Life in Venice


Like so many things about Rob, it kinda sucked and was kinda nice when he came to live with us.

It kinda sucked because he totally disrupted our mostly happy and tranquil life and amped up my anxiety to 11. And it was kinda nice simply because we got to spend so much time together. The nice part seems even nicer now. The suck part feels like I had no idea what suck really meant back then.

Rob was on his best behavior from day one. He didn’t have much of a choice. He had been in L.A. for less than a month, didn’t know anyone, didn’t have a job or two nickels to rub together. It was either stay with us in Venice and go to daily AA meetings or live on the beach with the Tent City homeless.

One of the upsides of this arrangement was that we mainly lived with Good Rob, and for that I was grateful. He was respectful and helpful, particularly with Maura, would diligently clean up after himself, particularly in the kitchen, and as I’ve told you before, was just a good fuckin’ hang, particularly with me.

One of the milder downsides was that we saw the way Rob spent his days, parked on the couch, wearing his headphones and staring at his phone or laptop, a mostly cloudy omnipresence with a 50 percent chance of rain. He’d cook bacon (thick slab) morning, noon and night, which made the house smell like Porky Pig’s ass. He’d go to AA meetings on my bike. I was never sure if he really went in there or was just riding around the neighborhood until the meeting was scheduled to be over. I was also never sure if and when Bad Rob would show his ugly face again.

I hadn’t lived with him for close to 10 years and a lot of things took me by surprise. For instance, he was very handy and offered to fix anything that was broken. My car completely stalled out one day, and Rob popped the hood and said that it looked like a piece of a hose had broken loose. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about because I don’t know anything about cars, so I called AAA and when the mechanic arrived, he said that a piece of a hose had broken loose.

It also amazed me to see him cooking in the kitchen. Maura called him the “kitchen elf.” Whether it was whipping up breakfast with his signature English Muffins or making a Philly cheesesteak sandwich or barbecuing cheeseburgers and chicken wings, he seemed genuinely in his element. When we all lived together back in the day, Rob never lifted a finger to do much of anything, much less prepare a meal.

“How the fuck do you know how to do all of this?” I asked.

“Dad, this is what I do for a living!” he’d say.

From that day on, whenever we were in the kitchen, I’d answer anything he said with “Yes, Chef!”

He noticed right away how dull our knives were and insisted we buy a sharpener. He took such great pride in sharpening each and every one of them, with a concentration and precision that I had never seen in him before. Yes, Chef! There was so much good about him.

One night he insisted on preparing an elaborate meal for us. We went shopping at Whole Foods and bought a Flintstones-size chunk of rib-eye, a bunch of veggies (mainly for Maura) and a bottle of bourbon, which made me slightly uncomfortable. He said the whiskey would burn off and, mixed with brown sugar, soy sauce and Worcestershire, would give the dish a rich, sweet flavor.

He spent hours in the kitchen prepping and I’d occasionally look in on him to see if he was sneaking any of the alcohol. Finally, he served us his piece de resistance and it was absolutely…disgusting! The meat was doused with so much bourbon that we could barely choke down the first bite. Of course, we told him that it was the most delicious thing we’d ever tasted, just the way I used to rave about anything he accomplished when he was a little boy.

Most of all, I like to remember the moments when the two of us were together. We’d sit outside in our front garden because he needed to smoke a cigarette, and I’d try to gently steer him in the right direction—employment-wise, relationship-wise, life-wise—without pissing him off too much. I’d say things without getting on his case, choosing my words carefully while dancing around the more difficult subjects—mainly him getting a job and moving the fuck out of our house—and I was never sure if he was just yessing me or if anything I said had seeped inside his stubborn mind.

When Maura went to Wellfleet for a few weeks, Rob and I binge-watched a BBC Earth series called The Hunt narrated by one of those great British actors with a perfect voice for that kind of show. It was a stunningly beautiful nature doc about the tactics predators use to stalk their prey. I’m not sure why we liked it so much, but I can tell you that we always rooted for the prey.

I’d prefer to forget the day when my bike was stolen because Rob had left the garage door open. He sincerely felt bad about it, but his carelessness still pissed me off. I also hated having “the talk” with him at the end of each month, repeatedly moving the line I had previously drawn in the sand about how long he was welcome to stay with us. As you undoubtedly know by now, the sand would frequently get to the water.

And then there was AA. As the days became months, I grew increasingly skeptical about whether Rob was attending meetings. The tip-off came when he quit giving me detailed answers to my questions about the meetings, and instead just mumbled some bullshit like “nothing new” or “same old, same old.” But more than anything, I’d prefer to forget how guilty I felt about inflicting Rob on Maura.

She was mostly great about it, and they got along famously, but as time wore on, her patience understandingly began to wear thin. Having Rob in the house fundamentally changed the way we lived. Two’s company, three’s a crowd and to make matters worse, the dynamic had shifted to Rob and me being the twosome.

I’m pretty sure that’s what annoyed her the most. Rob had once again become the center of my universe. I like to think that it was all about love—how much he needed it from me and how much I needed it from him—and maybe that was a part of it. But what was really going on was me saying and doing anything I needed to say and do to keep Bad Rob locked away wherever the hell he was hiding. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was holding on to him for dear life.

So that part kinda sucked, too. What also sucked were the shitty jobs Rob did get hired for and the short time he held on to them. As previously mentioned, he worked at a T-shirt shop on the Venice boardwalk, ripping off tourists by overcharging for custom shirts and hoodies. He was also an assistant manager at Jersey Mike’s Subs, and I specifically remember the day he got that job because we had to go to four different stores to find him non-slip black shoes. He quit after three weeks, barely breaking them in.

The Robbie James hostage crisis finally ended after four months when he landed a full-time job managing a new artisanal pie shop in Brentwood, and shortly afterward found a new place to live. I helped him pack up his shit and drove him to his new digs on the outskirts of Beverly Hills. Rob’s life in Venice was officially over.

It was kinda nice to finally have the house back to ourselves, and it kinda sucked because of what happened next.

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