Teetering Toward Homelessness

A month ago, if I had started to describe to you my theory of how I was going to find an apartment for Milo and myself here in L.A., you would likely have agreed with my approach.

At least in the beginning.

Signing a LeaseMe:  “Well, first of all, I’m not going to sign a lease on an apartment in L.A. without seeing it first.”

You:  “That sounds reasonable.  Sure.”

Me:  “I’ll get out there, see a few places, pick the right one for us and then sign a lease. Makes sense, right?”

You:  “Oh, without question. Very responsible. Sounds like you’re making some good choices there, Kev.”

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Me:  “So what I’ll do is, I’ll go out the last week of July, move into some temporary digs and then spend the next four or five days nailing down a lease or a sublet.”

And here’s where you might start to get hesitant about agreeing with me.

You:  (a note of skepticism creeping into your voice) “Four…or five days?  That doesn’t seem like a lot of time.”

Me: “Well, no.  But I figure since it’s the end of the month, a lot of people will be anxious about getting someone to move in….and I’ve got a great deal for them, too.”

You:  (eyeing the door) “You do, huh? What’s that?”

Me: “Aha! Since I’ve completely financed this trip on the front end, I can offer them all five months of rent…on the first day!  I can pay the whole lease in advance! Who could turn that down?  Smart, huh?”Time Running Out

And you, perhaps knowing that I was heading toward one of the most competitive housing markets in the country, where apartments are at a premium and landlords generally hold the upper hand at all times, would maybe politely nod your head, give me a “Good luck with that!” and then figure out some way to try and get out of this conversation because, really:

There’s no arguing with a madman.

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That’s not to say there isn’t housing to be had.  There is.  But what I’ve found since I arrived here is that:

  1. The vast majority of the places I can afford are scary little dumps in nasty school districts.

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    Ready to move in!

  2. The places that are nice enough that I could even begin to consider are- and you may find this hard to believe – asking for about twice what I’m able or willing to pay.
  3. The places that are slightly below my standards but are available at or around my price range are expecting me to sign a year-long lease, naturally, and look askance at the idea of letting Milo and I stay there only through the end of the year.

And finally:

4.  I might be in a bit of trouble.

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“Trouble,” of course, is relative.  But there’s no question that, as August the 1st looms, I’m starting to get just a tiny bit panicky.

Not only that, but if you’re not careful in this town, you can get scammed pretty easily.

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“It’s probably perfectly fine!”

As I almost was.  Twice.

See, the major apartment-listing websites aren’t perfect and if you don’t view an offer that’s too-good-to-be-true as being exactly that, you can get your pocket picked pretty easily.  Here’s how:

I reached out to a number of properties in the first few hours after arriving here, being very choosy about what I was willing to accept and extremely concerned about the neighborhoods and schools.  Wolf-in-Sheeps-Clothing

One such listing really jumped out at me.  It was a house. In Los Feliz. For $800 a month.

Yeah, I know. I should have smelled a rat right there.  Instead, I reached out to the guy and started texting back and forth with him.  He was “out of town” and wouldn’t return to the house for months.  He wasn’t really concerned about the rent, he just wanted someone there to keep an eye on the place.

Free LunchAll red flags, all of which I ignored.  Hell, I actually drove over to the place with Milo to have a look. It was perfect (from the outside, anyway) and the guy emailed me an electronic form which I filled out and…lo and behold…he got back to me and said the place could be ours!

All I needed to do was to wire him the $1,500 deposit and we’d be all…

….waaaaaait a minute.

I’m a chump, but I’m not that big of a chump.  I went back and Googled the property address and saw what the real asking price was from the actual real estate agent and confirmed that, yep, it was a scam all right.Pinnochio

Dammit.  Back to the drawing board.  Lesson learned.

For about five minutes.

Because there was another guy, a doctor this time, who was also “out of town.” In Lyon, France, in fact (Ooo, la la!).  He had a spiffy apartment up in Sherman Oaks he was willing to let out to us for a

Passport

What I was actually sent.

song.  He even sent me a photocopy of his passport, just so I’d know he was on the level.

