The Lobby: An Interview with Andrew

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For the past two years, I have worked as a desk clerk at a motel in Austin. During the busiest shift of the week, Friday evenings, my shift overlaps with my co-worker, Andrew’s. Andrew is easily one of the most unusual people I have ever known. With his permission, I have recorded a recent conversation for this project.

***

The Rumpus: How long have you worked here?

Andrew: Six years in October. I interviewed on my birthday, November 17th but I didn’t mention it at the interview because I thought that might be strange. I started working on Thanksgiving.

Rumpus: What did you do before this?

Andrew: I worked at The Gap headquarters in San Francisco. Let me tell you, even then, the fashion world was filled with the most snooty people in the world.

Rumpus: But The Gap isn’t really fashion is it?

Andrew: Yeah, yeah. They make some good t-shirts. I wore a gap shirt the other day, and I got three compliments on it. Their stuff it actually made well.

Rumpus: What did you do at The Gap?

Andrew: I was a receptionist slash security guard.

Rumpus: What did you do before that?

Andrew: Well, before that I was catering. They’d call you up, “Do you want to work this Friday?” You know, it’s like shit work, but you meet a lot of interesting people. Lots of interesting fuckups. They pay like 15 bucks an hour, which is good money, but then some of them only pay 13. It wasn’t hard work, but it was one of those jobs that, after it’s over you never want to do it again.

At the end of one night, I’m carrying these big bus tubs of ice and water and I notice this security guy standing by the door wearing a suit and tie, and I said, “Where do you work?” And he said, “I work for Placement Pros Security.” I said, “No shit? How much you get paid?” He said, “They start you off at 12 dollars.” So I’m like, “What the fuck, I’m like sloshing ice for 13 dollars an hour and this guy’s standing there in a suit and tie for 12?”  So I went and applied at Placement Pros, and, you know, I had to do some shit jobs at first, but compared to the people around me I was quite the Einstein, and pretty soon I got the good job at The Gap. I worked all by myself in this building. Me and this other guy. I did a good job. Never saw my boss. I opened and shut the building.

Rumpus: Did you have a uniform?

Andrew: Nah, you wear khaki pants and a white shirt that they gave you. Basically people walk in and you check if they have a badge or you call and say, “Hey so-and-so is here to see you,” and they’d say, “Yes send them up” or “Don’t send them up.” You had to be presentable and have half a brain.

That was a great job. I mean, I only worked 25 hours a week. All I had to do was sit there. I was by myself. It’s like this guy told me when I was 18, if you’re working hard at a job, and you’re not getting a lot of money, quit that job and find another one, because there are too many jobs where you don’t have to work hard. So that’s what I did. Why was I sloshing ice for 13 dollars an hour?

Rumpus: So why did you leave that job?

Andrew: San Francisco is expensive, and I don’t like the sunlight there. I know it’s the same sun we have here, but it sure doesn’t seem like it. I wanted to be in the south. I didn’t want to go back to New Orleans. Atlanta sucks. So, I didn’t know where else to go. I lived in Austin in the 1980s, but I had such good memories of living here, I didn’t ever want to move back, but finally, I couldn’t figure out where else to go.

Rumpus: If you liked Austin so much, why’d you leave in the first place?

Andrew: I had to go to San Francisco. I was going to be a big shot rock star. Anyway, I was young. Austin is a small town. I wanted to live someplace bigger, a big city. After two-and-a-half years in Austin, you’ve met all the people in your circle.

Rumpus: I know you lived in Nebraska at one point too. I always remember you said you had a hard time getting laid there.

Andrew: Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. Absolutely. In Nebraska I was the skinny boy with the Italian name, and everyone else was corn fed with big muscles. Yeah, I hate to say it, I did the fat chick thing in Nebraska.

Rumpus: But you still kind of like big girls.

Andrew: Luckily, I do.

Rumpus: But I’ve never seen you with a big girl. The only girls I’ve seen you with are thin. Was it hard to get laid in San Francisco?

Andrew: Oh, fuck no. Shit no.

Rumpus: Was it because you had a record deal?

Andrew: Even before that, 70% of the men are gay. Or lets say 60%, so that only leaves 40%, so if you take out the assholes, that’s about half. Which leaves 20% of eligible men. It’s a piece of cake in San Francisco.

Rumpus: You’ve never had a classically good job, have you?

Andrew: What’s a classically good job? Like a career-track? No.

Rumpus: That didn’t hurt your odds with women?

Andrew: No. The women who care about that stuff are women you don’t want to go out with anyway, and the thing about San Francisco, one thing about the women, not all of course, but there, the women take care of their shit. They’ve got their own lives, they’ve got their own money, their own jobs. They’re not looking for a man to better their life. I’ve always been more self-conscious about it than women are, to their credit.

