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A Date at a Dead Man's House

Good Intentions, Joy, and Graceful Brokeness

It takes a little convincing to get Shane to leave the house.

He likes being there. He's proud of it.

Even when I used to curse and lament that house's existence, crying about money or worrying about COVID or feeling trapped in the echoes of other people's problems and desires.

"This is a good house, and I'm proud of it,"he would just smile at my shaking fists.

When Shane commits to loving and taking care of something, that's it.

He will love and defend and care for it until the world ends.

I can't be mad about this... because I am one of those infinitely loved and cared for things. It's like having a flower that blooms at the sight of you every day, without fail. A flower that cooks like a chef and builds you things and kisses you tirelessly and laughs at all the same memes as you.

I'm a bigger fan of the house when I'm leaving it consistently.

The outside world keeps me grateful.

Staying home all day pressures my thoughts and my concept of time. Dust and spiders collect in my mental corners. Also, I know it sounds bratty, but the house is too big for me sometimes. I'm always leaving my phone or keys or glass of water in a new place. Always forgetting what I had planned to do between the kitchen and the bathroom. Always overwhelmed with how much there is to clean.

I insist we get out of the house.

Like every date, we pump ourselves up with song. Bop in the seats of Shane's Mazda with our elbows hanging out the windows.

The Pacific Coast Highway is stop-and-go on a Monday afternoon.

Shane: "The energy of 2022 is Beyoncé saying 'shee--ee--eets'."

Me: "And smashing all our old beliefs with a bat in a yellow dress."

Shane: "Florida man refuses to let in another car..."

I look up and see an old station wagon with a Florida license plate, holding stubborn and steady as two lanes merge into one.

The entrance to the Getty Villa is steep and lined with flowers. I pull up my parking pass and reservation QR. Shane hands my phone to the attendant.

For $20 you can park in a giant lot and enter the personal art museum and landscaped grounds of J. Paul Getty--renowned richest man of the mid 1900's and American oil tycoon. Though Getty was famously stingy while alive, the museums built on his over half-billion dollar trust are now free to enter and phenomenally well kept. I have been to the Getty Museum overlooking Brentwood many times, but never the Villa on the edge of Malibu.

It is one of my deepest joys to get high and walk around free fine art establishments. Taking in the personal stash of a highly educated billionaire art collector for free is a no-brainer. At least it is for this check-to-check millennial college dropout.

The "Stay Lifted" cannabis oil I put under my tongue about 40 minutes prior begins to tingle my arms as we pull into the parking garage.

"Florida man parks crooked at Getty Villa." Shane points out the same FL-licensed car cramping the empty spot next to it, but parks there anyway.

A trek up the stairs reveals the massive fountain courtyard. It's breathtaking. I have no words.

Shane's first out-loud thought is, "This is where they filmed Billy Madison."

"Get your fuckin' ass out of the frame fuckers!" He jokes under his breath as couples and families walk slowly in and out of the courtyard on his iPhone screen.

Just then I realize that everything I look at today will be exactly what I need and want to see, and I resolve to let go of any worry or confusion that might fly forth on this museum date. I love to set intentions like that when I get high. I only get high once or twice a week, and it works every time.

We proceed to take in beautiful detail after beautiful detail. The symmetry of every Italian tile. The vast replicas of famous Roman statuettes. The play of shadows through the tree leaves. Preserved coins and carved gems from long dead civilizations.

I want to photograph everything so I can write about it later and use it for research. But Shane makes me laugh and riff and flirt away from my more serious thoughts.

Ancient wall carvings depict Greco-Egyptian philosopher kings and gods. Factual white text cards blow my mind with thousand-year-old stories.

Shane explains the zodiac-inspired figure of a man with the head of a lion and the talons/ wings of a bird carved into a dusty wall. "Great fucking calves," I say, and he agrees.

There is an amphitheater surrounded by secret staircases, overlooked by a stylish cafe.

I give Shane $12 in cash I found in my wallet earlier for coffee and a treat to share. He spends $14 on debit, keeps $6, and folds the remaining $5 and $1 bill. He leaves them tucked on corner ledges of the museum courtyard to "make someone feel lucky." We are like children in an imagined forest. The dirty chai latte is sensuous. The white chocolate/cranberry/macadamia nut cookie leaves us more speechless than any of the exhibits. Shane offers me the last bite.

"Are you sure?" I ask.

"Do I look withholding?" He doesn't. He never does.

"What do you want for it?" I smile. Thinking maybe a kiss.

"Continue emanating pure beauty and light from your core." He means this. I eat the cookie piece and beam with no issue. We are two poetic Aquarius sweeties. Game recognize game.

The indoor portions of the museum are dark, quiet, lit with precision. The artifacts all seem to me to point toward acknowledging death, pursuing the death of the ego, transcending death somehow. The fountains and flowers and greek gods of the outdoor parts remind me that I am alive and present. That there is heaven in aliveness. We weave in and out seamlessly. Feeling the sun, then feeling the insides of our minds. Noting the transient nature of all life in a dark room, then basking in a breeze near a crop of lily pads.

The building appears indestructible. Earthquake and fire proof. An incoherent amount of money and time has been used to preserve this place and the art within it. I picture Getty's wife or accountant nagging him about costs. "This is a good museum, and I'm proud of it," is what Shane would say, before bequeathing entry to the entire world for free.

