Two years after leaving the Marine Corps, I find myself sitting on a used couch in a tiny sweaty apartment in North Hollywood… AC is expensive. The year is 2014 and the time is some ulcer inducing ticking hour past a deadline for a midterm. I’m editing pictures for a photography class sitting awkwardly… because a couch is not designed to be used in conjunction with a computer desk, computer chairs take up room and cost money. My dog is impatiently circling the kitchen as he sniffs everything in hopes of finding an overlooked crumb; he’s been rationed to one meal for the day, as have my wife and me, because food costs money. My bro, Q (that’s what I call him), sits on his desk working on some digital imagery for some graphic design class. I don’t know if his jaw is twitching because he ate the pork steak that was on sale or because he’s suffering from chronic anxiety. I now realize it was both.
If you think we are living the high life because we are sitting on the “penthouse” level of an arts district apartment surrounded by palm trees and nightlife, think again. We are paying more in rent for the small living quarters because we are saving on gas, parking fees and fines, and the time we save not having to drive; we go to school at The Art Institute of California, literally just a block away. As if I could drive anyway. My 2005 Mustang: immobile in a garage surrounded by Lambos and Ferraris, parked broken and useless for over a year because I can’t afford the maintenance. For transportation, we either walk or Q and I share his 2003 Volkswagen GTI when we have to run errands, such as a grocery run.
If you haven’t guessed it, we are fucking broke. My credit cards are maxed out. My savings is depleted. My investments went up 150%, I forecasted they would double again but… they will have to double without me (and they did) as I had to spend that too.
My wife, a Soviet born Russian trying to learn the culture, gets jobs here and there through modeling. If it weren’t for the culture shock, the cost of travel and green card paperwork, she could be making more money. She’s what really makes all of it hard. She married an American action hero, and now she’s got a poor art student. This isn’t the life I wanted for her or her 6-year-old daughter.
I was working as a free-lance food caterer, but that ended when my car died. Our main source of income: The GI Bill. Very nice to have but also the reason we can’t quit school and just start working.
Working… if anyone will even hire us (even fast food joints rejected my applications).
So here we are, two American Patriots, holding top secret level security clearances after having been entrusted by the United States government to guard its people, property, and secrets while overseas, sitting in a sweaty North Hollywood apartment, unsure of their future… working on art projects.
I applied to LAPD in November of 2012. Not only did I have 8 years of Marine Corps discipline and leadership, I had excelled as a Marine. I had almost acquired a Bachelor’s in International Relations, I was bilingual and spoke operational Russian and French, and I was also trained as a diplomat. Some of my fellow Marines had gone off to get jobs in the private sector starting at $70K-110k/year. Yet here I was chasing a job that would pay $56k/year (this includes the increase in pay for 6+ years of military experience) for the sake of getting my childhood dream job. I was told by other cops, both Federal and local, I was a “shoe in.” Yet here I am, not getting hired.
Each month I’m told by my background investigator I should be in the academy the next month, and next month has turned into two years. The city has lost my file twice and now the psychologist has disqualified me. In the meantime, kids with nothing to show but some college (not even a degree) are getting hired within 5-7 months.
Two years later, and I’m still unemployed. The struggle is real.
If LAPD disqualified me despite my seemingly great background, it’s because I’m doing something wrong. I just need to figure out what it is.
The world may think I’m worthless, but I know I’m not. I keep my body and mind exercised. I study photography to diversify my skills. Shedding bad habits is no longer just about self-esteem, it’s about survival. And, I’m going to keep well groomed, it’s important to look in the mirror and see potential, not defeat.
It’s not a matter of whether or not LAPD will hire me, but a matter of preparing for the day when I do get hired.
On my bookshelf sits a book, “What Color is Your Parachute.” It was given to me by the Marine Corps’ transitioning class. The skills I will learn in that book are going to change my life. They are going to help me overturn the psychologist’s evaluation and get me hired.
Before I dust that book off and crack it open, I’m going to crack this left over beer and thank baby Jesus for my beautiful girl and rather than complain about the heat, go get a tan. Oh, and while I’m at it, go take a portrait, it’s for my Lighting class.
…and Q, he’s on his own path to break from working 9-5 in any unwanted job and he’s developing some sick skills.
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