Song Of The Day 3/12/2017: William DeVaughn – “Be Thankful for What You Got”
The Final 18
Despite the events about to be depicted here, I don’t want to use real names. Everyone who was around at the time knows who I’m talking about, and anybody who wasn’t shouldn’t be inspired to look them up, at least not through me. Besides, using an acronym would give me another layer of distance from the whole thing, even if I never intend to bridge that gap anyway. There’s no reason to. Things got better almost immediately after this whole episode was over.
I settled on “WATT.” That stands for “wife at the time.” See, you can even pronounce it easily.
I don’t even remember the name of the street we lived on. It was a house fashioned into an apartment complex at the lower edge of Silver Lake.
I’d lined up a job through my contact at HITS, but we’ll get to that tomorrow.
There was a radio station called KACE, one of the very few black-owned stations in Los Angeles. They played R&B oldies, a lot of the songs I grew up loving as a child. Some I hadn’t heard in years. Until the end of KACE’s existence in 1999 (which left Stevie Wonder’s low-powered station as the only black-owned one in L.A.) they were one of the very few music stations I listened to in the city. ‘60s and ‘70s mainly, until the last couple of years when they threw the ‘80s into the mix. Believe it or not, KACE was the first place I heard “Be Thankful For What You Got” by William DeVaughn. It was a top five hit in the ‘70s.
Things had been going south in the marriage for a long time. I felt trapped and I’m sure WATT did too. Except she broke out of the trap, often. I guess I thought the best thing I could do was be as faithful as possible, plough away and expect some sort of turn to finally occur.
The brief happy moment we had was when the Stinky Puffs stayed in our apartment while they were touring the area, specifically playing the renown all-ages club Jabberjaw. This was the band that featured Jad Fair’s 11-year-old son Simon on vocals, and Simon’s mom Sheenah on drums, with some other family friends filling out. The nicest people. Simon had briefly been friends with Kurt Cobain, who said some day they’d write songs together. Then what happened happened, and Simon wrote a song for Kurt called “I Love You Anyway.” He was a great kid.
WATT had put on shows in Olympia and Seattle and got to know quite a few indie musicians. I didn’t meet as many as she did. She was embarrassed of me and kept that world to herself. But that’s how we got to know the Stinky Puffs.
We didn’t have a lot of money for a while.
One day she announced she had to take a trip to the Bay Area for a few days. I forget the pretense but I think she mentioned some bands that she wanted to see in San Francisco. So she took a flight to “San Jose” one weekend on one of those cut-rate airlines (Reno Air I think) and asked me to pick her up at the airport at a certain time in the 5 o’clock hour at LAX. It might’ve been 6. Whatever, that’s not the point.
When the weekend arrived I decided to call the airline to verify that the flight was still on time. (Pre-Internet, when you had to call them yourself.) I told the operator I wanted to verify that the San Jose-to-LA flight was still on schedule for arrival.
“Oh,” said the operator, “we don’t have any flights from San Jose coming in at that particular time.”
“We don’t have a flight from San Jose coming into L.A. at 5:xx p.m.” (xx representing the exact time, whatever it was.)
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said. “My wife said there’d be a flight coming in at 5:xx… wait a minute. Do you have any other flights coming into LAX at 5:xx tonight?”
The operator checked her schedule. “Yes.”
“Seattle. Arriving in LAX at 5:xx.”
A few minutes later WATT called me on the phone. “Hi,” she said.
“Hi. How’s Seattle?”
“I’m not in Seattle.”
“Oh, I think you are.”
“Paul, the marriage is over.”
“No shit. Why the hell’d you tell me you were in San Francisco?”
“Because I thought you’d think that my going to Seattle would be too far!”
“Why? The tickets to San Jose and Seattle cost exactly the same!”
“I mean, too far! Too much!”
Well, I got out of picking her up at the airport at least.
I packed my belongings in the Toyota Camry that had mysteriously wrecked itself in Seattle (and had a door that was a different color from the rest of the cab). I drove to Long Beach and got a motel room.
Before I forget, I should tell you that WATT was a born-again Christian.
The motel in Long Beach is where this story should have ended. Satisfied with my particular moral stance, having caught WATT in the one lie I was able to prove out of who knows how many told, taking the rough road out of it, choosing whatever was behind Door #3 and waltzing out of the situation for good.