Rumpus: Yeah, I’m always self-conscious about it.

Andrew: Yeah, you’d be surprised with women. Most of them just don’t fucking care. There was a time, living in that trailer when I didn’t have a scooter yet, and it was a little tough telling a girl, hey follow me on my bike back to my trailer. That was a tough sell. But most of them don’t care. Guys think they do, but they just don’t.

Rumpus: How do you account for not being more career-oriented?

Andrew: Because I paint. That’s why.

Rumpus: But you didn’t start painting until you were in your 30s.

Andrew: Right. But before that I did music. Then I started painting. That’s just what you do. Chicks dig the artist-type thing. That’s for sure. Then again, with painting, they think they like it, but then you spend a lot of time alone painting. But women usually do like that shit. They really do. It was harder the first few years, when I sucked at it, but, to women’s credit, the money thing ain’t that big an issue for the most part. But, then, that could just be the circles I run in.

Rumpus: You were married twice before.

Andrew: Yeah, but that was to help them out getting a green card.

Rumpus: But one of them you really were with.

Andrew: Yeah, well both of them I was with.

Rumpus: Did you have to undergo some kind of scrutiny for them to get their green cards?

Andrew: Yeah, but I mean it’s not like I’m a sixty year old Arab and she’s a 30 year old American girl or something. My whole attitude is, you can’t fuck with me in those situations. I look at ‘em, and I’m like “I’m an American. I’ll marry whoever the fuck I want to.”

Rumpus: What was it like when you got divorced?

Andrew: They just send you a piece of paper and you sign it.

Rumpus: When you got divorced was it the same time as the relationship was coming apart?

Andrew: No, both times the relationship had already come apart a few years before that. The weird thing is after you get married is that—even though I’ve always made fun of marriage and said that it’s just a piece of paper—I gotta admit, it’s not.

Rumpus: You mean, even in the context of this charade-y marriage?

Andrew: It makes a difference, yeah. You’re connected to this person. Plus, after you breakup you have to stay in contact. The first one—the first wife, if you want to call it that— we broke up, it was pretty amicable, and years later, we still stayed in touch. She ended up working for an airline, so I got lots of free airline tickets. So it worked out well.

Rumpus: Why did you end up getting divorced? You didn’t initiate it, I imagine.

Andrew: No, no. We would have stayed married a long time. She didn’t care. And I was getting the free airline tickets. But then she wanted to marry this other guy named Andrew. So I only had about six months left on the tickets, so for six months I just travelled. They gave you these coupons. It’s basically like standby. You could go to any airport and look at the screens and decide where to go.

Rumpus: Did you ever do that?

Andrew: Yeah. Well, no. In hindsight you wish you had done more. I went to New Orleans. Went to New York a couple of times for the weekend. Then I planned my big trip to Europe and stuff. That’s when I went to Serbia.

Rumpus: You had a job there?

Andrew: Yeah, I had a job as a “native speaker”.

Rumpus: Aren’t you the opposite of a native speaker if you’re in a foreign country?

Andrew: No, I was the native speaker. I spoke English.

Rumpus: You taught classes?

Andrew: Sort of. There was a war on. They couldn’t be too picky. It was a special school for rich kids.

Rumpus: How’d you get the job?

Andrew: My friend, Big Man Philip. They love native speakers. It goes a long way. Plus it impresses the parents because, hey, they brought in this guy from America. I’d play the guitar for the kids. It was the time of Guns ‘n Roses. I had to play “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” a million times. I’d walk into the room and all the boys would chant my name, “Andrew! Andrew! Andrew!” Of course they had to pay for that. The food was so shitty there. When their parents would come, they’d bring oranges and stuff. It was wartime, and their parents had money. After their parents left, I’d come in and say, “Ok, whataya got, whataya got?” It was like, “Here Andrew take my chocolate.” I took all of it. Because if someone thinks you’re cool, they gotta pay to hang out with you, right?

Rumpus: How long were you in Serbia?

Andrew: About six weeks. There’s no better tourist attraction than a good war. It was great.

Rumpus: How old are you now?

Andrew: 51. I’ll be 52 in November.

Rumpus: How do you feel when you check in a guy your age?

Andrew: Most of the time, I feel pretty damn good. You’d be surprised. Some of the guys I check in, they look a lot older than me, like 10 years older than me. Except once I checked in this guy who was five years older than me and he looked like a total stud. Full head of hair, everything. I was like, “What? You’re five years older than me?” But a lot of these guys, I hate to say it, if you don’t have kids, have a single life, you don’t age as much. Of course sleep is the fountain of youth. When you get to be 51, 52, you worry about hitting that wall. It seems like once you turn that corner it’s like you’re kind of good-looking and then you suddenly look like an older guy.

