Why I Moved Home - December 21, 2007

(Reconditioning Batteries)

The first thing I noticed when I woke up that Sunday morning was the dense pressure in my chest focused around my sternum and restricting my respiration to short, shallow gasps. I couldn't breathe. I tried to scream to my roommate for help but nothing came out but a small puff of breath before I was forced immediately to try breathing again. I started seeing stars, the kind of stars you see right before you pass out from asphyxiation. Fearing that I would stop breathing altogether if that happened, I closed my eyes and concentrated what little mental energy I could muster on bringing more air into my lungs. Breathe, Mikey. Just breathe. That's all you need to do. Just breathe. A little more next time. There you go. Now a little more. Good.

The second thing I noticed was that I couldn't move. I looked to my left and right, clenching the sheets below me with sweaty, white knuckled fists. I struggled to survey my room and realized that nothing was out of the ordinary just before the tunnel vision kicked in. I could only look dead ahead; boring a hole in the ceiling. Heart attack. I'm having a heart attack. No, it's not a heart attack. I'm 27 years old and I'm healthy, it has to be something else. What the fuck else could it be?

The frozen, breathless panic lasted 45 minutes until, finally, I was breathing normally and my hands started to unclench from the elastic bottom sheet below me. I stood up and turned around to stare at my bed. It was completely drenched with sweat, as was I. The stars began to clear when I finally figured out what had happened.

That was an anxiety attack. Dude, you just had an anxiety attack. The gravity of what transpired set in heavily and almost instantly.

As crazy and unstable as I might come across via your computer screen, I've always thought of myself as very much self aware and, because of that, immune to what I told myself at first was a moment of weakness that people my age sometimes get. My friends back home suffered from them occasionally. I remember laughing at them when they described the sense of impending doom and hopelessness that gripped their minds and souls during an attack. I distinctly remember NOT laughing when they talked about the aftermath: forced to eat Lorazepam sandwiches to get through the next one, after which they slumped into drug-induced mediocrity. That's the part that always scared me about their anxiety stories; the pills. Something about a chemical forever governing and moderating my state of consciousness is scarier to me as a 27 year old than Hellraiser was when I was 13, or even Children of the Corn when I was 8. Who knows, maybe I just watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest one too many times. All I know is that I'd seen too many people who were once passionate, vibrant entities dissolve into placid sacks of malaise courtesy of Prozac, Wellbutrin and Xanax. I have always been willing to suffer the lows as long as I can experience the highs. A road with no hills or curves is a boring fucking road to drive on, if you ask me.

I sat back down on my sopping bed and began what would end up being a multi-day bender of self-analysis held entirely within the confines of my bedroom. I was determined to unearth the reasons behind my anxiety attack and discover what I needed to correct in my life to make sure it never happened again. Whatever it took to keep my conscious mind and creative spirit free from the suppressive shackles of modern chemistry. Please God, don't let me become Randle P. McMurphy. I started by examining my West Coast life in outline and then breaking each segment down to its constituent parts.

My financial situation was awful. I burned through my life savings during an extended bout of unemployment that ended only a few weeks earlier when I landed a new job, which was a boon. But I was so destitute, I had to borrow money from my mother in order to eat some weeks. I was living hand to mouth, check to check, making no headway with any of the money that was coming in. Every paycheck was like handing a 3 foot ladder to a guy stuck in a 40 foot well. Being unable to take care of myself in the most basic of capacities was eating away at me. To put it simply, I was broke. Dead broke. The kind of broke that drives the most lethargic and complacent of bums to odd jobs at construction sites. Anything to squirrel away a few bucks in the filthy homeless bindle and make the feeling of total desperation fade far enough into the background to short circuit thoughts of mugging and armed robbery.

The car I was driving in California was about as hazardous as a car can get while still being road legal in the Unites States. It was a '98 Ford Contour I got for free from my good friend Erin when I first arrived in Los Angeles. She was going to take it to the dump because she got a newer car and didn't feel like coughing up the money it would take to make the Contour drivable again. About a week after I drove it out of Erin's garage and cleaned it up, I started noticing its more subtle nuances. The steering wheel was moments away from falling off of the column, the exhaust was all but dragging on the pavement, and the alignment was so bad I had to constantly correct the steering at freeway speeds or risk switching lanes without warning. In Los Angeles traffic, that is like pompously rattling a death warrant in the face of the Reaper while simultaneously slugging back a bottle of Vat 69 and playing a game of Twister with the mat draped over an anti-tank land mine. Having both awful credit and a family that would never co-sign on a loan forced me to legitimately take my life into my own hands every time I stepped into that Contour. Living in Los Angeles, I had to step into that car a lot.