So why did I decide to go back?
I honestly don’t remember the emotional reason. I was already drained. But more than anything else I still felt I had some commitment to see through and I hadn’t done so yet (I know, I know). Only a little more than a month in L.A., with very few friends and the perhaps erroneous belief that they had endorsed or even applauded every one of WATT’s actions, I didn’t feel I had any other reasonable answers.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly how this process went in terms of timelines, so I may be skipping a few days here. All I can say was that I was determined to live where I was supposed to be at that point, and that was in Silver Lake. I called WATT up to inform her of this.
She informed me that wasn’t going to happen, because she was having visitors.
What visitors? Well, Brock.
Brock—you guessed it—isn’t his real name. His real name is quite unique, to the extent where if I used it, probably anybody in the world could find out who he was by doing a Google search on his first name. I don’t have an axe to grind with him, so I’m calling him Brock because it’s short for “broccoli.”
That’s because when I finally did confront him face-to-face later in the year, I thought he looked like a stalk of broccoli.
Anyway, Brock was coming to town to stay at the apartment for a while, and under no circumstances was I, the husband, allowed to come back home.
Why? What’s going on? Is he the new boyfriend?
No, NO, WATT said. There was absolutely nothing going on between her and Brock. He’s just a friend. But I absolutely could not come back home while he was visiting.
That sounds like it’s a romantic thing, doesn’t it?
NO! Absolutely not! There’s nothing going on! I’m making things up! After all, Brock’s bringing his girlfriend Ursula with him! They’re both staying in the apartment and I can’t come back!
Ursula is not her real name either. Her name’s more common than Brock’s real name, but I still don’t want to use it. Also, as you may have figured out by now, there’s a pretty good chance Ursula never existed in the first place.
I’d heard WATT be angry before—many times. When once I remarked that she sure spent a lot of time talking about how much she hated everything, she grinned and said, “Life’s too short!” But I never heard her angrier or more unhinged when she was telling me not to come home because Brock was going to be staying for a while. And Ursula. Brock and Ursula. The two of them.
But there was definitely not anything going on romantically between them. No, not at all. Why would I even think that? There was really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really nothing romantic or sexual or intimate going on between WATT and Brock, but just the same, if I came home to the place I had a right to be in, shit was going to get terminal.
Even though nothing sexual was going on, because Brock brought his girlfriend Ursula, you see.
But WATT was classy enough to put me up in a Beverly Hills motel for a week.
It was this weird little boarding house type arrangement off of Rodeo Drive (I think). The rooms were very small, contained thin beds, and tiny televisions suspended from the ceiling. It wasn’t the Ritz Carlton, in other words. It wasn’t even a Days Inn. But it was in BH, WATT had hurriedly found it, and it was where I’d be while Brock was staying at my apartment not having a relationship with WATT.
Also I had to give up the car for the week because WATT needed to get to work or something, and because of my insolence I didn’t deserve to have an automobile for awhile. So I was stuck in BH with no vehicle, which is kind of the antithesis of living in California.
WATT eventually agreed to let me come back—in a couple weeks, at the end of the month, because Brock (and Ursula) would be leaving to go back to Seattle then. But until then, I was still banished. But I could have the car back.
So after the Beverly Hills motel stay was over, I went to stay with some friends, a married couple in Pasadena who I’d met at Evergreen. The guy—I will call him Billy, but that’s not his etc. etc.—knew what was going on. He brought me a Nintendo gaming system to kill time while I was in Beverly Hills. They graciously allowed me to stay in their house for a few days.
Around this point in the story I wondered whether it would be a good idea to go Christian.
Maybe the reason WATT was doing all this was because I wasn’t a Christian. That was one of the core planks of her personality, her Christian-ness. At the very least, with all the alternative means of expression WATT was exhibiting while maintaining a spoken loyalty to Christ, I thought it might be a good idea to rap with a Christian dude to try and figure out what they thought of it.
I met with a pastor from Calvary Chapel. I tried to explain how bad things had gotten, and that I couldn’t understand why I was going through all this stuff at the hands of a professed Christian.
The pastor had a measured and calm voice. I gave him WATT’s number (she told me to feel free to have him call her). We met maybe three times.
