, but it’s not necessarily pedestrian friendly. That small detail aside, I came to the conclusion that I wanted something conducive to my life, not a place I found myself changing to assimilate into. San Diego is my hometown, so I decided to give it another shot. It took seeing what I want to realize what I don't. My plan went into effect almost immediately: I was leaving L.A.
|The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, quite possibly one of the most majestic sights I've ever seen.|
|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 24th 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 right outside my window. I’m alone in my room, but I’m content. In West Hollywood, ironically, 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 with ambition, hoping 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 friends would 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 came through Grindr or Tinder, where I'd somehow try to cultivate a connection on the basis of loneliness. Needless to say, those always went nowhere. I found more comfort in listening to people I didn't know. I’d turn to podcasts and past 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.
|A photo taken by the Aussie.|
The first month I immersed myself in as many catering gigs I could work. After all, it was the easiest way to make friends. Anything that got me out of my apartment was a positive. 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. Those came later. My microwave was on the ground, and my clothes were in boxes on the floor for a good three months. It was absolutely, positively, pain-stakingly depressing. As an artist, it was the true antithesis of inspiration. And oh so 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 I'd 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, full of what I’m sure were L.A.’s rich and fabulous set. These people were the epitome of bourgeois. You know those kids, the ones that think they’re the creme de la creme 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. And, I must admit, somewhat jealous that everyone around me was having fun. It's the life I wanted, minus the pretension. 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 L.A., listening to music and connecting on a nonverbal 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. I sacrificed a lot of my time and exhausted too much effort trying to please him, hoping that he'd see I was the right guy for him. It's childplay, I know. 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 on a regular basis. 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.|
To make matters worse, work with both Redo My Shoe and catering had flatlined. Come to think of it, I don’t recall booking one catering gig the entire month of November. Consequently, I had no money to enjoy the city or my own interests. Interests like trying new restaurants, shopping, decorating, all of which required capital, unfortunately. Every substantial paycheck went to rent. Every ounce of my being went into worrying about money. I had nothing to keep my mind off him or the situation. In the desperation of it all, I stupidly agreed to repair a client’s shoes from over two years ago. I needed the money. I'm at the point where the client's satisfaction is my number one priority. I also operate with a perfectionist mentality, so knowing that my existing technique wouldn't have matched the pre-exisiting crystal placement(creating an unbalanced shoe), I ripped all the crystals off and started over, investing hundreds on a repair that I was compensated $100-$200 for. I didn't even get a Thank You email. Asinine move on my part, at a time when I could barely pay the bills. I was very pleased with the outcome, but kicked myself for being taken advantage of. The last thing I wanted was an unhappy client, especially when finances were rough.
|One of my low-budget meals. I ate so much popcorn.|
On average, my housing and internet fees totaled $1,500 a month. With groceries and gas it came to about $1,700. In the scheme of things, my rent wasn’t that drastic a number to complain about, but when you have no money coming in it’s extremely stressful. I think I was able to pay my rent once without my parents help throughout the duration of my stay. It felt so liberating, but I knew the feeling was fleeting. I went to bed worried about money and woke up scared about paying my bills. I couldn't garner a social network because I simply couldn't afford it. There were months where I'd have one week to come up with rent, having $200 in my bank account. I was beyond terrified of being evicted. Not to suggest I would be, but I didn't want to slack on my obligations as a tenant. My house was in a perpetual state of disarray because I couldn't afford storage units to house my belongings. Laundry went undone because I didn't have enough quarters. Bills were late, parking tickets went unpaid, orders were behind because I didn't have enough cashflow to justify purchasing crystals. I went days scrambling together what little ingredients I had, not being able to afford fresh produce. A lot of meals consisted of kale, because it was cheap. And a lot of popcorn. Toward the latter part of my residency, I discovered how to make edibles and started eating one of those every day so I could escape the incessant stress. Working catering was the only thing that kept me sane because I was killing two birds with one stone: hanging with friends and getting paid for it. I looked forward to days that I could actually schedule my mundane activities around, ones where I knew I was doing something good for my wallet and my psyche. Looking back, I hated my circumstances. I legitimately hated coming home to my apartment. I wasn't prepared to be on my own and pay my own way. I barely was able to manage my money back in San Diego, but I magically thought I'd be inclined to do so whilst being my own man in L.A. I loathed the life I was living and the gradual toll it was taking on my self-esteem. During bouts of depression we always ask, What if I wasn't here? Simply: What if I was dead? I wanted to escape my reality but I still had that stubbornness convincing me to stick it out and struggle like the best, or rest, of them. Without a doubt, suicidal thoughts ran across my mind. I felt like I was doing nothing with my life, enriching no one nor making a difference whatsoever. I love helping people. I love being vibrant and brightening someone's day. I thrive off the relationships I have with people, so for me to feel like I wasn't affecting anyone's life really did a number on my self-worth.
