Jean Barker

Touched by an Angelino

2016-03-11 08:43

Jean Barker

You’re always living on the edge of something, in Hollywood, yet not quite there. Your teeny tiny studio apartment is only 11 minutes drive from Charlize Theron’s house… but she never answers when you ring the doorbell to ask to borrow some sugar. And by sugar, I mean a million dollars.

That comic book you wrote is nominated for an award, but doesn’t actually win. Publishers might be interested in more, but you haven’t signed the contract. There might be movie or TV rights, but nobody’s waving a cheque just yet. You’re writing a feature, but you don’t get paid until the producer likes the script. You’re about to shoot a short but the producers only have half the funding…

There’s something beautiful about living, as many Angelinos do, in this constant state of maybe, until you’re only just making rent for the month, and your crappy little car breaks down. Again.

That’s me. My car broke down. First it coughed, and then it just stopped, dead. Luckily I had joined AAA after the previous time this happened, so I got myself towed to a shop. Something about the first place didn’t feel right. AAA towed me to another place I found on Yelp. The office was decorated with religious posters - The 10 Commandments, a glossy poster of Moses parting the Red Sea, plaques offering moral guidance and celebrating Jerusalem. Nothing specifically said “Do not overcharge for spark plugs”, but I hoped the people here, who seemed nice, were as honourable as their décor promised.

I left the car for diagnostics, and walked until the Uber rate dropped below $10, then took a ride the rest of the way home.

Gary called me a few hours later to tell me I’d need to spend about $465 to get the mass air compressor replaced. I burst into tears. “That’s half my rent.”

“I’m sorry”, Gary said on the phone: “I’ll pray for you.”

“I don’t need God,” I said. “I need a discount!”

He offered to drop the price to $410. I snuffled I’d think about it overnight.

After pulling an all-nighter to complain on Facebook and meet a deadline, I arrived at the shop the next day, armed with 1. the Mass Air Compressor I’d bought at a discount myself, 2. a screw driver, 3. an out of date YouTube video made in Canada demonstrating the fix, and 4. My desperation.

I announced I would pay for the diagnostics, and change the part myself.

Gary looked at me, his compassion muted by traces of annoyance.

“No, he said. “You’ll get dirty. We’ll do it. And we’re not gonna charge you.”

I blustered, feeling guilty: “But you have to charge me something.”

“No”, he said, equally as stubborn as he’d been about the price 12 hours before, “We’re not gonna charge you.” Discussion over.  

At some point in the blur of mechanical investigation, it seemed like the fuel pump might need replacing – which would have been $465. I borrowed the money, but the guys opened up the tank, found it wasn’t damaged, and spent hours spraying stuff into some part of the engine, and fiddling around inside it, until finally, my vile little Kia Rio 2002 was ready to cough and splutter home. It’s still not safe to take on a highway, but it’s better than nothing.

Better than anything, is the feeling I have now, of being blessed by the immense generosity of these complete strangers. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me, and I’m deeply in debt to the world for all the times I’ve been shown mercy when I really needed it. People like Gary make their God exist, for me, by creating something greater and sort of divine, through their actions.  

If I ever finally make it onto some big stage, stuffed into a stupid gown and hopped up on tranquilisers, to accept an Oscar, I’ll be accepting it not just for my parents, or my country, or my mentors, my collaborators, not just on behalf of the people who let me sleep on their couches and in their spare rooms last year, but also for Gary from Carotech Auto-Motive, who today not only made it possible for me to stick it out for another month, but also deeply inspired me.

Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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