When the Universe Hates Your Guts

You know, I wouldn’t say I have terrible luck, but it definitely trends toward being consistently on the poor side. I don’t feel like the universe has it in for me, but it’s definitely toying with me and being annoying.

It’s like that time back in 1996 when a guy I knew, who had won an Emmy for post-production work on the hit show Northern Exposure, called me up out of the blue to move to L.A. to be his assistant. His career at Skywalker Sound South in L.A. was winding down after it was bought by Todd-AO, so he and some investors were buying a family-owned, state of the art post-production studio that was in bankruptcy.

“L.A.’s a dogfight and you need big teeth. You don’t have any. But you better grow some.” 

It was a huge break for me, so I left grad school, packed up my hamster car, and moved out there. Immediately upon my arrival, he told me, “So let me get you up to speed. The financing fell through.” Turned out his main investor’s wealthy, elderly mother controlled the company’s purse strings, and she shot the deal down. It also turned out I no longer had a job.

Why had he not called me to let me know before I left Arizona I had asked in dismay.

“You’re a writer. I decided you need to be out here anyway,” he replied. He was a go-getter and risk taker, which had worked out well for him. He rightly thought I needed a kick in the ass, but what he hadn’t added into the equation was I was nowhere even close to being in his league in intelligence, ability, and drive. He would take the smallest opportunity and run people over to make it work; I was the proverbial deer in the headlights. As he said to me later: “L.A.’s a dogfight and you need big teeth. You don’t have any. But you better grow some.”

And that was the start of my L.A. misadventure. I’ll have to write about that period of my life sometime because it only got crazier.

Yeah, anyway, it’s just been one of those kinds of weeks as far as lost opportunity and financial mayhem, just on a far smaller scale.

Welcome to hell

Let me set the stage. First, my house’s air conditioning was on the fritz and the temperature in Arizona is only slightly below hellish, though full-blown hell is arriving next week when we are supposed to hit 106°F (41°C for my international readers), and it will only get hotter. The air conditioner was blowing warm air the day I called a recommended AC guy who does side work for cash. When he showed up after he got off work the next day, my unit was back to blowing cold air, but I figured he should take a look at it anyway because it was obviously not working right.

After inspecting it, the repair guy told me my AC unit was at least 30 years old (maybe older since the house was built in 1980), and he began to describe what kind of condition it was in. Have you ever seen a really wizened old man who is bent practically in half with osteoporosis? A man who is so frail and rickety it’s a miracle he’s still upright in a light breeze? The one with no teeth, who is practically blind, and who has to wear adult diapers? Yeah, apparently, that was the equivalent of my air conditioning unit.

I’d be fine as long as I kept my spending low. Apparently, I had forgotten that’s like daring the Universe to do something about it.

The AC guy showed me photos — and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, with the exposed wiring due to the plastic having been baked off them by the relentless desert sun, it’s a wonder my house hadn’t burned down. He showed me pics of one battered part and said if it failed, the AC would either not turn on or it wouldn’t turn off, which would kill my electricity bill — both would suck.

He said he could get me a new unit for the discounted price of $4,600 cash or make repairs to get me through the summer. Since it’s been almost a year since I’ve had a proper job, I went with option B. My plan was to postpone replacement until I could afford a new AC without giving my finances a hernia. So he returned the next day and got to work. When he was done, he came into the house and turned on the air. The blower was working but the condenser wouldn’t kick on. He said it might take a bit. So we waited. And waited. Finally, he went back up on the roof and after ten minutes he returned and we waited some more, our hands periodically reaching up to the vent in the ceiling that stubbornly blew out warm air. Nada.

“Bad news,” he said. “I think your condenser has just died.”

Well, depending on your point of view that was pretty (in)convenient.

He began talking about installing a new unit, and I said I’d have to think about it because $4,600 cash was kind of steep. After all, I was only working occasional freelance jobs and doing rideshare driving, which pays a pittance. As much as I was loath to do it, I was probably going to have to go with a more expensive company so I could put it on a credit card and pay it off in installments. I hate doing that because while I use my cards all the time, I pay them off immediately. But I didn’t want to raid my bank account and leave myself low on available cash.