On the third time he told me he’d talked to WATT on the phone. While he expressed concern about her state of mind at the moment, he told me that her decision to have Brock at the house and prevent me from returning was of her own volition as a mature adult, and there really wasn’t much I could do about it except walk in the light and let matters take care of themselves.
He also asked me if I’d like to come to Jesus. I said I’d think about it.
One night while I was still in exile, Billy and I went to see Apollo 13 at the movies. Then we went to a taco truck in Pasadena. We got our grub and moved across the street to sit down on a curb.
Billy and his wife were Christians at some point. I wasn’t sure of their current status, if they were going to an actual church or whatnot. Mainly they were extraordinarily warm people who seemed to have it mentally together. One thing I noted about Billy was that he never, ever uttered a profane word, in all the two years I’d known him.
So we were sitting on the curbside eating our tacos, having an affable conversation. He was the only friend I had in town at that point. I lit up a cigarette.
A minute or two later a young man walked up to me and asked me if he could have a cigarette. I drew one from my pack and gave it to him.
Then he asked if I had a light, and I said yes. I started fumbling around for my lighter in my pockets and had trouble locating at first. “Yeah, I got one somewhere,” I muttered, and the young man laughed.
I finally found the lighter. He bent down so I could light his cigarette. “Thanks,” he muttered. “No problem,” I said.
Then he slugged me in the left eye with a set of brass knuckles.
I fell backwards onto the pavement. The young man ran into a waiting car and sped off.
Billy started yelling: “FUCK! FUUUUUUUCK!”
Blood drizzled in a steady flow below my eye and onto my face and shirt. I didn’t know where the young man had hit me, if he’d done any damage to the eye itself or not. But I couldn’t see through it, mainly on account of the blood.
I staggered to Billy’s convertible and he high-tailed it to the local hospital.
I reclined with my head back on the seat cushion.
“I could lose an eye,” I mumbled.
Billy’s cursing, I thought. This must be bad if Billy’s cursing.
At the hospital the cops told me I’d likely been the target of a gang initiation. Some guy, needing to prove his coldness, proved himself that night by slugging a stranger with a pair of brass knuckles.
A website called Weapons Universe has this to say about brass knuckles: “Often demonized and vilified by the press and law enforcement, the brass knuckle has a colorful and interesting history and deserves to take its rightful place amongst the great close-quarters combat weapons of the world.”
I asked the cop who’d won the Dodgers game that night. He told me they’d beaten the Rockies. I never asked about the Dodgers before.
The hospital recommended I get stitches. I couldn’t afford it, I said. I had no money at the time and even less medical insurance. They told me there’s a way I could get out of paying, since I’d been the victim of a violent assault. But I didn’t want stitches. I wanted to get out of town immediately.
They put a bandage on my eye and I was released. The next day I drove east.
To this day my left eye sometimes twitches involuntarily, mainly in the springtime when the weather is changing. You can still see a scar under my left eye.
I called WATT to tell her what had happened, that I’d been assaulted on the street in Pasadena and nearly lost an eye.
This was the sum total of her response: “Well, that’s the kind of thing that happens when you decide to become a Christian.”
No apologies, no expressions of Christian concern, just a somewhat modified “I told you so” statement.
At that point I decided I was done with Christianity. If Jesus wanted me so badly he knew where to find me, so he could just skip the goddamn middle man.
I drove to Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains. Still in exile. I didn’t have any money for lodgings so I stayed in a campground with no tent for three days.
I came across a little money for food. I believe my parents gave me a loan for survival, though they understandably were not happy about the current situation.
I went to a karaoke club in Lake Arrowhead. I didn’t sing. Only three other people were there. I was the only one with a hospital bandage covering his eye. I didn’t feel like pushing it.
Lake Arrowhead was a cute little town. Small, compact, serving the tourism industry. I noted they had a public radio station. Or at least I thought it was a public radio station. Gee, I thought, I’d sure love to live in a little outlet like this again. Make a bunch of new friends, play music, have an agreeable social life that wasn’t too frenetic or pushed into melodrama.
Wouldn’t it be nice to just start over in a place like Lake Arrowhead? I mean, look at all these people. They’re polite, they’re helpful, they all look like they have everything settled. They’re happy with what they have and confident about whatever it is they do. And it’s totally real. Not one of those Stepford Wives or Handmaid’s Tale stories. They’re legitimately satisfied with their lives from the bottom up and they totally don’t look like zombies. I should look into living here!