My living situation was less than ideal. I had been living in southern California for a little over a year at this point. My home base was in Carlsbad (a suburb of San Diego) where my friend Scott allowed me to crash at his condo until I got my finances in order, but I was staying at my friends Tucker and Bunny's house an hour and a half north in L.A. during the week because I hadn't tucked away enough paychecks from the new job in Beverly Hills to afford a place of my own in the city. I was working directly across from the Flynt Building in an industry whose name I will withhold solely for the purpose of maintaining my anonymity for a few more years. The money was good and the people I worked with were fantastic by smarmy Beverly Hills standards, but I was very, truly tired of working in that industry. Having to commute as far as I did and having to rely on the kindness and couches of friends certainly didn't bolster my love for the profession either. Every day I played the part of the happy employee, and every night I left my office dreading the following morning as I sat in rush hour traffic for an hour to drive the three miles to Tucker's apartment/youth hostel. I knew every job I held in Los Angeles until I made it as a professional writer was going to be about paying the bills, but keeping that thought in the back of my head did nothing to help me feel any less like Willy Loman as I let a couple Tylenol PM sing me a work night lullaby.

My personal life was a study in tortured duality. The day I arrived in Los Angeles my friend Bunny picked me up at the airport and quickly became my best friend out west. We were inseparable during my first few months there. We spent our nights boozing it up at Armenian bars in Glendale and our days recovering on a futon mattress with her dogs, alternating between watching every episode of Arrested Development and napping. I really clicked with Bunny and I genuinely loved spending time with her, but I think a part of me needed to be around her because I was truly afraid to immerse myself in the great Los Angeles social void to make new friends. I knew that people in L.A. were horrible before I bought my plane ticket, which was good because it was one less thing I had to get over when I landed. Self interested, vacuous husks of human beings stumble around that city like a bad zombie movie, and Bunny was my abandoned shack in the woods that they couldn't manage to claw into. As my luck would have it, she moved to New York in January and I was pitched into the great unknown face-first. Meeting quality people in Los Angeles is like meeting quality people in line at a methadone clinic. Some people are content befriending below average people in order to squelch loneliness. I am not one of those people, and I spent the bulk of my time out west after that by myself.

One of my best friends in the world from New Hampshire, Scott, moved to California a few months before I came out. He originally moved out to live with an old friend of ours, Peter, and Peter's girlfriend Lana. They found a gorgeous two bedroom condo in Carlsbad and, within a week, had the most ideal southern California living situation a transplanted New Englander could ever ask for: a beautiful home with a beautiful azure pool on a beautiful lagoon filled with flying fish, all surrounded by beautiful palm trees and beautiful southern California weather. Paradise. Peter came from a pretty fucked up childhood and worked very hard to distance himself from his gnarled, barren family tree. He owned his own business in Carlsbad and made his living as a jeweler. Soon enough, his past caught up with him and he developed a meth addiction. Seeing an opportunity, Scott, who was home-schooled most of his life and never had a girlfriend before in his life, helped Peter out by sleeping with Lana, convincing her to break up with Peter and go out with him instead, and paying Peter thousands of dollars to move out when he voiced his (albeit drug-fueled) concern about the scenario. Some people might say Scott was a hero, that he saved Lana from an abusive meth head who was circling the drain. Others might say he was a villain for not getting Peter the treatment he desperately needed and, instead, fucking his girlfriend and kicking him out with enough money to disappear forever, literally and figuratively. My opinion landed somewhere in the middle and, in the interest of self-preservation, I was forced to bite my tongue rather than the hand that fed me for months. A few days before my anxiety attack, Lana handed me as I walked in the door after my Friday commute from Beverly Hills. She laughed about it and I laughed in return, but inside I was crushed. I felt like I failed as a friend by not telling Scott how I really felt and by not doing enough to find Peter and at least offer my help.

My car, my job, my living arrangements, my finances, my life...they hit me at the exact same time I realized my damp bed had soaked its way through my fresh pair of boxers. The question was no longer, "why did I have an anxiety attack?"; it became "why did it take so long?!" I spent nine months enjoying the hell out of myself and four months trying vigorously to hammer a square New England peg into a round Los Angeles hole with a Nerf mallet. I was so determined to prove to myself that I could live outside of my comfort zone that I ignored any and every indication that things weren't working out. Because of that, my life spiraled into squalor; so much so that the only thing in my life that I truly care about -- my writing -- was suffering incalculably. How could anyone write with a cyclone of shit like that screaming around them? I laughed out loud when the obvious solution to my problem painted itself on the wall. I picked up my phone.