After the repair guy left, the damn AC blower was in full zombie mode and wouldn’t shut off even when I turned it off. It just kept blowing warm air, so I eventually had to turn it off at the circuit breaker.

After speaking with a rep from Integrity Air Conditioning, it was going to cost me $5,400 (after rebates) to get a new unit, but I reluctantly agreed — at least it was a reputable company and there was a ten-year warranty. But it still sucked because I also needed new tires for my car because the rideshare driving had accelerated the wear on them. And I needed an oil change. And I needed to get my BBQ grill fixed. And a bunch of other none vital shit.

I’d just made the mistake of thinking that life was going okay and I’d be fine as long as I kept my spending low. Apparently, I had forgotten that’s like daring the Universe to do something about it.

Fuck.

I’m melting! Mellllllting!

Meanwhile, in the absence of modern AC, I’ve actually been doing okay with the heat. The older I get, the more I turn into my dad. As the temperature has climbed, when the AC was working, I hadn’t even had it on when the Houseguest wasn’t home. When my dad was alive, he kept the house so hot my brother would freak out when he came over to visit. “Oh, my God, it’s like hell in here. How does he live like this? It’s so damn hot!”

Unlike me, the Houseguest hasn’t been faring well with no AC, and she has been lying around listlessly. I feel bad and check on her occasionally to make sure I don’t need to summon an ambulance for heat prostration. To be honest, though, because I don’t want to dip into my cash reserves, if I lived here by myself, I would have been inclined to tough it out through the summer without AC, but I probably wouldn’t be able to make it through the height of the summer. Last year we had two solid weeks between 110 and 115°F (43 – 46°C) and actually hit 123°F (50°C) one day. Plus I couldn’t bear the constant whinging.

To be fair, she’s also been battling insomnia, which has taken its toll. I see her emerge from her room, unrested, and the oppressive heat hasn’t made it any easier, and she’s at the snapping point. It doesn’t help her mood that the heat doesn’t seem to faze me. I see the barely subdued madness lurking in her eyes.

The kitchen is a no-cook zone

Because of the unrelenting heat, the Houseguest has been bugging me to get the grill seen to so we can cook outside under the shade of the patio. We’d been grilling a lot earlier in the year, but the never-ending propane tank finally ran out of gas, and I’d been meaning for a while to go up to Home Depot for a new tank. After I finally did,  I was disconnecting the old tank, and I think I did something wrong and jacked up the propane regulator. When I connected the new tank, I heard hissing gas and could smell it. I thought I had a faulty tank and took it back, but the replacement tank made the same noise with the same smell. Using soapy water, I looked for bubbles to try and discover the leak, but no luck.

The Houseguest mentioned going up to get a new regulator for the grill and wanted to know when we could grill again, and I said I didn’t know. I began listing my expenses and mentioned the AC had to be taken care of, then my tires, and then a new regulator for the grill — which I wasn’t even sure was the problem.

She had wilted onto her bed and lay there languidly looking defeated.

“But we have to be able to grill,” she said weakly. “It’s too hot to use the oven.”

burning fire
The oven might as well be the furnaces of hell as far as the Houseguest is concerned

I told her I wasn’t sure if I bought that argument. I mean, unless I was foolish enough to cook with the oven door open, I kind of figured it should be okay, right? How hot could it get? Turn the oven on. Put the food in. Set the timer. Walk out of the room. Come back when the timer goes off. I didn’t see the issue. She, on the other hand, was just staring at me like I was a simpleton. She has a Ph.D. and tends to discuss things analytically. As I began calmly explaining why I thought the regulator was the lowest priority purchase item, her head suddenly snapped up and she shot me a look.

“Oh, we ARE grilling, motherfucker!”

Okay, I admit, I was slightly taken aback. The Houseguest is normally rather easy-going, cultured, and well-spoken. There was no anger, just the no-nonsense bark I’d associate with a drill instructor. However, I got the impression that if the heat had not sapped all of her energy, I might have ended up in a bloody heap on the floor.  I retreated to my Man Cave and chalked up the outburst to the heat. Plus, she’s got some fiery Persian blood in her.