Would I be willing to provide my own personal information to him so that he could similarly verify my….

….waaaaait a minute.

Fool me once, shame on me.  Fool me…uh….fool me more…and, um….you know:  Won’t get fooled again.

Or something.

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We pressed on.

Yesterday, Milo and I finally got to view two places, both of which were potenticanoga-parkally available for the months we needed them.  One was a newly renovated studio in Canoga Park which, if you know it, is just about as far West in the San Fernando Valley as you can get. Not great, unfurnished, way off the beaten track but….available and affordable.

The other was a lot more appealing:  Up in Northridge, it was immediately adjacent to California State University, Northridge (CSUN for short) and was also newly renovated. Also?  Directly across the street CSUNfountain4webfrom the local high school.  And smack-dab in the middle of our price range.

The hitch?  We’d have a room in a large suite, very similar to a dorm, with a shared kitchen and shared living area.  So..roommates.  Kinda like going back to college.  With your kid.

Again, not ideal, but a strong possibility.  Certainly better than anything else we’ve seen so far.

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So the hunt continues.  And the choices aren’t exactly plentiful.  And the budget is starting to look maybe, kinda, sorta unrealistic.

And the plan itself?

Well, the less said about that the better.

Onwards!

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Travels With Milo

They could not have been nicer.  Really.

When the State Troopers pulled Milo and I over on Interstate 70 just West of the Rocky Mountains, those officers were- no kidding- just about as nice as they could be.Flashers

Only minutes earlier, fairly flying down the side of the mountain, I was shocked to see the troopers’ car just ahead of us and, in a hastily conceived defensive move, I quickly pulled in behind them and lowered my speed to a semi-respectable rate.

They weren’t falling for it.  They veered to the side and let me pass them and then, as I worried they would, they hit the flashers, signaling me to pull to the side.  I mumbled a curse.

“What?” Milo asked.

“We’re getting pulled over,” I told him. “This should be fun.”

After both our vehicles came to a halt, the troopers got out of their car, slowly strolled up together on the passenger side of our vehicle, leaned over to look in the window, smiled broadly at us and politely introduced themselves.

Trooper“I’m State Trooper Jacobs, this is Trooper Fielding,” the first one said.  He was about twenty-four and looked to be no more than six months older than his partner.

And they were, to be clear, just as polite as could be.

After this introduction- and not wanting to be the only jerk present by the side of the road that day- I returned the favor and greeted them just as kindly.

“Hi there!” I said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.  Milo may have looked at me funny. I can’t say.

Trooper Jacobs piped up again.  “We got you going 81 in a 75 zone. Any reason you were going so fast?”

speedingNow, I didn’t figure six miles an hour over the speed limit was “so fast,” but I didn’t want to argue the point and, by doing so, turn their polite smiles into ticket-writing frowns, so I just said:

“Oh, you know.  Coming down the mountain, I probably sped up a little more than I should have. You know how it is.”

I naturally accompanied this statement with a big smile.  You know, to sell it.

They both nodded sagely, as if they understood me perfectly.  We were all getting along just fine.

Then the first one, Trooper Jacobs, spoke again.

“I see you got Illinois plates,” he said, still smiling.  “What are you doing out here?”

As if we weren’t currently sitting on the side of the single busiest Interstate highway in the West.  I highway which- I’m quite all of us chatting by the side of the highway knew- is the most direct route from Denver (and for that matter, Chicago and every other city to the East) into Las Vegas, the most popular tourist destination in America outside of Orlando.

As if that weren’t obvious to everyone.

Smiling DriverBut again I should stress that- so far anyway- they were really being so genuinely nice about the whole speeding thing, I didn’t want to break the mood by pointing this glaringly obvious fact out to them.

Plus, Trooper Jacob’s question gave me- I suddenly saw- an opportunity to possibly ingratiate myself to the nice officers.  So I said:

“We’re heading to Los Angeles, actually.  I’m an actor!”

And let me tell you.  That really got their attention.

“No kidding!” Trooper Fielding said, piping up for the first time.  “An actor, huh?”

“That’s right!” I said. “I’m from Chicago.  Going to L.A. with my son here.”

