When you’re being chased through a parking lot by a flock of angry supermarket employees it’s surprising how fast you can carry 50 lbs of wood.
I had become used to the ritual – park my Honda Accord in the closest spot possible, leave it unlocked to ensure a speedy getaway, casually walk into the back warehouse, grab one, two, or maybe even three pallets and casually stroll out.
When you’re poor in a city like Los Angeles and you’re sleeping on bean bag chairs and eating off of torn pizza boxes, DYI Pinterest trends like wooden pallet furniture are a godsend because you can furnish your entire apartment with trash and people not only compliment your craftiness but your eye for style as well. This was around 2012 and I had been slithering around the backsides of grocery store parking lots for several years. Starting off first in Tampa, FL where my desperation for building materials was birthed primarily out of being a broke college student. My girlfriend and I built a yard length fence out of pallets complete with saloon style doors (and as much as I would like to take credit for this she was the mastermind behind it all). But when I tried taking my thrifty talents to Southern California, I ran into a minor roadblock. Unlike the sunshine state, Californian grocery stores reused their pallets, kept them under lock and key, and any attempt to take them at your leisure would be considered a crime. This is why leaving the car unlocked is so important.
Show me a Ralph’s stock boy willing to pursue a perp on foot and I’ll show you an employee of the month. Show me one that’s willing to partake in a high-speed chase down the 101 for $9.50 an hour and I’ll show you a maniac (I am legally obligated to say I am entirely unaware of Ralph’s wages and, therefore, cannot confirm nor deny their policy on hiring maniacs).
After the thrill of the heist subsided I would make it back to my first-floor apartment where I slept on the living room couch and plotted my next meal, but when I wasn’t busy mixing Ramen flavor packets in hopes of tricking my taste buds into thinking we’d gone out to eat…my time was spent building things. Coffee tables. Shelves. Planters. Wall hangings. When it came to scrap wood I was like an American Indian preparing dinner after a hunt – nothing went to waste.
Within the eight months leading up to this point, I had been hired and let go from two jobs. Both were in the industry of corporate recruiting, which, if you don’t know, is a roundabout term for being a professional middleman. A forty hour work week consists of cold calling creatives and asking them if they’d like to work for slightly wealthier creatives. I was laid off from the first job which resulted in a decline in weekly funds but a massive influx of stolen office supplies, and I was fired from the second job after publicly embarrassing the CEO at a company luncheon (I stand by my decision of reminding him that when they serve edamame they give you two bowls for a reason, however, the decibel level at which I did the reminding could be in question). After that, I went to the good ol’ fashioned internet to look for work.
I was asked to interview with Tumbleweed & Dandelion after answering a Craigslist ad to be a furniture painter. Had I ever painted furniture before? No. Did I tell them I had? Yes. I drove the hour for the interview reluctantly because, in Los Angeles, three miles is considered a lifetime away so, with a ten-mile commute from West Hollywood, Venice Beach may as well have been Egypt.
The formal Q&A portion of my interview lasted only a few seconds and consisted of only two questions – 1. Are you an actor? 2. ARE YOU AN ACTOR? – before I was put on a day of preliminary work. The store (one of the last remaining original structures on what was then becoming the brutally trendy street, Abbot Kinney Blvd.) was built out of a 1926 house and if the front entrance was the living room then the studio, with its boundless amounts of unorganized nonsense, was the garage. Each wall was hidden behind aging furniture, rusted antique tin signs, and forgotten strips of wood with red, oxidized nails poking through. It seemed like a beachy urban booby trap configured to lure unsuspecting suburban mothers, who would be, unbeknownst to them, one coastal breeze away from an avalanche of tetanus.
(The below picture is a MILD version of the studio I walked into, however, it is, in fact, the space described in the story.)
Once I was set up with my giant bucket of paint and all the fixings to make a masterpiece I was told to paint a wooden patio chair and paint it quickly, like, very quickly. Take whatever rate of speed you’re currently imagining in your mind, multiply it by three and accept that is still considered a snail’s pace. If Sonic the Hedgehog and Secretariat had a child and that child had a lifelong dream of painting furniture at Tumbleweed & Dandelion, it pains me to say that accelerated four-legged freak of nature would have to fall back on his liberal arts degree because he ain’t cuttin’ the mustard here. Anywho, I was left alone in that studio and did my damndest to meet the expectations laid out for me. I hustled. I sped. I hurried. Every movement was made with urgency and conviction. However, what I hadn’t taken into account was my incoordination. Forty-five seconds into waving the paintbrush through the air like I was on the losing end of a sword fight and my unwieldy arm had collided with the bucket sending five gallons of Behr primer mix careening to the pavement with a heavy thump. Being a man of solutions, I dropped to my knees and began frantically scooping the paint back into the bucket with whatever I could find just to ensure nobody would notice the color of the floor had been changed from…and that’s when I realized. The floor was already covered in multicolored mounds of dried paint. If anything, my accident was helping to dilute the chaos.
Why is this story important? After years of stealing wooden pallets from grocery stores by night and making a living in a cubicle by day, I finally realized what I wanted and what I needed was the same thing – monetized nonsense. And I think aside from a three-ring circus and maybe some parts of Amsterdam, Venice Beach is the only real place that certain type of something can not only exist but thrive with the pulsating beat of a rancid hippie drum circle. (*note to self – “Certain Type of Something” excellent name for mid-90s Sandra Bullock romcom) There are no bad ideas here, only great ideas that go horribly wrong but that’s okay because anyone that tells you life isn’t a mess sometimes is full of shit. Plain and simple.
So how did my interview at Tumbleweed end? Well, how do you think? They saw the spilled bucket of paint, kicked my ass out of the store and I spent the next six years learning how to hack into their website so I can publish my weekly rants onto their blog. More to come. I do hope you enjoy.