But I left after three days and never came back because Brock had finally gone home and I was free to return to the apartment.
Oh, and Ursula. Yeah, she was gone too.
The following few months were a farce. I don’t know why I was there. I suppose I had some notions that it was just a phase—a terrible, awful, no-good phase, the comeback from which would be even sweeter because of how horrible this phase was. It would make for a terrific story.
I suppose when one goes to Hollywood there must be a great temptation to fantasize about a Hollywood ending.
The apartment was too much money and finally we decided that we had to give it up. WATT found a bungalow of sorts on Selma in Hollywood, and I was welcome to stay with her there until my pending trip to Sacramento to visit family and friends. After that point I’d have to leave.
The trip to Sacramento reminded me how great my friends were. They lifted a tremendous burden for me. I almost considered moving back to Sacramento. That’s what my parents wanted, and I certainly felt warmly about it again. But I couldn’t bring myself to believe that going back would be anything but a regressive move. I had something happening in LA professionally and wanted to see that through.
But I was sure glad to see what was waiting on the other side. I stopped hurting at that point.
WATT arranged for me to move to a house in North Hollywood where a friend of hers lived with another guy. My room had a mattress, an alarm clock and my clothes. Nothing more.
I suppose WATT thought the lengths she was going to find me a new place to live was a gracious act in itself. But this was still a situation that was under her control. My roommates were nice and very tolerant, but until I got out of there, technically I was still a subject. Until I got out, there was still the sense that someone else was making my decisions for me.
I left North Hollywood after a month.
Other than getting the CDs I owned back—which was a surprisingly enjoyable activity—I had no reason to keep in touch with WATT. We’d get a divorce when we were able to afford it. This finally happened a couple years later. I don’t remember the exact date.
But there was one more small, kind of follow-up that happened. Somehow it came to my attention that Brock was in town and staying at WATT’s place. Without Ursula.
I believe that WATT tried to deny that he was there for some reason, but I have no idea why that was necessary at that point. And WATT continued to adamantly deny that they were an item.
But he happened to be there, sometime around Christmas, I guess. And I happened to be in their neighborhood when I knew she was at work. So I went over there.
Brock answered. I introduced myself.
Like I said, he looked like a stoned stalk of broccoli. WATT’s next boyfriend was a genuinely handsome and sweet guy. Brock was neither.
I asked if I could talk to him. He said sure.
I then said something to the effect of, “Look, if you’re the one that she’s chosen, I’m all for it. After all that’s happened the last couple of months, I just wanted to meet you personally, wish you luck, and be on my way.”
The only thing Brock said was, “Well, that’s mighty gentlemanly of you, Paul.”
And we were done.
Well, not quite. WATT called me up a few hours later and said Brock had no idea what the hell I was talking about. Because he wasn’t her boyfriend. Definitely not. How could I think such a thing?
It took WATT about another year to finally admit that, yes, Brock and her were together. The reason this came out is because she called me after they’d had an awful altercation, brought about when Brock caught her with another guy. He’d flipped out when he saw the two of them, but she didn’t understand why. There was nothing to flip out about. They were just friends, and Brock just went crazy for no reason.
You ever been to Lake Arrowhead? It's nice and tranquil, and the people are top-notch.
All right, I know a lot of you who decided this was not a tl;dr situation are wondering “Where are they now?”
I’m afraid I only have sketches and general information about this because I haven’t been in contact with WATT for over a decade. I know she married at least once again (neither to Brock nor the guy she was with after Brock), that ended, and she moved around a bit. A couple of mutual friends of ours have given me a couple of bits of information, unprompted. She was even back in Olympia—which she’d called a godless hell hole, and mocked me for missing it—for a brief turn.
I suppose it’s too much to say “I want her to be happy”—not because I don’t, but because I think happiness is impossible for her to obtain.
I guess the best I can say is that I hope the story of WATT’s life won’t end with her being convicted of murder and sent to death row. That would be ideal. I don’t want anyone to have to die unnecessarily, whether as victim or condemned criminal. I think it’s okay to hope that the chaos eventually stops and everyone lives and let live.
And I’m finally happy to get this whole narrative over with. It’s smooth sailing from here on out.
Be thankful for what you got.