“You don’t say,” Trooper Fielding said, clearly intrigued.  Trooper Jacobs looked just as interested.  Chances are they’d never met an actor before.LA Postcard

This was going great.

“Uh-huh,” I said, still smiling idiotically at them.

“A real actor?  You got a card or something?” Jacobs asked. I nodded again and quickly fished one out of my wallet.

“Well, well,” he said, looking it over.  He passed it to his partner, who seemed to like what he saw.

Then Jacobs looked back at me and said:

“Hey, tell me,” he said,  “When you get to L.A.  What are you planning to do?”

And I blinked.  And I kept my smile frozen on my face.

And in that single, horrifying moment, I realized for the first time:

I have absolutely no idea.

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But let’s back up and begin at the beginning.

As you may have read on my last posting from this page, rather than look at the trip to L.A. earlier this year as a noble but failed experiment in exploring life as a West Coast actor, I decided instead to return to the scene of the crime and give the whole thing another shot.  But not just for three months.  This time, I’m out here for five.

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And as if that plan wasn’t difficult enough, I further decided to bring my sixteen year old son with me.  Our goal is to find an apartment, establish residency as quickly as possible, and enroll Milo in high school while I play the double role of single parent/out-of-work performer.

Because simply being an actor in L.A. is, by itself, just too goddamn easy.  I want a challenge, dammit.

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When I first announced these plans to my family, they were polite and patient, using the same tone to discuss this topic with me that you would use to talk to a madman with a cleaver.  (“Step one, don’t get him upset. And after he’s put the knife down…tackle him.”)Cleaver Man

My father, however, was not so polite. He was blunt and to the point.

“I think you’re making a terrible mistake,” he said. And then, immediately afterwards, he added (as he always does):  “What can I do to help?”

After a while, he made a decision about what, exactly, he could do to help:  He gave me his car.

Dad was planning to sell the VW anyway (for various reasons) but he thought that, since it only had about 40,000 miles on it, it couldn’t hurt for me to drive it out to California, toodle around in it for a few months, bring it back and then sell it.  Chances are I’d only put about 10k on it during the trip and it would still be just about as valuable as when we left.

Stick ShiftOh, and it’s a stick shift. And you know how I love a stick shift.

Next up, how to pay for this little adventure.

Now, if you were reading along with us last year, you may remember that- prior to the previous trip- Sara and I scraped together every penny we had, saved it all up in a big pile and then, when the big day arrived, we managed to have the whole thing fully financed.  It was the smart, logical and responsible thing to do.

This time?  Not so much.

Savings

In the months since I returned to Chicago, I had tried to make my daily bread solely as an actor and, predictably, this wound up almost entirely depleting both my checking and my savings account.

So, you may be asking, how do you finance a five month trip without having saved up for it?

Easy.  You do the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.

How dumb?  Try this on for size:

Remember my old job?  The one I worked for 5.9 years? That one?

broken_piggy_bankYup.  That’s right.  I cashed in my 401(k) from my old job just to finance this trip.

And that sound you just heard was the collective groan of all my friends saying “You did what, you moron?”

Now, before you call the Family Services Department to report me for being both a neglectful parent and a grade-A bonehead, let me be clear that I still have a lot of retirement savings invested that I would never dream of touching.  (Not enough to actually retire some day, but enough (I hope) to keep Sara and I out of the poor house when we get to be old codgers.)  So I didn’t blow all of my money on this adventure.  I’d never do that.spock

But there’s no denying:  I’m cashing in six years of my investments to spend on five months in L.A.  And believe me, you cannot conceive of calling me a derogatory name that I haven’t already called myself.

So, we had the vehicle and the money.  All we needed was a plan.

Here’s the “plan” we came up with:

Milo and I would jump in the car at the end of July.  We would drive to L.A. and move into a AirBNB place temporarily while I looked for a place for us to live and sign a lease for August 1st.  Once I had my lease (and therefore could prove residency), I would sign Milo up at the local high school, start auditioning, book a TV show and everything would be jake.

Developing a Plan

How’s that plan looking?  Is it looking good?

