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Whiskey, Prayers, and PTSD


Last Saturday, I was on my way back to Los Angeles from St. Louis (connecting in Phoenix). Normally, I sleep during flights. And while I was sure I would drift off on this particular flight, something kept me awake. I guess it started with free whiskey.

A few minutes after I found my seat on the U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix, a family of two adults and two small children hovered nearby. Not wanting to separate them, the flight attendant asked me to switch to the row in front of me so they could sit together. “I’ll give you free drinks,” she whispered. I obliged and moved to the middle seat, one row up, next to a 30-something woman in the aisle seat. Her blond hair was haphazardly tied in a ponytail, and she was wearing a pale pink hoodie and workout pants. Before we took off, she jumped out of her seat and fastened the safety belt of a sickly-looking woman across the aisle from her.

Twenty minutes later, we were up in the air at a steady altitude. The flight attendant came around with the beverage cart and asked me what I wanted to drink. “Whiskey, with a splash of soda,” I replied. She left briefly, then returned with a glass of ice, two airplane-sized bottles of whiskey, and a Canada Dry. I poured myself a stiff cocktail and settled in to the anthology I bought at the airport bookstore.

Another whiskey later, I couldn’t help but notice that the woman in the aisle seat next to me kept checking on the frail woman in the row across from her. The frail woman looked to be in her mid-50s and just under 100 lbs. She wore a knit stocking cap over her sparse dirty blond hair, fingerless knit gloves on her bony hands and a cloth mask that covered her nose and mouth—similar to the type of mask worn for bird flu. I was curious what was wrong with her, but before I could find a way to politely ask, the woman next to me escorted her to the bathroom. Meanwhile, the flight attendant stopped by again, took out two more airplane-sized bottles of whiskey, and set them on my fold-out tray.

By my third whiskey, I was growing restless with my book. Also, booze tends to make me extra chatty—which meant airplane conversation was inevitable. The blond woman was back in her seat next to me again. In between scrawling in her book of Sudoku puzzles, she continued to check on the frail woman across from her. My curiosity got the best of me, so I thought of a way to break the ice.

“Is that your mom?” I asked.


“Oh…um, is she okay?”

“She has stage 4 lung cancer.”

I instantly felt awful for being nosy. But apparently, this woman didn’t mind because the floodgates came pouring out. She explained to me that she and her stepmom were on this flight to go to San Diego so they could drive to Mexico to try an experimental treatment that may prolong her stepmom’s life. Her stepmom had undergone various treatments for the past 2 ½ years. She’d also survived cancer two other times in her life. But when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, her husband seemed to give up and had several affairs behind his sick wife’s back. When she finished her story, she told me her name was Carrie, and I told her mine. Carrie added that she greatly missed her husband and her baby girl, who she left behind in St. Louis. Then, she told me she was five months pregnant with another child.

“You are such a good person for doing this, Carrie.” I kept saying to her. “Especially being pregnant and away from your husband and child.”

By this time, I was on my fourth whiskey. Tears were welling up in my eyes. It was mostly because of Carrie’s gut-wrenching story; but partially due to my own worries. Perhaps, the whiskey intensified these emotions. Whatever it was, Carrie sensed that I was struggling with worries of my own. Although they weren’t nearly as serious as what she was dealing with, I figured I’d never see her again, so I shared a few details of what was weighing heavily on my mind.

When I finished opening up to her, she asked me, “Are you a religious person?”

“I believe in God, but I don’t go to church. I think I’m a good person with a good heart, though.”

She told me that it doesn’t matter how good you are to other people. What matters is your personal relationship with God. Then she asked if she could pray with me, for me. So I said yes.

She grabbed my hand, closed her eyes, bowed her head, and said a prayer something like: Dear God, please guide Michelle and give her patience to stay calm. Help her find peace with her situation and the strength to keep moving forward, no matter what the outcome.

Eventually, we landed and exited the plane. Before we parted ways, I thanked her for her prayer. I also told her I would pray for her and her stepmom. Although, I wasn’t sure my relationship with God was as good as hers.


At the Phoenix airport, I hurriedly grabbed a quesadilla and a draft beer. A half-hour later, I was on my final plane to L.A.

I made my way to the back of the plane and lifted up my heavy carry-on bag to slide into the overhead compartment. A grizzled man in the aisle seat offered to help me. “That’s okay. I’m pretty strong,” I assured him.

I found my seat by the window, and almost immediately fell asleep. An hour and a half later, I woke up to the announcement that plane was starting its final descent into LAX. The older man in the aisle seat, who seemed significantly boozed up, turned toward me and started talking. His voice was loud and gravelly with a slight Southern drawl, sort of like Billy Bob Thornton’s in “Sling Blade.”

