When I'm Not Checking the Clock, I Know My Time Is Worth Something
by Max Barrie
I can’t believe I waited ’til I was 10 years old to start smoking cigarettes. I think I set out in search of a pack when I was seven and it took me three years to find one.
I grew up in Beverly Hills in the 80’s— so naturally I assumed everybody was Jewish and worked in show-business. I lived in a safe little bubble on San Ysidro, across the street from Fred Astaire. But when my younger sister was born we moved to a larger home in the flats. That’s when school began and my childhood slipped away. I was five.
I wasn’t beaten, molested, neglected or abused in any way. So why is this brat complaining? I’ve been told that childhood ends the moment you become aware of your own mortality… but I think my childhood started to dissipate on the playground. SCHOOL— talk about the absolute worst and probably most accurate introduction to life.
Grownups used to always tell me to enjoy my time as a kid because being an adult meant the fun was over. When I heard this repeatedly during the single digit days, I didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about. If this “kid thing” was supposed to be fun, then when I’m older I’d probably need to inject Dilaudid into my neck vein. Never went there, but in 2010 I tried smoking Oxycontin to cure the common cold. It actually helped.
I’m not saying I have the answers to a happy healthy childhood for future generations. If I knew shit, I wouldn’t be sitting in it at this moment. But I know that there’s something very wrong with a little kid being dropped into a daily situation where he can’t win.
Eventually morning birds chirping meant war. I was usually cold, tired, hungry… then soon forced to retain both useless and useful information for hours. None of which stuck anyway. I would be ignored by adults, teased by my peers, scolded for day-dreaming, and regularly forced to hold in my urine. Then around noon I’d scarf down a soggy sandwich and wash it away with a warm Capri-Sun… until the loud bell rang— declaring it was time for three more hours of Chinese water torture. In the film Risky Business— Tom Cruise is watching the clock in his high school class, and time is going by so slowly that he actually sees the clock tick backwards. Most of my childhood was spent watching clocks. When can I pee? When can I eat? When can I go home? Time to wake up, time to go to bed, time to do this, go here, come back, sit down, stand up… by second grade I was so spun out that I suffered from hypochondria and constipation. My Mrs. Gooch’s obsessed mother had the nanny feed me a steady diet of mineral oil… which unfortunately started leaking out of my ass during social studies. I’d have to run to the bathroom (without asking), barricade myself in a stall, toss my shit-stained Underoos, wash myself with powdered hand soap, and then freeball it back to class in my sweats. If more oil leaked out of my ass that day everyone would know. So I clenched my cheeks together until the final bell because one wet fart and life would be even more unbearable.
"Do you think I’m a snooty gay puss? I am. I basically grew up with a silver spoon full of mineral oil in my mouth. I certainly got everything I wanted, but I’m not sure I had everything I needed."
During school I was picked on, picked last, and never picked for anything good. Then after seven or eight hours of this horse shit, they’d give you more work to take home. Are adults really this clueless? I don’t think they’re malicious, but I do recall Ally Sheedy's line in The Breakfast Club— “When you grow up, your heart dies.” She wasn’t wrong… and for me it started with The Pledge of Allegiance. The little computer between my ears was being programmed five days a week to fear and lose faith. Also— when you’re a kid, the days don’t fly by like they do now. Remember? You don’t just wake up, do a few things and suddenly it’s sundown. This is all new stuff that we’re absorbing and eight hours seems like a week.
Do you think I’m a snooty gay puss? I am. I basically grew up with a silver spoon full of mineral oil in my mouth. I certainly got everything I wanted, but I’m not sure I had everything I needed. How do you concentrate when you’re tired and twisted up like a pretzel by 8:00am? How can a four foot tall kid shoot hoops at 9:00am with the sun blaring in his tiny Jewish eyes? Suck my cock, Coach… thanks, get the balls too… atta boy.