Thanks.  I knew you’d be proud.

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So this past Monday morning, Milo and I jumped in my father’s car and, our worldly possessions packed up, Joad-like, in the back, we hit the road.

joad carAnd on a personal note, let me say that the only thing worse than leaving my daughter Gwen behind in Chicago was watching Sara’s heart get ripped out of her body as I loaded her only son into the car for the trip West.  (Sara and I will miss each other, of course.  But we will miss our children like a drowning man misses oxygen.)

Okay, back to the trip.  We planned the drive out in three stages:  Chicago to Denver, Denver to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

We planned the stop in Denver because the Theis family happens to be well represented in Denver with not one, but two of my father’s younger brothers in residence: Uncles Larry and Mike.  I reached out to Larry a couple of weeks ago and he generously agreed to put us up for the night in the beautiful house he shares with his lovely wife Bobbee.

Road to DenverIt would be difficult for me to properly describe the mixture of excitement, anxiety and pure, pharmacy-grade fear that Milo and I experienced during those first few hours outside of Chicago.  None of which was alleviated by the fact that the countryside between Illinois and Colorado could not be more boring.

Odd thing, though:  the moment you cross over the border into Colorado, the landscape changes immediately.  You go from corn, corn and more goddamn corn to….undulating prairies, tiny hillocks and little canyons, cacti and yucca plants.  It is truly arresting how quickly this occurs.

Then…the Rockies.  You can’t help but imagine the first settlers making their way across the plains for hundreds and hundreds of miles with nothing but flatness as far as the eye can see for countless months of travel and then….holy mother.  What the hell is that? Is that a mountain range? Pfft, I’m not climbing over that.  Let’s just found Denver and stay here.rockies

We spent a wonderful night in Denver, feted and fed by my unfailingly super-generous and supportive family who may have thought we were insane for doing what we were doing, but never dared say it.  And we also had the pleasure of watching Night One of the Democratic National Convention and chewing over the latest political news.  (My family is into politics like some families are into professional sports.  We live and breath this stuff.)

Interesting note:  My Uncle Larry lives in an area of Denver called “Stapleton” which is in the same spot as where the old Stapleton Airport used to be.  What makes it IMG_1196really bizarre is that when they built the community, they left all kinds of remnants of the airport scattered around the neighborhood.  Including- and I’m not kidding- the old control tower. IMG_1197It stands, derelict, in the middle of this gorgeous residential neighborhood like something out of a Mad Max movie.  And there’s little bits and pieces of the airport scattered everywhere, some of them just rising up out of the grass.  It’s a totally bizarre place.

The next morning, we said our farewells and headed over the mountains to Vegas. My aunt and uncle were gracious, supportive and just as kind as could be about our adventure, as everyone in my family has been. (I truly can’t say enough good things about my relatives. They’re the best.)

GlenwoodCanyon_HWY_16

Glenwood Canyon.  Wow.

After leaving Denver, the landscape- once fairly ho-hum- was quite suddenly very dramatic and dangerously beautiful.  I say “dangerously” because you want to goggle at the mountain passes, gorges and rivers so much that you are in great peril of pitching yourself off of any given bridge.

We were anxious to get all the way to Vegas, Milo and I, not because we particularly like Las Vegas but because we figured if you were going to spend only a few hours there, it was best to see the place at night.

We could not have been more right.

Vegas at NightMy Uncle Larry described it best, so I will do him the justice of crediting him for the quote: When you finally exit the Rocky Mountains and approach Las Vegas, you come over the final ridge on the edge of the desert and there…right in the middle of nowhere… the city appears like a giant, glowing tumor.

It is a horrible, wondrous sight.

Milo and I checked into our cheap little motel and then took a driving tour of the Vegas Strip, just to have a look.

And…oh my friends.  There is no more American place on the planet.

Crazy Streets of Las VegasOver-the-top. Gigantically ridiculous.  Spectacularly stupid in all its shamelessly proud tackiness. Hilarious and heartbreaking.  I have truly never seen anything remotely like it. And hope to never see anything like it again. (And the giant, golden Trump Casino rising above it all…well, that’s just the shit-filled cherry on the turd sundae.  Believe me.)