“You know what I do for a livin’? I kill people,” he stated. “That’s right. Got PTSD. Just came back from Afghanistan. I also rob banks, and I’m in the witness protection program.”

Intrigued, I asked him about his bank robbery technique: Did he wear a mask? Was there a getaway driver? What was the most money he’s ever stolen?

“No mask. No getaway driver. Just me handin’ a note to the bank teller. I once got $2 million.”

He extended a shaky, worn-out hand. “Name’s Tom Dooley…”

“Michelle.” I shook his hand delicately. “But that’s not really your name. It’s your ‘witness protection’ name.”

“How’d you know?”

“Because I paid attention.”

He continued rambling. “You really don’t wanna know me. ‘Cause I kill people. Got PTSD. I’m not a good person…” He shook his head sadly. Then, he perked up. “Wanna hear a country song I wrote?”

“Sure.” Why not? I was entertained, at the very least. I’m sure the passengers around me weren’t quite as thrilled.

I can’t remember the words to his song, but it was actually pretty good, albeit loud enough for the last five rows of the plane to hear. When he finished, he said, “Yup. I wrote that myself. Wanna hear another song?”

Before I could answer, he started singing another song to me, then he intuitively stopped. “Nah, you look like you don’t wanna hear it.”

“I just don’t want to bother the other passengers, that’s all.”

The plane landed at LAX, and he asked me. “Would you wanna go out with me sometime?”

I was tempted to lie to him and say I had a boyfriend or a significant other. But I’m honest to a fault. So, I searched for a sweet, somewhat believable “little white lie” to turn him down. “Oh, well, thank you. I’m flattered, but my heart belongs to another.”

“Well, maybe we could just share a ride home,” he suggested.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Each row was exiting the plane, and it finally came to our row near the back. He kept letting everyone out except me. Finally, he emerged from his seat into the aisle and let me out in front of him.

“I’d offer to help you with your bag, but I remembered that you’re strong.”

I pulled my carry-on out from the overhead compartment and shuffled toward the exit. Once back inside the airport, I picked up my stride so he couldn’t follow me. When I was far enough, I turned around, and he was gone.

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There Is An Opossum Outside My Apartment

An opossum lives in the shrubs near my apartment building.  Recently, he climbed up into the trees near my balcony on the second floor.  I can only guess that he is calculating his entrance into my apartment, where he will promptly scare me until my bowels are vacant, then bite into the fleshiest part of my foot until I bleed profusely.  This is merely speculation.  However, if/when I  encounter said opossum, I will not go down without a fight.

I imagine our encounter will go something like this:

The opossum enters my apartment through the door that leads to my balcony.

I spot the opossum immediately.  Then, I tell him that I will kill him.

I chase him into the corner of the kitchen, behind my table, near my cheap guitar amplifier.

I lay a small Gala apple on the ground in front of him.  “For you,” I offer. He darts out of the corner, licks his lips hungrily and pounces on the apple.

I trap him with a Trader Joe’s bag and hold the closing with my foot. Then, I set the amp and one of my kitchen chairs on the opening of the bag, so he can’t escape.

They’re is rustling inside the bag, along with a harsh screech. The opossum is trying to bite his way out of the bag.  He starts to break through. I can see his beady eyes. I dash to my hallway closet, grab my Tres Semme hair spray and drench him with it. Notes:  This usually helps asphyxiate most large bugs; I figure it might do the same to larger creatures.

He weakens.  Then, he bows his head, in surrender.

I delay my assault.  We have a heart-to-heart. He asks if I have any scotch.  I say, “No, but I have Stoli.  Will that work?” He nods affably.

I pour the vodka into two rocks glasses, then add a couple of ice cubes and lemon wedges.  He leans back against the wall to savor his refreshment, then tells me his name is Barry. As he sips the Stoli, his bright pink tongue darts between his razor-sharp teeth.  His eyes assure me that he is calculating something.

I put on some music. T. Rex comes on, then Bowie, then Warren G. He tells me about his “gangsta” phase in college. We have a few more.  He is clearly a weak drinker.  He blathers chaotically about his life–stories of how his father was never around, how his mate  ran off with his best friend, his three kids–one of which he isn’t the father, and the time he almost got hit by a Ford Fiesta.

He relaxes and rolls onto his back, thinking that he’s safe.  I stand up and tell him that I need to mix another cocktail for myself.