|One of the few times I got to showcase my services in person.|
|A staffing gig at The London Hotel for Tommy Hilfiger.|
I truly did move back anticipating a fresh start, an opportunity for reinvention. I was single, eager to meet people, and excited about forthcoming Redo My Shoe prospects. Supposed prospects, in hindsight. I beat myself up above the move, questioning my motives and belittling my aspirations. I viewed my initial plan through a naïveté lens. Friends and family tell me it took courage, that I took a risk uprooting myself from San Diego and trying to establish myself in the epicenter of crazy. Los Angeles is insane, to say the least. It’s competitive, it’s cutthroat, it’s difficult in general. It's majestic, but it's intimating. It’s a place where the majority are vying for the same thing: fame. In the entertainment industry, people sell their souls to be associated with celebrity. Intelligent, creative, hard-working individuals have to bite their tongue and pretend so-and-so’s arrival to their cocktail soiree is the second coming of Jesus. They have to act like this person is legitimately better than them. The unfortunate thing is that some people actually drink the Koolaid. The level of stress, anxiety, and desperation involved in celebrity culture is comical. It borderlines on pathetic, though. I presume most of these people - event planners, assistants, press representatives - are capable human beings. They have more to offer than tending to an A-, B-, C-list celebrity. On any given day, I assume they're nicer than how they treated us supposed "minions" tray-passing the champagne. But in the moment, whatever so-and-so wants, so-and-so gets! No one is better than me, though. I put no one person on a pedestal unless they’ve achieved greatness. I will absolutely show them respect, but in no way will I jump through hoops to appease someone of perceived inferiority. In today’s culture, celebrities are seen as above the law; unwavering to any established rules, free to do what they please whenever they please. They’ve accomplished fame in part to how they're marketed. Many of them are talented, yes. But, does an actor deserve more courtesy than a woman buying kale next to me at Whole Foods? Absolutely not. They're actors, for Christ's sake! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked a catering job and thought, This is all so stupid. Catering is an industry where your ego is left at the door and the propensity to feel degraded increases with every hour. Seeing celebrities is fun, but they're just people. I've encountered everyone from Oprah to Matt Damon, Kelly Osbourne to Lauren Conrad, Erin Wasson to Taylor Lautner. And most memorably: Snoop Dogg. Although, I had the most fun spending time with my coworkers. We were a family. We had each others' backs. I miss them terribly. To reiterate last month's post, in our company I was in a league all my own; the funny, gay, inappropriate staff member there for entertainment value. Lightening the mood, making the sex joke, dancing; these were all things I did every shift. Applying for Cory Martin Events was single-handedly the best decision I ever made whilst living in L.A. I sincerely miss working with my friends, but being back in the city isn't worth it to me at this time in my life. Being as desperate as I was, I wouldv'e gotten sucked into catering gig after catering gig. I would've become even more bitter working parties attended by my peers. The money was good, but it was not stimulating at all. I wasn't showcasing my talents. I didn’t want to become another statistic in that respect. I knew if I stuck around long enough I’d become comfortable not seeking other work and just relying on event staffing as an income.
|Two of the greatest friends I made through catering: Carla and Jay. I miss you guys so much.|
|One of the many texts I subjected my|
friend to. I had no one in L.A. to
discuss my romantic woahs with so
I'd frequently text her seeking
|Paul's obituary, oddly enough the only one that was ripped.|
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 ingrained it in my mind that I was hilarious, compassionate, beautiful, worthwhile all around. I convinced myself that I was an asset to L.A. 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.
|One of my best commissions this year|
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 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.