The next morning, we pressed on to Los Angeles and just beat rush hour, arriving at long last at our little rental which was, happily, just as cozy and accommodating as the advertising suggested.  welcome to l.a.

We had arrived, after three long days of driving, at our final destination.

The only question that remained was:

Now what?

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I suppose I should finish up with the end of the State Trooper story, huh?  Here you go:

After I finally collected my wits, I finally answered Trooper Jacobs inquiry about my plan for L.A. in the only way I could:

“I’m going to be a movie star, of course.”

And they laughed.  And we laughed.  Because, you see:  It was funny.

And after checking out my license and my father’s registration…they let us go.  Didn’t even give us a warning.  They just wished us luck and sent us on our merry way.

That’s a good sign.

Don’t you think?

driving away

UPDATE: Invading Nirvana Redux

Okay, so here was the original plan:

Save up as much money as possible.  Get in shape.  Prepare like crazy.  Study up on the business. Perform your due diligence.

Then, when you’re ready, throw all caution to the wind and do the unthinkable:

Quit the day job.  Move to California.  Give the West Coast a shot.Hitchhike to Hollywood

And…hope for the best.

That was back in December.  And everything, at least as much as it could, went according to plan.

I saved up a sackful of dough.  I hit the gym and turned my middle-aged body into a middle-aged temple (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).  I gleaned every bit of knowledge I could from those who had dipped a toe into the L.A. waters and lived to tell the tale. I lined up my supplies, my clothes, my pictures, my website– everything just as it should be.

And then, like an explorer ready to scale Everest’s southern slope, I studied the terrain as best I could from a distance and made my plans accordingly.

Flying to CAFinally, when I felt the time was right- or as right as it could ever be- I handed in my notice, boxed up my belongings, kissed my family good-bye and jetted off to sunny L.A. to try and conquer Hollywood.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, three months later, I came home.

(To fill in the yaddas, read the last sixty or so posts from the beginning of this year.  Go ahead.  It won’t take long. I’ll be right here when you’re done.)

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My last posting on this site was in late March.  So you may be asking (or maybe you aren’t): What has happened since then?

The answer is:  A whole hell of a lot.

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Me, on any given day.

For one thing, I have not set foot in an office since my return to Chicago. No boss. No HR director. No punching in and out.  No predetermined lunch breaks.  No chains holding me to a desk.  No staff meetings, mid-year reviews, legal pads, interoffice memos, post-it notes or urgent, do-not-ignore-this-message emails from my corporate overlords.

In short, no day job of any kind.  For over three months.  I have lived and worked, since my return to my home town, purely off the sweat of my artistic brow.

I have never been happier. I have never been more free.

And I have never, in my entire life, been so absolutely, gut-wrenchingly broke.

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No, seriously. I don’t have a freakin’ dime.

empty-pocketsOh, I’ve worked, no question.  In fact, you could argue that I’ve never worked harder in all my born days. But, try as I might, I have barely been able to keep my family’s head above the perilous and frigid financial water. (And as you’ll see later in this post, we’ve scrimped and saved like the goddamn Cratchit family, but it has made little difference.)

The truth is that, without the day job, I simply could not make my nut.

And, later this month, there’s an extremely good chance we could finally dip below the surface and get a good, fresh, bracing lungful of water.

And that, my friends, is a truly terrifying development.

But, before we get to that, let’s back up just a bit and look at the good news, shall we?

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All evidence to the contrary (i.e. no real paying West Coast work and the fact that, in the end, I came home), the trip to Los Angeles proved to be an incredibly positive experience. la mapHere are a few of the highlights:

For one, I landed an agent right out of the gate. In fact, I was lucky enough to have landed two agents, one for voice-over and one for film and TV, almost from the moment I landed.

So, given the odds, not too shabby.

What’s more, I tried my hand at stand-up comedy and found, to my utter shock and disbelief, that I didn’t completely suck at it. In fact, I even got hired to do a professional gig at an actual comedy club after my first and only audition. So that was pretty cool. (And they’ve called to re-book me, too!)