Then, I reach into my utensil drawer, grab a chopstick and…in one swift move, stab him with it.  He is squirming and making small gasps. The chopstick has clearly put him out of commission. But he’s not quite dead. How am I going to sleep tonight knowing there’s a dying opossum in my kitchen?

I decide to end this once and for all. I head for the cabinet over my refrigerator.

As I reach for a hammer in the cabinet, I hear him begging, “No! No! Please…I’ll do anything. I won’t bother you again.  Please!  I…was…just…hungry…” He starts coughing. His whole body contorts, and he winces in pain every time he coughs.

Something in his voice strikes a chord with me.


He perks up.

“Sorry, but I have to do this.”   I pound him in his evil, ugly face with the hammer that my father gave me when I first moved out of my parents’ house.

The opossum twitches wildly as he lets out a long, exhausted cry. Then, he stops. No sound. No breathing.  Nothing. The opossum is finally dead.

At last…peace.

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Listen Up: Passion Pit’s “Carried Away”

Catchy song. Clever video. Cool style. (I especially love Sophia Bush’s charming 60s dresses!) All in an homage to intense, chaotic relationships.

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Listen Up: G. Dep’s ‘Special Delivery (Remix)’

Today, my coworkers and I were talking about how the Harlem Shake has become an Internet meme–even though the 2013 version is not the real dance. So, out of curiosity, I asked them what the real Harlem Shake looked like, and they clued me in to this video from 2002.

The kid rocks it. P. Diddy–not so much…

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Listen Up: Tame Impala’s “Mind Mischief”

This video from Aussie indie band Tame Impala is so mesmerizing that their song seems secondary, in comparison–even though they made the video to promote the latest single off of their new album Lonerism. In fact, the melody has nearly escaped me, yet the 5:37 of entrancing imagery remains. You can catch Tame Impala at this year’s Coachella–if you were quick enough snag tickets within the first 24 hours, before it sold out. Then again, there’s always StubHub.

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It’s a Dangerous World Out There, Kids…

Here’s the latest from The Lonely Island, featuring special guest and the most famous of all d-bags, Adam Levine if I have to hear “Moves Like Jagger” one more time I think I will poke my eyes out, along with the always-funny Andy Samberg, and super-surprise guest Danny McBride. Slap on your tinfoil hat, drape yourself in bubble wrap and enjoy!

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Listen Up: Brant Bjork & the Operators’ “Hindu 65”

I first heard this song in 2005, even though the album came out three years earlier. Upon first listen, the track evoked images of a young man being chased through a dark alley, but knowing precisely which routes to take because the streets had been his playground since he could walk. This song grabbed me with its heavy, bad-ass bass moving steadily under multi-layered synth.

Fronted by Brant Bjork, ex-drummer from Kyuss, this band and their song still have a special place in my heart. Their sound is undefinable, although critics label it ‘stoner rock.’ Regardless…whether you light up or not and/or if you’re a Queens of the Stone Age fan, you should definitely give it a listen.


2012: Year of the Odd


A lot of people lost their jobs in 2012, myself included, and it really messed with my head.

This was the first time I’d ever been unemployed. Los Angeles is an expensive city, but my goal was to stay here.  So, the week after I got laid off, I emailed and called nearly everyone I knew, sent out my resume and portfolio, and joined five creative talent agencies. I hit the ground running, which yielded nothing until March—when I got a fairly steady gig at DIRECTV.  But in July, their creative team got the same speech that my creative team received in January: “I’m sorry, but we have to let all of you go.”

The next few months were quiet. No work. I began to doubt myself. Was I good enough? Why doesn’t anyone want me?  I’ve been writing professionally since I was 19, and working at advertising/promotions agencies since I was 23. I knew people appreciated my talent. I was still pounding the pavement.  So, why wasn’t my phone exploding with job offers?

I decided to use all of this extra time to write what I really wanted to write. I started this WordPress site, and I scoured Craigslist and entertainmentcareers.net for comedy or music writing projects. One of the jobs I landed was for a humor website—hahajk.com.  A satirical article that I wrote for Hahajk got the attention of another site called damemagazine.com.  The managing editor of DAME knew an editor at Guyism, which got my foot in the door for guyism.com. I was ecstatic and honored to be writing for these three online editorial sites. And it encouraged me to try to write for other publications, as well as delve into writing songs and poems.

I also spent a lot of my time doing things I that I never did when I had a full-time job: I hiked during the day, went to the Getty Museum, lined up DJ gigs, and sometimes spent lazy afternoons in bed.  But most importantly during this time, I got the chance to develop a close relationship with the person I love and spend a lot of time with him. I’d imagine this is more difficult to do when you both work a significant number of hours per week. You have a limited time to get to know each other—usually, only on some weeknights or weekends. And honestly, I don’t think we’d be as close as we are now if it wasn’t for me losing my job. I started to see one of the few perks to being unemployed.