In 1990 my brilliant father - who IS TRULY BRILLIANT - but also unaware, sends me to summer camp. He thinks it’ll be FUN for me because it was fun for him back during doo-wop. Yeah. So school finally lets out… I can exhale… and days later I’m woken up at 7:00am, the birds are chirping— it’s freezing and a big noisy bus picks me up and shuttles me off to the woods with people I’ve never fuckin’ met. I’m like eight years old. This sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. So I refused to go back to camp after a day or two and my Dad was heartbroken. He was out seven-hundred bucks, and couldn’t understand what was wrong with his unusual son that didn’t like waking up early and doing arts and crafts in the bushes. Twenty-five years later nothing has changed.
These days my Brentwood shrink tells me I’m trying to win back my childhood, instead of mourning the loss in a healthy way. She says I’m stuck— and thats why I refuse to get a job and continue to bum around tinseltown like Peter Pan in those delightful green tights. She says my being sober isn’t enough and that my parents are enablers. I don’t think she’s wrong, but I’m not sure I give a shit.
Grownups were in fact right about the fun being over. Except with me, there was never any fun to begin with. After high school - where I was basically a pill popping undesirable puppet for four years - I barely graduated and soon left for college. When I got there, I discovered that the chirping birds had been tipped off… and now I had two roommates and lived in a broom closet.
After quitting college and winning my father’s heart yet again, I worked for about ten years on and off in LA. Different gigs… mostly entry level jobs in television. Anyway, I soon realize that I’m still in hell, just on a different floor. Every day at work I had deja vu. I had been there or somewhere like it, I knew these people— this reminded me of that. Like in Groundhog’s Day, I could practically hear “I Got You Babe” when my alarm went off in the morning.
Now at nearly thirty-three years old, after cracking up a multitude of times - hospitals, rubber rooms, rehabs - I’m attempting to live a more “peaceful” existence in my estimation. I reside in a halfway house… ok, it already sounds awful… and it is, but it’s not completely fucked. I paint and I write and I sleep in. Every morning I snort coffee and Prozac for breakfast, then I wander the aisles at Ralph’s, and twice a week I complain to my therapist about being a snooty gay puss. I even bought a white noise machine at Brookstone to drown out those chirping birds.
My family and “friends” believe I’ve given up on life, but I don’t exactly see it that way. I feel like I did twenty tours of duty and now it’s time to come home… wherever that is. I don’t live like the Prince of Persia on the blue bayou, but I avoid going back into battle and being on the clock. These days I’m well rested… which I didn’t know was an option. I can eat when I want to, I can shit when I need to… I take my fuckin’ time in the shower. I even quit driving, which in Cost Angeles probably added ten years to my lifespan. I like the volume low. But most people write me off as this mentally unstable sugar baby— another tragic tale of of wasted youth.
For me there might not be a way to beat the video game of life. Maybe I missed the warp zone or didn’t catch the golden twat when it flew past my head? It seems like whether I’m at school or work or jobless or drunk or sober or single or dating or driving or walking, it doesn’t really matter. I’m always somehow not doing “it” right, and everybody else knows better. We readily accept the reality we’re presented with, but does that make it absolute? Aside from day and night, don’t we basically make everything up. I value my version of peace in life… and I suppose if I’m viewed as bum, I can live with that. It’s better than watching the clock day in and day out.
When Billy Joel was masterfully interviewed by Howard Stern a few years back, he talked about collaborating with Paul McCartney at his home in New York. Howard asked Billy if he ever critiqued McCartney or told him something wasn’t good? Billy Joel said no because if he himself doesn’t agree with something musically, it’s just not his taste.
Max Barrie is a writer and artist currently based in Los Angeles. The son of screenwriters, Michael Barrie and Sally Robinson, Max was born and raised in Beverly Hills, California. With acerbic wit and self deprecating humor, Max documents his life growing up in the shallow, superficial depths of Beverly Hills and the Hollywood machine. In his multiple part autobiographical series, entitled A Trendy Tragedy, Max will explore his bouts with addiction, prostitution and his search for identity in a landscape that is rife with temptation and false ideals.