Plus, I got hired to do a film. Yes, an independent film on a SAG waiver (i.e. no payment).  But still:  I was before the camera, playing a character, with a real, live crew in no less a place than Hollywood, U.S.A.Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.15.50 AM

And really, how many people get to do that? (P.S. The finished product looks fantastic and should make a nice addition to my reel.)

What’s more: I finally finished the first draft of the play I had been toiling on for more than two years. And as anyone trying to write anything will tell you, finishing even the first draft of any project is cause for the popping of corks and the tossing of small amounts of confetti.

Not to mention all of the people I was able to reconnect with in Los Angeles after so many years apart- both those I knew from college and others from my career in Chicago. Great performers and long-lost friends (some of whom fit both categories) came out of the paneled woodwork to offer their support, their encouragement and their renewed camaraderie. And- bonus- it was absolutely fascinating to see how life on the left side of the country had treated them and how they had changed (or not).

Finally, to my great surprise, I began to explore and develop an interest in the professional audiobook industry.audiobooks

And this pursuit- entering into the world of audiobooks- would prove to do more to change my professional life than anything else I experienced since I made the questionable decision to chuck it all and head off into the Great Beyond.

So, with all of those wonderful and enlightening experiences firmly tucked away in the memory bank, I zipped home to see what my new life would be like back in Chicago.

Turned out, it would be tougher than I could possibly have imagined.

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For starters, I did not return to my day job.  They didn’t offer and I didn’t ask. The firm seemed to run perfectly fine without me and I was determined (at least for the time being) to resist Gumpthe lure of the cubicle unless and until it became absolutely necessary.

So I paid a kindly visit to my old employers, pressed the flesh, filled them in on my exploits (not all of the folks at work- like you, dear reader- stay informed via this blog) and then skedaddled. After all, I had work to do.

See, the plan was this:

I was going to become a professional audiobook narrator.

microphoneAfter my very brief experience with the audiobook industry in L.A., I felt as if I had finally stumbled across my true calling. To earn my daily bread, I would, for a fee, sit quietly in my basement and read stories out loud into a microphone, digitally process and edit the results, load them up to a production website and then…sit back and reap the rewards.

And you know what?  It worked.

Kinda, sorta.  But it really did work.

Remember, if you will, that back in L.A. I had auditioned for and booked two audiobooks almost immediately after I began submitting auditions.  And what really surprised me was that I had auditioned for these projects under the most primitive and rudimentary of conditions- standing before a travel microphone in the padded closet of my friend Ed’s house with no “sound studio” to speak of and nothing more to offer than the dulcet sounds of my own speaking voice.Audiobook 2

So, I figured, if I got back to Chicago and really set up a proper studio in the basement of my house, there was no way I could fail to get booked on dozens and dozens of additional audiobooks.

Right?

So, my friends, take a guess.  Since I returned to Chicago in April of this year and began auditioning, how many audiobooks do you think I’ve booked and recorded?

Be optimistic.  Five?  Ten?  Twenty-five? Forty?  Before you read this next section, seriously: pick a number. See how close you can get.

Ready?  Here’s the big reveal.  All set?  Got your number?  Okay.

Drum roll please……….

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Sixty-three.

Yeah, you read that right.  I’ve now got sixty-three audiobooks either available for sale, in production or about to be released. Since freaking April.

So, naturally, I should be rolling in dough, right?

Well…about that.

Money DripSee, the majority of the books I recorded have been on the basis of what is known as a “Royalty Share.”  For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, here’s the gist:

You get booked to record an audiobook.  You lay it down at your home studio, edit it and load the finished product up to the website.

Then, it goes through a quality control process at ACX (which can vary from totally lackadaisical to completely anal).  But, assuming your book passes muster and is approved, it is put on sale at Audible.com.

Now, throughout this process, you – my fine feathered Royalty Share narrator- do not get paid a single penny. Instead, you’ve taken a risk that you hope will pay off.  You have to sit at home- utterly powerless- and hope that the book sells.

