The Man with the Dog
Act IV: Back and Forth
I sold off what I could at Sausalito’s regular weekend flea market, which was within sight of the luxury houseboat I’d lived in for a while during my two years up north. I put the rest of my belongings in storage and made the move.
I returned to New Jersey with Larry, a six-month old Yorkshire Terrier pup I had bought from a Mexican family in Daly City, a short drive south of San Francisco. Larry had been a gift for the harem girl. Too much grooming and dog walking trouble for her; Larry had become my constant companion. I was coming home to the haven of my mother’s love and support. She was a poet in her soul and an angel in the flesh.
Landing in Newark in the winter of 1986, I felt beaten. I had come back, a prospector of the soul, with not a nugget of tangible proof of my evolution. The artist’s words bounced about in my head: “If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. And you don’t want to be a fraud, do you?” No, not a fraud, not me, not me, I thought.
Life seemed colorless.
My mother lived with her large, handsome cat in a studio condominium. Add a son plus a small dog and you can see how space was tight. Fortunately, her nightmare of the feline demolishing Larry was unfounded. The cat was gracious and accepted the puppy.
I suppose a man of forty living with his mother could have looked weird to others. But, I was on a mission; I was not concerned with appearances or conformity. Although I had purged much pretense from myself, like wringing a wet squeegee dry, there was no guarantee the mask of deception wouldn’t raise its mind-numbing head at any unguarded moment. Pretense leads to doubt, and doubt leads to caving into mediocrity, to giving up your dream.
Amazingly, I scored my first book contract with a New York publisher within a month of coming home. It was a walk through. I simply had to show up. The acquisition’s editor led me into a big office where I met with the president of the publishing company. He was friendly and a wine connoisseur.
He said: “We like your proposal and would like to publish your book.”
As we shook hands on the amount of the advance, the president said he’d send a contract in the mail. I had come to New York with train fare. I was returning with a book deal and a check that would soon be in the mail, for real. Life had turned on a dime. I was ecstatic as I entered Penn Station to catch the Path train to New Jersey. I remember calling my mother collect from the Hoboken terminal with the news: a book contract.
Hallelujah. I was no fraud. The world was looking much brighter and more colorful.
Next to seeing my work published and getting paid, there’s no thrill quite like getting the writing contract in the mail, which arrived from the publisher the day after our meeting.
I remained on the East Coast for six years, finished my book, ghosted another, and wrote many magazine pieces. Despite my modest professional writing inroads, there was something missing. I still hadn’t found the elusive thing the muses promised in seductive whispers. Writing was a step in the process of becoming. But into what was the issue. I had also made peace with the artist who had once again left San Francisco for LA. I heard the siren song of California. It was time for me to move again.
I returned to the City of Angels in 1992 and found a one-bedroom apartment in Brentwood. A sympathetic lady property manager agreed to accept a small dog in a neighborhood of signs that read: no pets allowed. Larry and I were back. I was tougher all-around, mentally and emotionally.
I had saved a few bucks that would fund my wanderlust. There was still that fundamental part of myself I had yet to discover. The climate was California; the gardener was the artist; I was the young shoot—a late bloomer the artist called me.
Unless you are the artist, it’s often difficult to discern the difference between what is art and what is craziness, especially when dealing with a dynamic creator, as was my artist mentor, cum gardener. The artist was keenly aware of his dark side, too. He had told me many times to learn and take only the good things from him. I listened. Clarity and first-hand experience of what was essential for art and what was nonsense would come with time. As Mr. Holmes would say, “The game was afoot.”
There is always a hefty price to pay for anything of value.»