It’s early evening on a Friday, as the night shift begins to unravel at The House of Pies in Los Feliz. I don’t wait long for my old friend, hardly having a moment to get settled in before he arrives to the outer side of the booth. I get up to greet him, and we shake hands, hug hurriedly, and dash towards our seats, moving in rhythm with the clank of forks and knives dancing on plates nearby. Per usual, Thomas starts things off with a joke.
“I feel like I’m going to get whacked sitting here with you.”
I smile. It’s true that for a moment, as we take our seats across from one another, there’s a slight uneasiness in the air, as if we both suspect we might be meeting with more of a stranger than a friend for the evening. It has been a few months, after all. But on the contrary, it takes just a bit of running with the joke to see that neither of us will be getting whacked for the evening. At least, not this time. It also doesn’t take long before we realize the real culprit behind our tension: time itself.
“We got the same amount of hours in the day that we did ten years ago.” Thomas tells me,
“But then we don’t.”
At twenty-four years old, Thomas is the “bread-winner” for a family of four and a half: himself, his partner Mary, his five-year old son Adam and three-year old daughter Ashley, and a five-year old Maltese named Jack. Thomas works five days a week at an office in North Hollywood, and often chases over-time, though more recently OT’s become less available than it was just a few months ago. At the same time, in the last couple of months the higher ups at work have increased the pressure on him to meet expectations.
“The company’s doing well,” he tells me, “but it makes things more corporate.”
It’s amazing how far we’ve both come. Frankly, we’ve both turned exactly into the nice guys we used to mock in our youth, when we were two puny sixth graders pumping our fists in the air to Rage Against the Machine and reciting the lyrics to The Downward Spiral ten times louder than our pledges of allegiance; when we were punks, renegades, and menaces who thought we had all the time in the world.
Ten years later, we’re both just citizens. Humbled, and just trying to get by, even while fearing that with each new step we walk further away from the rebels we once swore we’d be for life.
Tom puts it another way:
“The other day I asked myself: Am I turning into an old man?”
The question weighs on me, as more than once I’ve been accused of being more of an old-timer than a twenty-three year old.
“I’m not turning into an old man,” he says. “But I am maturing.”
As if the word enhances too much, he lets out a sigh and eases back into his seat as the waitress approaches the booth. When she arrives, he orders a seasoned liver and an Arnold Palmer. I get my usual: a blueberry pie with ice cream on top. No drink besides water. Thank you.
“At the same time,” he tells me, “I’ve still got so much to learn; I’m a terrible father and husband sometimes.”
For one, he explains, Adam himself still has to remind Tom not to curse. A habit he’s tried to get rid of for years. For another, things are in a tough spot with Mary again. The latter, he believes, is the result of many things, but most of all it’s got a lot to do with two fundamentally different ways of looking at marriage.
In Tom’s view: “[in marriage] men tend to put everything in compartments,” with a box for family, a box for friends, and a box for individuality. In turn, men can “do” each of these things separately. Women, on the other hand, see things more wholly, without boxes for separate things. Friends, family, and their identity: it’s all one to them. For Tom, this makes things difficult when the weekends arrive and he’s got a bit of time for himself.
The choice is his to make: should he play the father, the loyal husband, or should he go out and let off a little of steam? In truth, he prefers the latter. And he doesn’t hold back about it:
“Honestly…I like to drink, and when I can, I [even] like to do drugs.”
He describes this taste with insight, saying it’s something like a demon in the room that he’s got to acknowledge. A demon, he elaborates, that pays just as much rent as the guy at work five days a week, who wants to go out for a spin, get fucked up, and just burn.
What’s more, although this demon is enough to handle in and of itself, the truth is that it’s simply not the only one in the room.
Tom also has a history with addiction, and while he’s been free from meth for over a few years now, he admits he’s still got an addictive personality. Not too long ago, this made him ashamed, and led to harrowing fights between him and Mary. At one point, Tom left and lived in his car for nearly four months trying to figure things out. Adam was only a year old.
Since returning home to resume his role, however, things haven’t gotten as rough. While he and Mary still clash, they’ve both gotten better at working through it with each other, even if it’s not always pretty.
Still, naturally, Mary wishes it’d be otherwise. While she can appreciate letting off some steam every now and then, she just doesn’t harbor the same tension as her husband and worries that he can get hurt. More than anything though, she worries about Adam and Ashley, but this is where despite their differences, she and Tom fundamentally share the same feelings: they love their little ones, and will sacrifice anything for them.
“I take pride in being a father,” he tells me.
And I don’t doubt him. Earlier this year Adam started kindergarten. And next year, Ashley will start pre-K. Each time I visit the family, Adam shows me a new set of Lego toys while Ashley, who’s more guarded and protective of her home, makes sure I play nice with her brother. They’re both amazing.
Back at the booth, my blueberry pie arrives. In only a moment, the rich oozing sweetness of the first bite reminds of why I love this place so much, and how it’s been a while. I gobble it up in minutes. Across from me, Tom finds his liver to be “surprisingly pretty good.”
And I’m glad he came out to play the friend this evening, knowing he’s got so much on his plate all at once these days.