RouletteBecause if it does, you get half of the author’s royalties for the audiobook.  And depending on the book, these royalties can be either enriching, merely semi-lucrative or, if the book doesn’t sell at all, amount to absolute bupkis.

And that’s the deal.  If the book sells, you make money. If it doesn’t, you wasted your time and your energy for zip-ah-dee-doo-dah.

Given this prelude, how do you think that I and my sixty-three books have fared? If you’re leaning toward “zip-ah-dee-doo-dah,” congratulations. You’re awfully close.

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[FAIR WARNING:  This next section gets pretty technical about the audiobook industry.  If that’s not your thing, you may want to skip ahead to the next “*************” section.]

Let me emphasize:  the theory- such as it is- is entirely sound.  Record a bunch of books, put them up for sale and hope that they sell.

Sales FiguresEven if I only sell a few copies a month, if I have enough books for sale, the royalties should add up to a nice, healthy check at the end of the month.  (The royalties, by the way, last for seven years.  So I will be paid for the sale of every book I record from now until the year 2023. Assuming they sell, of course. There’s the rub.)

And be assured, I am only recording very, very short books for Royalty Share.  I cannot afford to spend an entire week recording a five- or six-hour book and then hope it will sell. That way madness lies. Instead, I only record books for royalties that are two hours long or shorter (some are incredibly short, between 20 and 40 minutes long).

[SIDE NOTE:  My dear friend Chuck, a very successful audiobook narrator in his own right, insists that the industry does not view a book that is under five hours as an “audiobook.” That may be so, but here’s the way I look at it: If you enter my name in the search bar at Audible.com, over fifty titles pop up.  So…that’s impressive no matter how you cut it.]

Speed Reading.pngIn this way, I have been able to record between three and five books every week. Sometimes I have knocked off two books in a single day. And right now, you might be thinking two things:

#1- How do you get booked to record them in the first place?

and

#2- How have sales been?

Well, as far as the first question goes, I’ve actually been pleasantly stunned by my success rate.  In fact, there was a time for about two weeks last month where it appeared that I booked almost everything I auditioned for.  Which was awesome.

Until my daughter Gwen said, “Man, there must not be a lot of people auditioning for those, huh?”

Nothing like the unrefined honesty of a kid to give you perspective.

Many books

Anyway, true as that may be, I was enormously gratified by the number of books I was being offered. As a result, I began to get much more choosy in what I tried out for. For example- as previously stated elsewhere on this blog- there is a tremendous amount of gay porn/romance fiction on ACX.  Really, much, much more than you might think possible. And while I’m about as liberal a thinker as you will meet, I cannot bring myself to perform one of these books.  I just don’t, um, have it in me, so to speak.

So, instead, I became the Mr. How-To Book guy.

I’ve done almost half a dozen books on gardening.

I’ve recorded three separate books on dog training.

I’ve done motivational books both on how to start a business and how to straighten out your disastrous, ill-planned life (and no, the irony was not lost on me).

Low Carb DietOne on how to deal with a sociopath and another on how to spot a narcissist (hint: tune in to the RNC convention in about a week).

I’ve got a couple of true crime books. Another two on finance. A few diet books and a couple of cookbooks, too. (You want to know how to house-train a puppy or make an easy Thai dinner for four?  I’m your man.)

By the end of May, I had twenty books for sale on Audible. And when I got my sales figures back for the month, I found that I had made (after hours and hours every day for weeks in my basement studio, talking to myself and painstakingly editing and uploading the recordings) a whopping….

….$170.  For the month.

Yikes.

frustration1.jpgBy the time I got that statement back, however, I was already halfway through June and I had another twenty books in the bank. There was no stopping me. I kept going.

After June came to a close, I had over forty books for sale. And my sales figures had, predictably, doubled. (I haven’t gotten my June statement yet, but I anticipate that the check will be for just over $300.  For the month.  Which is, quite frankly, just awful. But better than the previous month, right?)

But…you see the pattern, don’t you?  Theoretically, if I were to keep going at this rate, locking up twenty books a month for the next, say, six months or so (and if my sales figures remained relatively stable), I would eventually start making some serious bank.

Theoretically.

