Our cute patio, where I would sip wine and read, any time of year.

Our cute patio

I never wanted to move to California in the first place.   My husband had been accepted– tuition free– to the MFA program at Cal State Long Beach.  In New York, my career was humming along, and I was surrounded by friends.  California, with its endless sunshine and cheery, beautiful people, seemed surreal.

“You’re going to love it,” people warned, people who had lived there, people who had moved kicking and screaming, just as I was about to do.  I doubted them all.  We loaded up Andre’s mother’s (ancient) car and drove cross-country.  Andre gamely tried to make the experience as much fun as he could, and I played along.  We’d always wanted to drive across the country!  But after days in the car, the fun began to wear thin.  A sense of dislocation set in, intensified by our failure to find a suitable place to live.

The Spanish Colonial Library down the street.

The Spanish Colonial Library down the street.

But finally we found it:  a two bedroom for $1300 a month, unheard of in New York City.  We didn’t even need the second bedroom, not yet.  It had a teeny tiny outdoor patio and laundry on-site.  It was three blocks from the ocean, two blocks from Bixby Park and its weekly farmer’s market, and one block from the library, where I spent a lot of time.  Nearby Fourth Street was lined with coffee shops, thrifts stores, wine bars, and our favorite art theatre.  I made a project out of decorating the apartment with flea market finds and Target sale bin steals.

Friends who came to see us!

Friends who came to see us!

My friends came to me.  Broadway touring companies play both LA and Costa Mesa, and we were comfortably situated between the two.  Everyone who came through stopped by to see us.  And I didn’t realize how many friends Andre and I had that already lived in LA.  But still I missed New York.

When I booked the Billy Elliot tour, I was relieved.  Grad school kept Andre very busy, so I was home alone a lot.  I had finished decorating and my unemployment was running out.  I began to fear that I would have to work in a restaurant, which represents the absolute pits for me, the antithesis of where I want my life to head.  So I jumped at the chance to leave.

I began to miss Long Beach almost right away.  On hiatus from tour, I returned to New York and was surprised to find that I hated it:  the noise, the crowds, the crazy people.  What had once seemed sophisticated and exciting now seemed pretentious and neurotic.  Tour ended and I came back (pregnant) to Long Beach, and I fell even more in love with California.

After she was born and after Andre finished school, we felt a little unmoored.  We worked steadily through the summer, but went through a dry spell in August that left us shaken, unsure of whether to stay or go.  Out of the blue and without auditioning, Andre got the offer to do the Grinch back in New York.  The same day I found out I had booked Big Fish at Musical Theatre West.  We decided I would do the show, and then we would move back.

While I loved the ocean and the farmer’s market, not to mention the Vietnamese food and the Olympic lap pool, I didn’t expect to love the theatre community so much.  I didn’t expect such a warm embrace.  I didn’t expect so much support from our friends in Long Beach.  Puddin’ had a million terrific sitters.  I started teaching ballet and private voice lessons at studios within walking distance from where I lived.  I began working with a theatrical agent I adored, and a commercial agent who worked tirelessly to get me auditions.  Things were picking up for me!  But we were already scheduled to leave.

We’ve been back in New York for a little over three months, and I am finally admitting that I hate it here.  I do!  What a relief!  I hate it!  I’ve started begging Andre to move back.  I have no commercial agent, and my NY representation has barely lifted a finger.   My LA agent has been wonderful, but it’s clear they want me to move back.  Instead of teaching voice and ballet, I’m working at that dreaded restaurant.  I hate it with a passion I had forgotten I had.  Every day I feel like I am slipping down a wall into depression.  I try not to think about California, but it’s impossible.  Every time I go into the grocery store and see what passes for produce, every time I go to the Equity building and see a million actors lining up for some $300-a-week job in the middle of nowhere, every time Puddin’ wakes us up in the middle of the night in the one bedroom we now share, I am reminded of how good we had it.  And I miss it so much.