"Mom, I think it's time for me to come home."

"Mike...I think it's time for you to come home, too."

And that was it. I packed two bags, sold the Contour for $500 to some vato named Hector with a teardrop tattoo, and got myself on a turbulent red eye flight headed to Logan Airport a week later.

I'm writing this from a coffee shop in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. My voice is all but gone from laryngitis, I have perma-sniffles, a chest cold, and I am perpetually freezing. I have to scrape my windows when I wake up in the morning. The New England job market is about as good as you would expect for a tax depressed region. Every third person I talk to sounds like an obnoxious, stereotypical elderly Mainer from a Steven King movie. Every third girl my age that I see is overweight. Last call tolls at 12:45 am. There is nothing to do for half the year unless you enjoy winter sports, heavy drinking, or a humorous combination of the two. I've had to trade In n' Out and taquerias for Burger King and Margarita's. But there is something to be said for my favorite quote from the now cancelled show Carnivale on HBO, as spoken by the character Brother Justin: Only through pain do we find salvation. For all of the mundane, obnoxious fuckery that moving back to my small potatoes hometown has slung at me, my creative energy is surging and I'm having a hard time not writing or thinking about writing when I'm not actually writing. Maybe Steven King has been keeping the secret to a New Englander's productive writing locked away in Bangor all this time. My car and room are filled with scrap paper notes I've scribbled down while away from my laptop, and the voice memo on my phone won't accept any more entries. It's awesome. I haven't felt like this in a long time. For now, home is good. Really good. I'm definitely happy.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to start my car and let it warm up for 20 minutes before I take off. Fucking New Hampshire.

Posted by KungFu Mike at 10:07 AM

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Good luck. The cold sucks. You financial situation will turn around because I doubt anywhere in NH charges the kind of cover charges LA has. Plus, you like the McSkillet burrito, and those are cheap. If you lived in Birmingham, I'd give you free coupons (my fiance is an accountant for the company that owns them) but since you are far away, I'll just say a little prayer for you.

Posted by: at December 21, 2007 12:10 PM

Good luck. The cold sucks. You financial situation will turn around because I doubt anywhere in NH charges the kind of cover charges LA has. Plus, you like the McSkillet burrito, and those are cheap. If you lived in Birmingham, I'd give you free coupons (my fiance is an accountant for the company that owns them) but since you are far away, I'll just say a little prayer for you.

Posted by: at December 21, 2007 12:10 PM

Nice piece, I hope you do well in NH. I'm looking forward to more.

Posted by: Rabbit B. at December 21, 2007 12:20 PM

Good for you, Mike. That story hit home with me, since I went through a very similar situation last year (although not quite as extreme as yours). A lot of people search the world for happiness, only to find it right where they started. But the journey is always worth while.

btw- get an Autostart for your car. They're worth their weight in gold.

Posted by: Joe at December 21, 2007 01:07 PM

Nice to see you back on your feet, Mike.

Posted by: Jason at December 21, 2007 11:09 PM

Kungfu Mike, of all the Rudius writers, you (and Bunny) are the only ones whose writings I truly, deeply love to read. Both your blog postings and whatever you write on the message board. I really hope you make it as a professional writer some day. The greatest thing ever to me would be a book in my hands with your name on it. I'm serious.

Posted by: Kyoko at December 22, 2007 02:23 AM

good for you...call it a sabbatical

Posted by: Anonymous at December 22, 2007 10:04 AM

Damn man, that's rough. It's a good thing you left, though, and changed your situation. If you didn't have the presence of mind to analyze things and make the necessary changes, you'd probably be on your third or fourth anxiety attack by now. A lot of people who experience them *don't* take such steps, and instead only plow forward, piling on the extra anxiety of the fear of another attack onto whatever caused the first one (thus making a second attack sickeningly more likely.)

So you definitely made the right call.

And if this post is any indication, you're hitting your stride with the writing, too. Keep it up, man.

Posted by: at December 22, 2007 12:37 PM

Heh, New England weather. I couldn't see living in California, having grown up in Massachusetts. I'm surprised you lasted as long as you did out there. Good luck with your situation, and I hope your writing keeps up the way it is.

Posted by: Greg at December 22, 2007 01:41 PM

Damn dude, I figured things were tough, but didn't realize how unhappy you were out here.

That was brilliantly written. Keep it up!

Posted by: Sanku at December 22, 2007 02:56 PM

Good for you, man. Glad to see you happy after all that shit. Every thing I see written about Bunny makes me wish I knew her more and more. Good luck with all your.. stuff.

