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The Miss Jobless Chronicles: Paul, the Pothead Poet from L.A.

Ed. note: “The Miss Jobless Chronicles” is a weekly series written by Caitlin O’Toole. Read the rest in the series here.

I don’t think I can pull off this “I’m pregnant” thing. (See 10/4/10 installment of MJC) But I’m in a pickle — I can’t go back and tell Carl at Pest Zappers that I lied. So I call and tell him I got another gig. He was cool about it — even congratulatory. But then he asked me what it was, what I’d be doing, and I hadn’t come up with something in advance.

“Um, I’m going to be a … a … um, a tollbooth attendant. On 95.”

“Oh! I have a friend who does that — which exit?”

Errr…

“Um, they’re not really sure where they’re going to place me yet,” I say. “I think it’s going to be Weehawken.”

“Good benefits with that job, congratulations.”

“Yeah, I like that it’s social — I’ll be working with people, I’m a people person. Plus, I get to be outside. Well, half outside — half in a little box. My arm will be outside.”

“Well, good luck to you,” he goes, and that was that.

Meanwhile, my landlord has been painting my apartment, and I swear you’d think he was painting the fucking Sistine Chapel because it’s taking so long. So I’ve been ‘homeless’ for five days, from 9-5, with nothing to do but wander the city.

It could be worse — I could be in Toledo or something. Wandering around New York City isn’t so bad. Mostly, I spend my time walking. Walking. And walking. And writing in the coffee place ‘Joe’, nursing my $3 iced tea and asking for water refills. Sometimes I bring my own iced tea from home and just keep refilling my cup.

When you walk around the city a lot, you become struck at how lonely New York City is, even though it’s so busy. Lots of lonely people wandering around, waiting for… waiting for something to happen, someone to come along and talk to them.

‘Joe’ on 23rd and 9th is like the Central Perk or Cheers of my neighborhood, it’s like where everybody knows your name. There’s this one guy, Paul, who lives in my building and always smells like pot and kisses me hello, which is gross since I don’t even know him. But I don’t have the heart to say “Get your slimy pot lips off my cheek.” So I air kiss him back and we chat, mostly about nothing.

Paul just came here form L.A. and he’s SO L.A. SO mellow. I can’t even stand the way he talks so slowly and deliberately. And he’s always smiling, which, of course, is enough to drive this grumpy New Yorker totally batty. I want to say, “What the fuck are you so happy about?”

I think he’s in fashion because today he was reading a Women’s Wear Daily at his usual perch in the window, systematically licking every page as he turned it.

He’s taken to calling me “Slick,” which makes me want to simultaneously vomit and scream.

“Hey, Slick,” he goes as I walk in, “‘sappenin’?” And he plants a wet one on my cheek, barely missing my lips.

“Nothing, I’m displaced because my apartment is being painted. So I’m killing time. What’s up with you?” I’m too polite.

“Aw, you know. Just — you know, hangin’. Chillin’. Soakin’ it all in.”

OK, I have no idea what that means, it must be L.A.-speak. Whatever it is it’s annoying as all fuck.

“Great, well — I’m going to get a tea. See you later.”

“Yeah, check you, babe.”

After I order my iced tea Paul is still sitting in the window, licking pages of the magazine and staring blankly at people walking by. I need to sit down, I’ve been walking all day, but the only available seat is next to Paul. It’s no wonder no one wants to sit next to his pot-smelling patchouli ass. I decide I’d rather keep walking than get stuck sitting next to him, so I make a beeline for the door.

“Hey, Slick, here’s a seat — sit here.”

Ugh. I reluctantly sit.

“Have you ever heard of Carroll Gardens?” he goes.

Yes, you dumbass, of course I’ve heard of Carroll Gardens, I’ve lived here for 20 years.

“Yes, I think so — ”

“Beautiful neighborhood, in Brooklyn. I just went there for the first time — I’m thinking about getting a place there. Hey, are you seeing anyone? Anyone special?”

“I am, yes, I mean, no,” I say, unsure of which answer will make him leave me alone. “Not really.”

“Ah, that’s cool, you’re a cool cat you know. Cool cat. It’s hard to meet people in the city, everyone’s so –”

“Intrusive?” I say, feeling half guilty for the thinly-veiled insult.

“No — the opposite — everyone’s so stand-offish, no one will talk to you.”

“Well, that’s New York for you. It’s not L.A.”

“Yeah, I’m kind of homesick.”

“I’m sorry, Paul. I really am.”

I am way too fucking nice, I’m a sucker, I’m thinking, for sitting here listening to this lonely man spew his bullshit. And clearly manipulate me into feeling sorry for him and talking to him.

“Well look,” I say, “I need to –”

“No, don’t go,” he says, grabbing my arm, “sit with me. I’ll buy you something, what are you drinking?”

Oh Christ.

“Um, Earl Grey. Tea. I’ll have a tea. Tea with skim milk.”

“Sure, Slick, be right back.”

Potsie (my new nickname for him) returns with the tea and sits back down.

“So what do you do, Slick? What’s your story?”

“You know, I don’t even know anymore. I’m a writer, but I’ve been looking for work for a long time.”

“Yeah? A writer? Rad. So rad. I’m a poet. Would you like to read some of my poems?” he goes, reaching in his canvas messenger bag before I have a chance to answer.

“Buildings high, in the sky, I walk, we talk, and we can fly,” he says, grinning, “I just made that up. Shit just comes to me. Here, read this.”

There is NOTHING worse than someone asking you to read their shit when they’re sitting right there. NOTHING worse. It would be like me sitting over you while you read this blog.

Now I don’t think of myself as a mean person, but as I’m reading, I start to inappropriately crack up. “This is so good,” I try and cover it up. He looks puzzled. “I’m laughing because it’s SO good,” I go.

“Yeah, I have ‘the touch’,” as they say.

“You certainly do. Nicely done,” and I hand his folder of scribbles back to him.

“Do you wanna catch a movie or something, Slick?”

“Um, I –”

Now since he didn’t say a particular time I really couldn’t say “I’m busy” — it’s not like I could say “I’m busy all the time.”

“Look, you’re really nice, but — but I–”

He senses what I’m about to say.

“I’ve gone to the movies with gay people before,” he laughs.

“I know, but –”

“Just as friends. OK, Slick? Friends?”

Oh shit. Now I have this new friend I do not want. And I’m too nice to say no.

“OK. We’ll catch a movie sometime, Paul.”

“How about today?”

“No, I — ”

“‘The Social Network’ is playing at one — let’s go.”

“I am so broke, Paul.”

“I’ll pay, Slick. I’ll pay. Just come with me.”

I have never before, in my 20 years in New York, met such a lonely, desperate person before.

So Potsie and I go to see ‘The Social Network’.

And it looks like I’ve made a new friend.

caitlinotoole.pngCaitlin O’Toole is a New York City-based writer and editor. A native of Washington, D.C., she began her illustrious journalism career as a Washington Post paper girl. She has since written and edited for Sesame Workshop Digital, Star Magazine, The National Enquirer, Glamour, People.com, Parade.com and Washington’s City Paper. Her work has also been featured on Fox News, ABC, MTV and VH1. She lives in Chelsea with her two cats, Lucy and Ethel. She can be reached for work at her LinkedIn page and Tweets at @MsOToole.

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