Lot of Money Falling

Because if July is a third higher than what I made in June, that’s $450.  Which means $600 in August. Maybe $800 in September.  By December?  I’ll finally be looking at some very serious income from this little venture. For work that I did months ago.

And if one of them should actually become popular?  Sell a couple hundred or- God willing- a couple of thousand copies?  Then we’re looking at some impressive, eyebrow raising moolah.

Again: Theoretically.

*****************************

The problem is, I’ll never make it.  Not at this rate. I’ve already exhausted my savings, my checking account is almost entirely drained and I’m starting to eyeball my home equity line of credit just to keep the wolves at bay.  There’s simply no way I can keep it up.

Money DrainPlus, the family and I have already pared back our expenses so drastically, there is nowhere further down we can go.  We’ve cut everything back as far as possible.  No more eating out, of course. No vacations. New clothes only when the old ones are falling off. Generic everything from the Jewel. Hell, I even canceled my New Yorker subscription. We’re talking sacrifice here, people.

And to be clear, this isn’t the only work I’ve done since April.  There have been all kinds of jobs scattered throughout the weeks and months since my return that have done very nicely to keep the coffers semi-full. I’ve had teaching jobs, deposition training for law firms, even a brief stint as a bookseller, all kinds of stuff. I’ve been working anywhere that will have me (short of an actual office).

And Sara, for her part, is also working, walking dogs all around Oak Park and earning a very much-needed bi-weekly salary.

Pygmalion #7Not to mention the fact that I rehearsed, opened and have been running “Pygmalion” at the Oak Park Festival Theatre, playing Henry Higgins and pulling down a modest, but desperately required Equity salary all the while.

But…though I’ve supplemented my income wherever possible and while the family and I have cut our household budget to the shiny, white bone … we just can’t do it.  We fall further and further behind every week. And now, we’ve hit the wall.

The numbers don’t add up. We cannot keep going at this rate. The experiment has been tried and it has not, despite the effort that went into it, panned out as we had hoped.

So I’ve come to a decision.  There is, really, only one choice. And I’m sure you can see this coming, dear reader.

That’s right:

I’m going to double down.

******************************

The current plan?  Go back.

Pack up all my things from my March trip, jump in the car and head back to California at the end of the month.

 

Welcome BackNot for three months this time.  Oh, no.  This time, the plan is to stay through the end of the year.  Five solid months in L.A.

My extended family, those who know of my plan, think I’m nuts.  And they have good reason to be skeptical.  As pie-in-the-sky as my first trip was, this trip verges on completely and totally reckless.

But that’s what’s going to happen.  I’m going to do something unspeakably radical.  I’m going to max out my home equity line of credit, dip into my IRA savings account and try to fund another months-long journey into the great abyss that is Southern California.  I’m going to get there, sign a lease, spruce up my website and my acting reel and…

…yeah, that’s right…

….hope for the best.

Routlette BetAnd what’s more:  I’m taking Milo with me.

See, my son Milo has spent his entire life living and going to school out here in Oak Park and I’m here to tell you:  When you’re a sixteen year old, savvy, intelligent Emo kid with a taste for city life, the suburbs get really old, really fast.

So my trip to Los Angeles is going to include my sixteen year old son.

Is that a great idea or what?

***********************

This is it, though.  This is the last gasp of this soon-to-be yearlong adventure.  If things don’t work out this Fall, you will see me, tail between my legs and lesson learned, come slinking back to Chicago in December (if not sooner) with my hat in my hand, head bowed low, ready to slip quietly back into the nine-t0-five grind.

Because if this doesn’t work?  Believe me, I’ll have an even bigger, nastier financial hole to dig myself out of than I could possibly have imagined before.

So…let’s assess this plan, shall we?

Unwise?  Perhaps.  Throwing good money after bad?  Maybe. Totally f*cking crazy?  Could be.

I mean, you could, without question, make that argument and, in response, I’d have little ammunition to rebut your assertion. Is it totally f*cking crazy? Very, very possibly.

But guess what?  That’s what’s next on the menu, folks.

Re-Invading Nirvana.

Hope you enjoy the ride.

invading nirvana