Rumpus: Are you ever attracted to women your age? You don’t strike me as one of those guys who only wants to date 25 year olds.

Andrew: No, but, you know, 35 to 45 is about right. There’s a lot more women who are attracted to older men than people realize. Women that I have been attracted to who have been attracted to me, they like older guys. A lot of women do. More mature guys or whatever.

Rumpus: What’s the oldest woman you would date?

Andrew: Well, it depends on what they look like. The worst age for women is like 31 to 35. They wanna have kids. If you date them it’s like a job interview. And I understand that. They get to that point, they’ve had their one night stands, they want to have a serious relationship. But how do you know if you really want a serious relationship with them? There was a girl in San Francisco I went with for four years. If you would have asked me after the first month if I was going to be with her four years later I would have said fuck no. Hell no. After about 35, especially 38 or so—this is really politically incorrect—38 to 45, that’s when they’re a lot of fun. Because they know they’re going to hit the wall soon. They’re still hot, they’re still fun. They still feel attractive. They want to have as much fun as possible. Those are the fun women.

Rumpus: Before we stop for the day, I’d like to talk about some of the stuff that happened to you this year. Do you want to say?

Andrew: Yeah. On January 6th, my best friend of 25 years who was like a brother to me committed suicide. He had been having mental problems, but it was still a shocker.

Rumpus: He wasn’t someone you’d expect to do that.

Andrew: No. It was tough. I had to call his parents, and that was tough. Nothing’s worse than having to call somebody. When you tell a family member, “I’ve got bad news. I’m sorry. Gary died today.” It’s like they’re shocked, and they’re crying. And you have to tell them they committed suicide, which for family members is just the worst thing in the world. You know, you can block it out and do it, because that’s what a man does. But some of those phone calls, they didn’t bother me that much at the time, but they haunt me a little bit now.

Rumpus: Other stuff happened this year.

Andrew: Yeah, two weeks after that, I got caught cheating on my girlfriend. We’d been in an on-again-off-again relationship for five years. She had just moved here from L.A. took a $20,000 pay cut, basically to be with me. And it wasn’t exactly working out great, and I fucked a girl, and two nights later my girlfriend came over and noticed the condom wrapper on the couch. Which is really stupid. I didn’t even see it. So, yeah, the guilt was pretty overwhelming when she found out. I don’t know if the relationship would have worked, but that was shitty. She didn’t deserve that.

Rumpus: I remember that was really awful.

Andrew: I shouldn’t have done it. But I got a phone call at two in the morning. It was this girl I had fucked and she wanted me to fuck her and her friend—both of them together. So I said, “Yeah come over.” What man wouldn’t?

Rumpus: But even though all this stuff happened, you keep saying you don’t think it’ll be a bad year. Even though it’s now September, and it’s still not looking so great yet.

Andrew: Yeah, I’m still optimistic. Because Gary’s sickness started in September of last year. Me and my girlfriend were having problems in the fall, and it just happened to end in January. Another thing that’s bad, the woman who owned the motel, who I was very fond of, she passed away in April. She got cancer last year, not this year. So, anyway, I am optimistic, but I have to say the year is winding down.

Rumpus: So what are you doing to get your life together?

Andrew: Nothing. A week that passes is just another week that passes. I’ve been working on the same painting for a year, year and a half. I’ve been working on another horse painting for a year. It looked almost as good two days after I started working on it as it does now. Other than that, I haven’t finished anything. I mean, I’ve been working a lot, I’m just not getting anything done. So it’s like, I’m just spinning my wheels. But at least the wheels are spinning.

Rumpus: It sounds like you’re trying.

Andrew: Well, I’ve got a bad habit of getting into ruts. I’m a man of routines. And routines work really well to a certain degree. You get up at a certain time, do art at a certain time. But what happens with routines is that eventually they turn to ruts. And once I get in a rut, it’s really hard to get out of one. Typically what I’ve done in the past is move. You go to a whole different city, it’s a whole different routine, and that works for about a year. But now I don’t know where else I’d move. So here I am, precariously hanging without much of a safety net in my life. It should probably bother me more than it does. You know Herman Hesse says there’s someone inside you that knows you better than you know yourself, and I agree with that. So, maybe I’ll be right. I mean, I’m not overly optimistic, but…

Rumpus: You mean, you’ll be right that the year will be good?

Andrew: Yeah, we’ll see. Time is running down, but we’ll see. Anyway…now, what is this for again?


Drew Nellins is a writer living in Austin. More from this author →