Petition

DEAR FUCKIN’ SANTA,

First, I’d like to thank you for your kind letter. I’m glad you enjoyed the story about my Uncle Molly, and hope that you also had a happy Halloween.

Fuckin’ Santa, as you may already know — for you know so very much — it appears likely that after many years of stability, I will be homeless and living out of my car soon after Christmas. I haven’t been able to find much in the way of work, and my friend Sam, who owns the garage in which I live, has also come upon difficult times and must either sell the property or rent the main house and live here in the garage himself. So, Fuckin’ Santa, forgive me for asking, but I have no family and no wealthy friends; you’re the only one I can turn to: If you know of a good full-time job and/or an inexpensive guest house or other quiet place to live, please let me know.

I imagine you’re receiving a record number of similar letters this season, Fuckin’ Santa. I know I’m not alone.

You might recall the last time I asked for your assistance, in the late ’80s. I’d started graduate school at CalArts, hoping that some grant money would appear. When it didn’t, I had to drop out. I looked for work. I couldn’t find work. I had to abandon my beloved $350-a-month studio in the hills of Beverly Glen and put my stuff in storage. Remember?

Friends let me sleep in their homes, so I rarely had to sleep in my car. And at last I was hired as a full-time assistant director at an art gallery in Santa Monica, for $7 an hour. During this time, my mother was dying of mycosis fungoides — a lymphatic cancer that shows up as craterlike lesions on the skin, all over the body. Eventually, her body could take no more radiation treatments. I asked the art-gallery owner for two weeks off, to be with my mom when she died. “Of course,” the owner said. But a week later, after Mom died and I called work to say I’d be ready to return in a few days, the gallery owner told me that she’d hired someone else.

Remember now? I hope your list that year reflected the gallery owner’s behavior as naughty or bad, rather than nice or good, and that her Christmas presents reflected this status. (Although, Fuckin’ Santa, it probably had little effect, as she was already a multimillionaire.)

It was the end of May, 1988. My friends Brad and Daniel were on tour. Daniel’s a composer; Brad played keyboards and did sequencing and arrangements in Daniel’s ensemble, the Daniel Lentz Group. When Daniel heard that my mother had died, he sent me a ticket to Salt Lake City, where the tour was ending at the Utah Arts Festival.

That was just what I needed. Got to stay in a hotel with a pool. Got to eat food in a restaurant. The concert was held outdoors. I got to climb up 20 feet of scaffolding and sit in the booth at the top, with Daniel and the sound engineers. At the conclusion of the performance — a piece called WolfMass — while the audience was standing and clapping and hooting, the lighting crew aimed a spotlight up at us. Daniel was supposed to stand and bow, but instead he elbowed me and I stood to receive the applause. After we’d all climbed back down, Daniel enjoyed watching me shake hands, express heartfelt gratitude on his behalf and field questions about Catholicism.

THANKS, FUCKIN’ SANTA, for your help on that occasion, and for any you can offer in the immediate fuckin’ future. And now, back to my sniveling petition for supernatural assistance.

AFTER I RETURNED FROM UTAH, I moved my stuff out of storage and into my father’s bungalow, behind a liquor store in Garden Grove. Another friend, Mark Dean Veca, invited me to help him install art exhibits at various galleries, and that became semiregular income.

I liked the work. After Mark introduced me to one of the gallery directors, she said, “Oh — you’re the one they fired because his mother died.” The art world is a small one, Fuckin’ Santa.

The commute from Garden Grove was a killer, so I began sleeping at friends’ pads again. Work slowed down. I found a part-time job bartending at Igby’s Comedy Cabaret, which paid almost nothing, but I felt productive. I hadn’t yet performed as a standup, and thought that being in that environment might help me work up the courage.

Friend Brad’s girlfriend, Cheryl, was from a wealthy family in South Pasadena. They brought me to a party at the family’s enormous estate, and introduced me to Cheryl’s parents, Dave and Joanne. Dave and Joanne were getting divorced. Dave and Joanne thought I was funny. They invited me to live on their estate for free until the estate was rented. They were trying to lease the place for $9,000 a month. All I had to do was be funny and bartend their parties.

It ended up lasting six months. Much of the time, I had the estate to myself. I commuted to West L.A. to tend bar at night, then had days to myself to write a horrible screenplay, almost as depressing and self-indulgent as this letter.

In late 1989, I finally got a job that paid enough so I could get my own place — $5 an hour and 24 cents a mile, but on call 24 hours a day, so it added up.

SINCE THEN, I’VE BEEN only nice and good, not naughty or bad. So kindly direct me, Fuckin’ Santa, toward a future that does not include hideous deaths of loved ones or living on the street or out of my car, and I’ll promise never to write like this again.

I LOOK FORWARD to looking forward to something. Hope to hear from you soon, Fuckin’ Santa.

Dave Shulman,

Los Angeles


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