By Shaun Schapiro
Not to brag, but I live in one of the most desirable zip codes in all of Los Angeles.
My childhood was filled with big houses, no potholes, and my only connection to gang life was through Snoop-Dog and at-the-time-known-as Puff Daddy songs that I was too naive to understand. Each day was filled with grilled cheese, with the crusts cut off, trips to premium daycare where I could rub elbows and diapers with social elite, and most importantly, the sickening excitement of going to the park. The park to me was an empty canvas, my un-callused baby feet, the brush. Together we would make art in its lush, clean, and seemingly infinite/ unexplored terrain. But just because my life was idyllic doesn't mean I wasn't weird.There was one part of the park that took precedence over the rest. In my sheltered, and over stimulated by power-rangers filled brain, the trashcans always begged for exploration.
Looking back, I would like to answer Katy Perry's question in her hit song "Firework." If you are reading this, Ms. Perry, the answer is a clear "yes." I do wish I could feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, but I never want to start again. I want to stay with the trash bags, static, never changing, never leaving their hold over me. Trash bags were a magnetic and mysterious force, always leading me into submission and knee deep in strangers' banana peels, sticky substances, eaten sunflower seeds and disappointment from my father and brother.
"Ew, that's gross, stop acting homeless," my brother would say before kicking me in the shin. My dad and brother were just haters, trying to make me think that trudging through people's waste was a taboo thing. Seriously, as if. But regardless, the disappointment and embarrassment from my two male figures I placed on a pedestal was obvious.
But there was always someone there who understood me. A superhero who was empathetic to my bizarre fixations. It was my beautiful mother. Whenever I would feel ganged up on by my brother and father, I could rest assured knowing my own personal Batman would rescue me. Her cape was her hair, and her weapon was her South African sass. With those two as tools, I knew I could always be saved. No matter what, my mom was always there for me, proving to be my own personal hybrid. Half best friend, half bodyguard, half badass. "One man's trash is another man's treasure," she would say, placing me gently back in my trash bag kingdom, handing me some anti-bacterial hand wash to serve as my trusty sidekick.
Flash forwarding to seventh grade, my unique fixations turned mild by my false sense of maturity; things changed. Things really changed. I was different from all the other kids. I was fat, short, and God played a sick joke by playing a game seeing how many pimples he could fit on my small face. Regardless of my exterior, everyone loved my interior. I was smart, funny, and popular. So what if I wasn't yet the beautiful blue-eyed babe I am today? I always knew I was a swan; I just had to quietly wait and anticipate my leave from the ugly duckling. But things changed in other ways too. The most important change was in my parents' marriage. They were getting divorced. And, due to my ignorance, I was over the moon ecstatic. So what if they didn't love each other!? They still loved me, which meant I was getting two rooms, two closets, and two birthday parties. Hello an era of guilt translated into gifts!
Obviously my fantasy was awakened and melted into a nightmare. Like abusing Nyquil during a sickness, things got dreary and weird. Slowly by slowly, my mother and protector became my nightmare. Once my best friend, she became militant, possessive, and an unloving stranger. I was no longer her son; I was a pawn in a delusional game she played. I was a tool, an abused weapon whose sole purpose was to help her 'win' the divorce. Money was her goal, and I was her ticket. She would buy herself clothes, spa treatments, and other 'necessities'. All under the cloak of my allowance. Yet, when it came to my own luxuries, such as food, water, and clothes to accommodate my growths spurts, I couldn't get it. "Shut up, how dare you think you're worth it. We are poor now," my mother would spit in my face as she put on her new Chanel earrings.
She started to call me fat, ugly, and tell me that smiling in my braces and glasses made me look pathetic. Each day my self-image grew worse and worse. I wanted to kill myself. I wasn't worth this world. She had locked up the swan, and forced to me forever be the ugly duckling.
I felt like I was on a perpetual conveyor belt, going backwards. I was regressing, each step I was stripped even further, with the eventual fate that one day I would be nothing, or better yet, something placed in a trash bag. Low and behold, one day, I received a blessing, in the form of my favorite past time—Hefty bags. Trudging up to my mother's dungeon lair, my eyes caught gaze of what to me, if I wasn't Jewish, was the second coming of Jesus.
There stood my cell phone, thrown directly at me, and three trash bags, filled with all my possessions. I was to leave the property at once. I was a mistake, a fluke, I was worthless. My mother had won the divorce, and I was thrown to the side, just like my possessions.
So, humbly, I walked myself to a clear distance away from my mother's insanity. I walked to the tourist and homeless capital of Los Angeles--Santa Monica. I quietly put my entire life, and trash bags on the floor, and cluelessly waited for a sign
Sitting on the sidewalk, I didn't know how to react. My shock and utter disbelief led me to think of every lifetime movie ever created. I thought to myself, that if I were a c-list celebrity, strapped for cash, I would be sitting in the rain crying, with ominous music that deserved to be in abused animal commercials in the background. Yet, in my bizarre reality, I wasn't an actor gleaning for his last 15 minutes of fame. I was a dry-eyed kid sitting on Ocean Avenue, engulfed in sunshine and trash bags, listening to Spanish hip-hop playing from a roller blader's boom box. It was then when I realized the incongruity and inappropriateness of my situation. And, when that sad, sad realization hit me, I began laughing uncontrollably, practically convulsing. Tourists and locals alike looked at me in awkward uncomforted alarm, obviously unsure about whether I had entered epileptic shock, or I was just an artsy stoner LA tween new-wave dancing to Latin beats. And during my vibrations and shrieks, I reached a moment of clear-headedness. To this day, I still do not know if I achieved this transcendent moment because my brain lacked oxygen from laughter, or because I had just been beaten by the biggest hurdle in my life, but either way, the epiphany hit me.
"Fuck it, I don't care," poured out of my mouth with disregard of the children and parents around me. I pealed myself up off the concrete and plastic, and poured all my belongings on the floor. I put necessities, like my computer, my totally awesome boots, and my expensive clothing into one trash bag, and threw the rest in the garbage. I had realized that I, even only at 14, could be anything and everything I wanted. My attachment to my mother, and the person I thought I was shattered in a similar fashion to my razor phone. My bridge to the passive, sad, and shackled Shaun evaporated the second I ditched the heap of belongings that would soon become a stylish or capitalistic homeless person's treasure. At that moment, I realized I truly did not care. I was given a blessing in the form of a tragedy. I could create my own family, and create my own identity. I realized that sure I was fat, and not on the same level of beauty that I am at now, but that I could easily change that. Everything in my life had the opportunity and responsibility to be altered, replaced, or destroyed at my will. I came to the conclusion that I was crying in the rain, because I wasn't the victim. For the first time, I was me, or the me I could become. So I simply threw the one trash bag over my shoulder, and began the 6 mile walk to my father's apartment in the cruel summer sun. Singing that spicy Spanish music that had become tattooed to my brain, and thinking of the Shaun Schapiro that would arise from the ashes, or in my case, the trash bags.