Freelancing is great — until it sucks

So, as these bills piled up this week, it reinforced that I’m not bringing in tons of money. It’s been almost a year since I’ve had a proper job. I traveled for a bit, and I’ve been picking up freelance projects from a couple of agencies. I’ve also been slumming doing rideshare driving for Uber and Lyft part-time to help out with cash flow and because I meet interesting people. All with the goal of working (slowly and painfully) on my book.

…as the old man used to say, If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.’ 

Regarding the book, I’ve done a fair bit on it, but there’s still a fair bit left to do. Purposefully, I’ve been holding off getting a real job and have been actively trying to get freelance gigs. One thing I’ve learned, I suck at chasing down freelance work — there are a lot of people who want a writer, but who only offer pennies. And I’m not joking — one company wanted a series of 2,000-word articles and would pay $1 per 500 words. That’s an extreme example, but with a lot of cheapskates posting jobs and foreign-based writers undercutting the market, chasing work sucks.

I figured if I lived frugally, I could stretch my under-employment out quite awhile, as long as I didn’t incur any real expenses. Like all the ones I racked up this week, which was a metaphorical kick in the balls.

But that was okay. I still had a freelance project. I was originally supposed to start it last month but it’s been delayed because the agency’s client had gone radio silent. I figured I could use that to pay off a chunk of the AC cost. However, the agency also has a new full-time copywriter, who, naturally, will get the lion’s share of the work. After my AC crapped out, I really started thinking about it. How much work would trickle down? I got a fair amount with the old copywriter, but if the universe was still eyeballing me, I didn’t like my odds.

But that was still okay because another agency had contacted me for a small project. Their content director liked my stuff. In fact, she had me come in to talk about working for them part-time, but as a proofreader. It’s kind of boring work, but it wouldn’t demand any of my limited creativity. And it would be a regular income so I could keep writing. I was stoked. And everyone I met was super nice. Things were looking up!

And then right after I put down a three grand deposit on my new AC unit, I got an email late Friday afternoon. It was from the new agency’s HR person informing me that the content director had departed the company that afternoon. She said I was still in their freelance pool and I might hear from some of the account managers. I asked about the proofreading gig. She had no idea, but it seemed to me my new part-time gig was probably dead in the water because of, you know, the Universe.

Just like L.A., I was so close.

Fuck my life.

The Universe is going to make me go out and get a real job, isn’t it? Maybe I just have to accept the fact that I’m really a 9-to-5 guy.

If karma is a thing, I must have been a real asshole in another life. Oh well, as the old man used to say, If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.’  But, man, if this keeps up, I may need to sacrifice a goat at the next full moon.

At least I’ll have a new air conditioning unit by tomorrow. I just hope they don’t drop it through my roof.

Update

The new AC is going in as I post this.

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11 thoughts on “When the Universe Hates Your Guts

    1. Sean D. Layton

      Thanks! In addition to the pitty, let me know if you can also spare a lucky charm or an old horseshoe. Anything at all, actually. 😉

      1. I wouldn’t take anything from me, my luck is pretty shitters, it would likely be tainted. I regularly, seemingly constantly, have opportunities to learn how to get everything in my house repaired. Maybe I’ll even make a list for my blog.

      2. I wouldn’t take anything from me, my luck is pretty shitters, it would likely be tainted. I regularly, seemingly constantly, have opportunities to learn how to get everything in my house repaired. Maybe I’ll even make a list for my blog. … apparently I had this typed but not sent since yesterday….omg

  1. So I don’t know if you got it, but there was a comment I had typed up but didn’t hit send to yesterday, then tried to resend it today… and now I have no evidence of it, anyway, I can’t repeat it, just know it was there. Also, is it ok if I do a post and include a link to your site since you inspired it with this one?

    1. Sean D. Layton

      Absolutely, be my guest! That’s too bad about the original comment being lost — I hate when that happens.

    2. Sean D. Layton

      I was looking at comments because I was deleting pingbacks from my own posts and I just happened to notice that I had something in the Spam folder — and it was your missing comment, which is weird since your comments are now automatically approved.

  2. Pingback: The Education of Life | It's Not About Pickles

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