I film sneaky TikTok footage all over the place. I pore over the books in the gift shop. I twist and twirl down the stairs in my mom's designer dress and a dusty Goorin Bros hat. I think about our own little empire--about all the books I'm starting to pen and all the bespoke pieces Shane is starting to build. Our own attempts at humble immortality. I am full with the knowledge that I have seen exactly what I need to see. Am living exactly the moment I'm meant to live. Even if, by capitalist society's terms, I am just a commoner in hand-me-down clothes, posing as wealthy in a dead man's house.

I'm starting to understand that true wealth starts from within. That it takes patience and acceptance to grow wealth. That there is so much more to wealth than money. There is access and privilege. There is a value system that trickles down through all of your relationships, monetary or otherwise. Your vision for the world and your relationship with love are reflected in the wealth you build, even at the beginning when you're just trying to start a savings, find affordable health insurance, and figure out crypto.

We really don't know what we're doing... yet. But we're figuring out some things. How to balance work with play. How to demand a real wage for the skills, professionalism and many assets that come with hiring us (kindness, adaptivity, deep listening, earnest effort and good vibes). How to stay grounded when we're endlessly behind. How to stay sane and patient even though we deserve cheaper rent and fuller pockets (Shane is much more efficient at this). How to believe in ourselves.

Later, we share truffle mayo fries and mediocre crab cakes on a sidewalk patio in Malibu. On the other side of a wooden lattice strung with fake vines, a woman walks by.

"Hey Lover," she smiles and we both wonder who she could be. Which one of us does she know well enough to call us her lover?!

I turn my head slowly, savoring the uncertainty. Shane whips his gaze to the girl. We realize at the exact same moment that she is on the phone. Neither of us is the lover acknowledged.

We laugh hard at this. At how stirred and certain we were. At how little the wooden lattice divides our date from the outside world.

For the rest of the meal, Shane picks up his phone and says, "Hey Lover," loudly whenever someone walks by. He successfully tricks 4/5 passersby, and almost tries it on the same woman a second time as she walks back from the other direction.

"Oops. Already got her."

My face is full of fries and the pain of hard, long laughter.

I know we can't afford this meal, and yet it is a perfect, fated meal. Sometimes joy doesn't give a fuck about your budget. I tell Shane he has to pay, because he insisted we find fries on a patio instead of going home. It's silly, really. He's paying from an account my name is also responsible for.

The very eager waiter announces that the card is declined. Shane is certain it's the card itself-the warped stripe has been giving him trouble. The waiter disappears to try again.

A quick finance app check shows that there just isn't enough money in the account. The decline is correct and now we are those people who make the server try the card a second time. Shane is struck with the reality check. That we're not out of the woods yet. That one vacation to Canada, one delayed paycheck, and one forgotten car lease payment can render our account dinnerless. It's not a shock to me. This is how we've been living. With just enough to flow around and pay the bills. A little above our means. Dependent on gigs and luck. It's how I've lived for most of my adult life. It's why I'm usually more in debt than out.

I hand my card swiftly to the disgruntled waiter when he returns. I will have to do some rearranging to afford it myself, but I refuse to regret this incredible meal or anything else about this day. I take the moment for what it is--a reminder that we can't vacation forever. That we have a lot of work to do and shit to prioritize. That our financial life is improving but we can't afford to be lavish for very long without getting back to our responsibilities and our growth. It's not a marker of my worth as a person. It's not meant to fester into shame and guilt. It's a test of letting go and moving upward. A playful slap that I have taken many times and know better than to dwell on.

Shane processes the moment quietly as we wind back up through the Topanga hills. His family has struggled with money his entire life. One of his great life goals is to break the family pattern of shame around money and become wealthy. It's been a ripe and unyielding vision for him since he was small. He carries the weight of his father's recent death, his mother's medical debt, and his sister's struggle to work and pay the rent as a new single mom. His Nashville family avoided an eviction this summer. But they are still drowning in bills and childcare costs. Like me, Shane knows that guilt and shame and dwelling aren't the answer. Infallible patience and belief in his own worth are what will pull us out of intermittent brokeness into long term stability. But it's hard. We are just learning to be responsible for ourselves. We don't know how to be responsible for everyone we love who is struggling. We can only fix our own mentality and our own habits. We can't fix the world, even for the people we love most.

"That was a wake up call," is all he says. Guilt and old patterns of shame linger around him like fucking dementors.

"It's OK, Papa." I try not to let my own wobbly money paradigm exacerbate his struggle.

Our dreams are supposed to be bigger than us. Our challenges are supposed to be hard. But we're also allowed to just take in the journey, enjoy the moment without guilt. We both know this. But it's hard when money was hard your entire life. When you want to be the hero who provides but you also want to build wealth on a set of better values than shame and overspending. It's hard when your inner world and vision is so vast and the world seems so tricksy, bent on nickel-and-diming you. Shocking you with lack and cruelty. We will not allow lack to define us. We will not employ cruelty to make a profit.

So we have to make our own way.

We are in a phase of life where we are learning true responsibility and trust in ourselves. Where we are surrounded by beautiful things and quality moments, and we're also just one utility bill away from having to sell something. We're educating ourselves and learning to save. We're breaking up old shames. We're pivoting endlessly toward love and basking in it.

And that is enough, every day. Big shit is in store for us, but success can't come without these lessons. These little slaps meant to tweak our thoughts and brew better actions.

Yes, we are broke sometimes. Statistically most people in America are.

It's not going to stop us from breathing deep. Working with good intentions. Staying calm while guilt-dementors swirl around us. Being grateful. Making TikToks. Getting out of the house. Forgiving and growing into better versions of ourselves.

Leaving folded dollar bills for a stranger to find.

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