 

The apartment we’ll never find in Long Beach, CA

Seven days in a car will test even the most harmonious of couples. By the time we got to Long Beach, we were sick of the car, sick of the radio, sick of the highway, sick of each other, and more than anything, sick of ourselves.  We arrived on a Saturday and hit the ground running, excited to find a little corner of California to call our own.  By Tuesday we were pulling our hair out.  Here’s what we found:

1.  Day One

Our first appointment in California had been with a property manager named Brittanie.  (Of course.)  Brittanie wasn’t in when we showed up at the Hathaway apartment building.  (Of course.)  Joel, the harried, dumpy, but not unpleasant representative explained that he was the only one on staff, and he had to give two people a tour, and he had two more lined up, but if we wouldn’t mind waiting…

“What time should we come back?”  I cut to the chase.

“Maybe 4:30?”

We killed time by driving around Naples Island, a neighborhood in which we’d seen a 1 BR advertised on Craigslist.  But when we’d called to see it, the antiquated, possibly crazy lady who answered the phone told us the tenant hadn’t moved out yet.  (If she can’t show it, then why advertise it on Craigslist?  This  is standard California practice, we discovered.  The state is peopled by idiots.)  We went to see the outside of it anyway, which is how we discovered Naples Island, which is beautiful, but has the disadvantage of not seeming like a real place.  It’s the beachiest part of a beach town:  an endless summertime place of clapboard houses and cookouts.  I couldn’t imagine actually living there any more than I could imagine taking a unicorn on the subway.

We stopped into a tiny real estate office where a soft-spoken agent named Mary wasted no time showing us an apartment that was out of our price range.  To make matters worse, the elderly, crippled landlady lived on the premises, and there was a dead cockroach in the kitchen the size of my pinkie.  We passed.

When we got back to the Hathaway, Joel was trying to get rid of a Russian lady with magenta hair and green eyeshadow who wanted to upgrade her apartment to one overlooking the pool.  Once he ushered her out of the office, our “meeting” lasted fewer than ten minutes.  One bedrooms in this soulless, corporate-housing-style complex with its circus cast of characters ran for nearly $1500. We didn’t leave NY to pay those kinds of rents.  We headed back to our friend’s pad in Los Feliz, dejected but still determined.

2.  Day Two

Our first appointment Monday introduces us to a blonde Pilates instructor with possibly fake tits who is leasing her charming 1 BR for a sensible $1100. It’s too small, we decide, but the loquacious Kimberly inadvertently gives us a myriad of helpful housing tips.

Over the next three hours we see some of the worst apartments in Southern California.   The practice in Long Beach is to go to a management office, put down a nominal deposit, and obtain the keys for up to three apartments.  Then you’re left to drive around and explore them on your own, unaccompanied by meddlesome brokers and supers.  (You know, people who might know something about the property.)  This would never fly in New York, where vacant apartments would be turned into crack dens.

Stylistically, every apartment was saw could be deemed “classic LA,” which I define as the following:  two-story buildings resembling a cheap motel, overlooking crappy courtyards or the neighbor’s rotting fence; inside, a galley kitchen layout with no dishwasher and a fridge from the ’80s (if there’s a fridge at all), a living room with a stained carpet reeking of cigarette smoke, one small bedroom with a mirrored, sliding-door closet, and a dated bathroom outfitted in checkered tiles of grey, coral, or beige.

By 2:00 my dreams of California livin’ were dying a hard death.

“Everyone said we’d get more space out here!”  I moaned in the car.  “I envisioned a patio or at least a balcony!  A dishwasher!  Central air!”

Then we pulled up to 229 1/2 St. Joseph Ave.  I liked the idea of living at a 1/2.  It reminded me catching the train at gate 9 3/4 at Kings Cross a la Harry Potter.  In this case, the 1/2 signified a guest house behind the spacious Spanish colonial at 229.  A spiral staircase led to the apartment, where a worker was putting the finishing touches on the deck.  (!)  Looking out, we could see across rooftops to the Pacific Ocean in the distance.  The French doors opened onto a spacious apartment with vaulted ceilings and appliances from this century.  The rent, including utilities, was $1,250.

“We’ll take it,” I said.

Thus begins the application process…