|Dom's graduation; a trip that would've been difficult with Paul.|
After my brother’s passing I became overly cognizant of my stance in Los Angeles, and of my position in my family. My mom needed me, my dad needed me to be there for my mom. I needed my family. We all needed to be together. I drove back up to the city a few days after with no concrete agenda. I planned on working a catering gig in Las Vegas, but it fell through. I wanted to take my mind off the situation because it was so surreal. We all had anticipated his death for so long, but once it came to fruition it was a hard pill to swallow. Paul’s passing occurred on a Wednesday and I had two parties I was invited to the following Friday. I didn’t go to either, opting to just stay home and be by myself. I remember just laying in bed, thinking, replaying the past seven years in my mind. It’s an odd thing when a family member passes. You instinctively regret all the things you didn’t do and all the hurtful words you did say. I had major regrets. The guilt had risen to an all time high. Being alone, the only solace I found was with myself. I did whatever I could do alone until the isolation became unbearable. Long walks with my headphones in were my cure, for the most part. When I wanted a connection, I looked to Grindr or Tinder. I placed emphasis on a select few guys, letting myself become emotionally vulnerable to situations that never had any true promise. I was so completely miserable. Sitting alone all day had become my life. I escaped to San Diego whenever a lapse in my catering schedule permitted it. After all, my family loves me. Me being the mess that I am on any given day is good enough for them. One thing my mom said to me as I floated the idea of moving out of LA was, “I just want to know that you’re safe. In L.A. I worry about you.” That's the only validation I really needed. All any of us need to know is that someone cares about us. I felt so tossed aside in West Hollywood. I felt so unappreciated, so undervalued. I'm a relatively strong-willed individual, but I let the city get to me. I felt myself falling into that trap so many young people succumb to: working catering for five years, trying to make their dreams come true in the process. I met wildly talented photographers and actors who just weren't getting work. I met people with clouds around them. The best friends I made were struggling like me. It's not fair, because we are talented. The city is all hit-and-miss, it seems. Timing plays a huge factor, but who wants to sit around waiting for the stars to align? I started to put out negative energy and I hated it. I didn't want to be the buzzkill, the guy with nothing exciting going on in his life. The pity party went on for too long. I couldn't stand the man I had become, nor did I care about the fame I initially sought out. I made the decision: I was done. I had unfinished business, but I got out of there as fast as I could.
|Fond memories at the Chateau Marmont with Ashley.|
Now that I’m back in San Diego, the thought of going back to L.A. gives me anxiety. In , 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 L.A.-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 L.A. 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 L.A. now and I'll say that I escaped. When I find out my peers' plans for moving to L.A. I think, Good luck with that.
|I met this beautiful girl back in November. Her name is Ashley, and she was visiting from the UK.|
|We had an instant connection and keep in touch to this day. She introduced me to parts of L.A. I didn't even know existed.|
One of the most difficult aspects about my entire L.A. experience - December 2012 until now - is the notion that I missed out on something. 23 to 24; a year and a half of struggle. First off, West Hollywood was the worst location for me to be in. A twenty-something is typically wrought with indecision, societal pressure, and financial hardship. Being a gay twenty-something, that's another story. The gay world is all about physicality. At the risk of coming off jaded, creative talent isn't typically harvested into something more substantial unless you're good-looking. There are exceptions to every rule, but I observed many of these boys in West Hollywood garnering a following on the basis of their looks alone. It's frustrating for sure, but it is what it is. Social media further perpetuates the glorification of beauty, emphasizing aesthetic over substance. Today's youth amass overwhelming amounts of support yet do nothing with the influence they possess. Rarely will you see young gay men attaching their name to philanthropic causes. It's simply not what our generation wants to see. We like selfies, food pictures, and satirical videos. 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'm expected to do these things. I feel pressured to look a certain way, 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 undervalued when you know you have a lot to offer. In general, feelings of exclusion always manifest when you're home on a Friday night. I just reassure myself that my time will come. Relative to my peers, the advantage I have is the fact that I struggled. I really discovered who I was from all those lonely nights in West Hollywood. Struggling gives you a perspective unlike any other. All those years spent observing from afar better serve me to handle uncomfortable situations in the future. I know myself more than I ever have before. Being back in my hometown, there's a sense of ownership and pride that comes along with it. Los Angeles is a transient city; every one comes and goes. Here, I have my family, I have my friends. I won't be faced with coming home to an empty house, or knowing that I have no one to hang out with. Even on the nights that I do find myself alone, at least I'm in a familiar space. The challenge I'm met with in San Diego is becoming known, but not overexposed. I mean, who else is going to wear crystal shoes here? Who else is going to rock a crystallized fishnet top? 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'm reconnecting with family, I'm seeing friends I've missed deeply. 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. It's still very much a part of me, but I'm not letting it define my existence. I'm prioritizing my happiness more than anything right now. Ironically, San Diego is exactly where I need to be. I'm 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 sometimes crave having a night out in the city, or a beach day in Venice. There was so much I didn't get to see and so many people I didn't get to meet. If I had stuck it out, I'm sure I would have found my bearings. Everything in my life is a process. If I had not taken this leap I would have spent years regretting never having experienced it. I left the city a changed man. Somewhat broken, but not damaged. Every soul-crushing experience tested my resilience, but every moment of joy validated my reason for being there. I was unhappy, but I do miss it. I miss the incentive of proving I could accomplish something on my own. I have those memories in my heart, though. What I don't miss is the exhaustive efforts to get noticed. I can be myself in San Diego without the overwhelming need to impress. It's easier here, more lenient and less judgmental. I was raised to have standards, but I wasn't brought up to possess inferiority. L.A. is its own beast. I tried it, I didn't like it, and I learned. With this new-found clarity, I'm excited to start the day.
|A typical day at my dad's office in Little Italy, San Diego. I bring my orders here so I don't go stircrazy at home.|