But the downside of this free time was that I had too much time to think. I thought about whether or not I should pursue a new avenue in writing…or a similar area of communications. I dwelled on the fact that I was turning 40 this year. I had more hours in the day to overanalyze everything. I beat myself up for not being more motivated or original in my ideas. I was used to being surrounded by funny, talented, creative people. But when you’re a freelance writer, it’s just you, on your couch, with a laptop. I am highly sociable. I feed off other people and love collaborating with them. My coworkers were my friends and my family. We genuinely enjoyed being around each other. But being home every day made me feel lonely. I became that girl at Trader Joe’s who hung out by the free coffee in hopes of striking up a conversation with the retired old guy who’s also getting a cup of free coffee.

There was also the stress of not having a steady income.  Sure, I had all of this free time. But I couldn’t really go to restaurants or bars, or see bands play as much as I used to, because that costs money.  I tried to cut back on my expenses so I wouldn’t blow through my savings so quickly.  (Rent in LA takes out the biggest chunk.)  I cancelled my landline (really…why does anyone need a landline anymore?), as well as cable. Thankfully, local broadcast TV is rife with guilty pleasure programming like Cheaters and Baggage. I also talked my gym down on their prices, as well as my Internet service provider. I was getting good at being unemployed.

Of course, the EDD helped–somewhat. I’ve decided that they screw you just enough so that you are reliant upon them for money. If I tried to get a full-time regular job (bartender, server, etc.) I would have actually made less than my EDD earnings.  I’ve also learned that if there are ever any accidental discrepancies on my form, they are quick to stop my EDD payment.  And anyone who’s unemployed knows that there is no way to get through to a live representative on the English EDD hotline. Thankfully, my friend, Anne, clued me in to call on the Vietnamese line (they speak English, as well).  You have to memorize which numbers to hit during the recorded intro (1, 6 and 7), though. Unless you speak Vietnamese.

But after months of being unemployed, with no freelance work, I started to expect my phone to be silent. I woke up later and later. Nobody needed me to be anywhere at any certain time—so what was the point? I was slipping into  something dark, and I was having trouble finding my way out. This wasn’t me. I felt out of control. I could no longer be completely happy. I had to feel valued and needed.  I struggled with whether or not my job was my identity. I realized that my actual job didn’t give me self-worth; it was my value to the other people I worked with that made me feel good. Previously, my days were filled with bouncing from one project to the next, but now, I had nothing. I had to pull myself out of this funk, so I forced myself to do things to stay busy. I volunteered at a WriteGirl event. I went to a happy hour for a writer’s group that I joined after I got laid off. I started writing more posts on my blog. I read other writers’ blogs for inspiration, like Kaboomis Copy—who offered tips on finding work, such as contacting the people who view your LinkedIn profile.

I kept my head up and pursued all possibilities. I believed something would happen. Of course, the talent agencies that I joined earlier in the year had assured me that summers are usually slow for freelance writers.  Finally, in December, I worked an insane number of hours for two agencies. And they kept calling me to work more for them. They respected my work and valued me. It’s weird, but that was what I needed. And with these jobs, I got to work with other creative people.  I missed having coworkers. I guess I’ve always been lucky at my previous jobs to work with amazing people.

And now, it is January 1, 2013. While no year of my life has been predictable, 2012 was, especially, an odd departure from the others. I feel like I took this past year to discover things about myself and venture through unfamiliar territory. Although I still don’t have a full-time job, I feel better and more optimistic—about employment and life, in general.

I survived this year. I didn’t let it break me.

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Listen Up: Nico Vega’s “Gravity”

A bad-ass video for a bad-ass song. Best line: ‘You’re never gonna thrill me. But you can kiss my ass.’ [Side note: Yes, I said ‘ass’ way too much in these two sentences. So what?]

Listen at a loud volume.

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Kicking Off Movember with a Crop of Magnificent Moustaches

November is a time when leaves turn vibrant orange, the air is crisp and smells of crackling fires, and threadlike stubble starts to fill in the once-barren upper lips of men everywhere.  Yes, I’m talking about Movember—the worldwide annual charity event that inspires men to grow their finest displays of moustachery in order to raise money for prostrate and testicular cancer initiatives. These men begin growing their ‘stache on November 1st, then invite their friends to support and sponsor them in their hair affair by making donations to the cause.

In honor of this very noble undertaking, as well as to inspire and encourage all participants (“Mo Bros”), here are some of the finest moustaches in history:

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