Posted by: Soren at December 22, 2007 05:57 PM

And the kid's back. Happy Holidays KungFu Mike.

Posted by: guest at December 22, 2007 08:37 PM

Good to hear all is well Mike! Was wondering about you for awhile there.

Posted by: Daniel at December 23, 2007 12:22 AM

Oh Mikey, I'm glad you're home...

Posted by: Ashley at December 23, 2007 08:15 AM

It's good to hear from you again Mike. I'm glad you've found your place for the time being. Keep up the hard work bro and Merry Christmas (when it comes), much love man.

Posted by: Wayland at December 23, 2007 06:56 PM

Welcome back KFM. Missed your writing and your style.

Posted by: JBS at December 23, 2007 07:21 PM

Mike, good to see you writing again. Especially with this much vigor. I feel the pain of living west coast style and moving home to the east coast misery. It is an odd blessing for creativity.

Posted by: JV at December 24, 2007 04:22 PM

all the best.

Posted by: marcus at December 25, 2007 09:17 AM

Welcome back to Portsmouth. The coffee is plentiful and the Mexican place at the mall is run by Mexicans and is excellent.

Posted by: Philip at December 27, 2007 08:32 AM

Yes, this entry is proof positive you're back, Mike, and I for one am psyched to read more. Hey, are you still not smoking, and hey also, damn shame they cancelled Carnivale, in my opinion, was one of the best cable series' ever. Happy New Year.

Posted by: at December 28, 2007 09:06 PM

Whether Tucker Max succeeds or fails, he is going to burn through a lot of the people who he keeps in close orbit. It may not be his intention to hurt anyone, but he will leave a trail of bodies behind him, because of the kind of person he is and the kind of lifestyle he leads.

A couple of years ago I watched a video of you brawling on a New York pavement with Cloud Starchaser. Conventional RMMB wisdom may have handed you the victory on points; I thought you looked like a bad actor failing an audition. Seldom have I seen a person so out of their depth.

A lot of people connected with Rudius Media seem to be caught-up in something that they won't be able to see through to the end - not for want of ability, but because they lack a certain configuration of character traits that will leave them able to stand-up to the pressure that will be exerted upon them and will come from various different angles. Some way down the road these people are going to be left behind, with nowhere to go and nothing to fall back on.

You took a step away from the brink and now you can take stock and plan for the future. Good for you.

Posted by: backwards7 at December 31, 2007 04:21 PM

haha, those armenian bars in glendale are amazing dude, hope all is well with you

Posted by: Anonymous at January 2, 2008 11:40 AM

Blame that perennial loser Tucker Max, Mr. "I'm going to reinvent the media". Sucks to drag yourself across a continent on the hollow words and empty promises of a lisping man-child who refuses to grow up, now doesn't it?

Live and learn...

KUNGFU MIKE EDIT: I normally don't respond to comments, but I can't stop laughing at this particular one. It's almost like you have no idea what my relationship with Rudius Media is or why I moved out to Los Angeles to begin with, yet the blind hate that compells you to read everything we put out has apparently given you the deductive powers of a FAS toddler that just ate a peanut butter and Lunesta sandwich. No wait, that is exactly what this is like.

For starters, I didn't move to LA because somebody in the company falsely promised me a free ride. In fact, I didn't move out for Rudius or Tucker at all. I moved out to LA because it was as far from fucking NH as I could get in the continental US and it also happened to be an interesting place that just so happened to house America's entertainment industry hub. None of us even knew that Tucker was planning on moving to LA until I had been in the city for over 6 months. You know what they say about assuming...

Secondly, above being a creative addition to the Rudius family, I am friends with almost everyone in the company in real life. Well, except for Eric Schaeffer. I'm pretty sure he is a rapist. Everyone else I am not only good buddies with, I have gotten drunk with, vomited in cars and/or commited minor infractions of the law with. Just because I moved out there and hung out with those people a lot doesn't mean that I was forced out of any projects and sent packing. I both came to and left Los Angeles on my own terms. I thought I was pretty clear about that in the piece you commented on. Unfortunately, I do not have the option of embedding a YouTube video of sock puppets reciting the entry for you to digest more easily.

Lastly, none of this means that I am not writing anymore. In fact, it means the exact opposite. I have a lot of projects I am working on and the people that visit this page regulary are going to see the fruits of that labor in the coming year. I can not be any more clear about this.

Posted by: Vinnie at January 3, 2008 03:39 PM

hopefully all works out for you man. People that go for it always have some sort of reward.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 10, 2008 11:28 PM

Don't listen to the douchebags :) I'm glad you're back to writing!

Posted by: Ashley at January 12, 2008 02:07 PM

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