Karl: It’s Saturday morning, May 7th, 2011. I’m enjoying muffin tops and coffee at the welcoming home of West Hollywood native, Chris. So what do you do for a living?
Chris: I’m a substance abuse counselor.
Karl: And you’re going to school for your license?
Chris: I’m working for my licensure as a marriage and family therapist, or when I get to that place maybe I’ll just go for my Doctorate. I never finished my bachelors so I’ve been doing online stuff to get my bachelors and then I’ll go into the Masters program.
Karl: How old are you?
Karl: Current relationship status?
Chris: I’ve been married since 2005. In October it will be 6-years.
Karl: And you have a beautiful little girl, generously sharing her toys with my daughter.
Chris: She’s going to be 3 on the 4th of July. She’s a blessing.
Karl: What are some things you like to do outside of work and study?
Chris: I like to run. I run home from work. It’s about 7-miles, so that will be my workout since I have to get home anyway.
Karl: God, that’s awesome.
Chris: I don’t drive, so that’s my way to optimize my time.
Karl: Do you bus-it if it’s raining?
Chris: I bus-it three times a week because I work late. So I would only run twice at week at most anyway. I’ve been doing a lot of private practice stuff and I need to get on the bus to get home so I can pick up for the nanny because my wife works late on the nights that I do that.
Karl: How long does it take to run 7-miles?
Chris: An hour and 20-minutes maybe.
Karl: Nice. What else besides running?
Chris: Well, I don’t have a lot of time to play any longer but I’m a musician. I play when I can. I’ve found that the most playing I get done is because of someone bringing a guitar to work. I’m already there, so I get excited and I get to play it.
And cooking! Cooking is something that I really like. We love the cooking shows. I worked in a kitchen at one time. I wouldn’t say a chef, but I worked as a cook in a kitchen so I like to do that too.
Karl: You didn’t want to stay in that field?
Chris: I was a musician in London in the 90s and I needed money. So I walked into a pub and said, “I want to be a bartender.” They said, “We don’t need any bartenders.” So I asked, “What do you need?” He said, “We need chefs.” So I said, “Well, I’m a chef!” I hadn’t had any cooking experience at that point but low and behold, I was a chef. In actuality they had hired me because it was Ramadan and the two current chefs were Algerian Muslims and were fasting. This meant they couldn’t taste their food, so they hired me to come in during the day.
Karl: To taste their food for them?
Chris: To taste, but really they ended up not doing anything and just sort of pointing at stuff.
Prior to that, I went into a book store. I don’t know if this is still the case today but in order to sell adult books, you needed to have a certain proportion of legitimate books. So it had to be a portion of adult stuff and then a portion of Mark Twain. So you go into any adult book store and there would be two small shelving units, all dusty that nobody’s ever touched. Anyway, I walked in and asked for a job and they got raided right then at that moment.
Karl: *laughs* Perfect timing.
Chris: So that’s how I ended up becoming a chef.
Karl: How long were you in London?
Chris: I stayed from ’92 to ’98, about 6-years. I went with a guy that I met here who invited me to play on his record. He was a friend of mine, so I went there to do that and then ended up in another band after that because he joined Robert Plant’s band as his guitar player. Francis Dunnery is his name. So that’s what brought me out there. That gig sort of died and I ended up doing a lot of other things. Prior to that, I was in a band called Hollywood Rose which turned into Guns N’ Roses. I played in that band with Axl and Izzy.
Karl: So you’re famous?
Karl: That’s fantastic.
Chris: So that was my career jump starter. Unfortunately, it led into substance abuse.
Karl: I can imagine.
Chris: I had my heart valve replaced as a result of it.
Karl: Do you still see income from that?
Chris: A small, tiny amount. That’s already come and gone. I didn’t write Sweet Child o’ Mine, and I didn’t write Welcome to the Jungle. The majority of the money I get from play is from movies where those songs appear. As far as radio play, they don’t really play.
Karl: Appetite for Destruction is on iTunes, right?
Chris: Yes, but that’s mechanical money. Public performance money, I don’t get that much of. If you wrote Sweet Child o’ Mine, it plays 200,000 times a year. You get paid for every time it plays so you get big checks from that. Sales from Appetite for Destruction, I have platinum records that say 20-million records sold. So people are buying used ones if anything. With the new format of iTunes, people are buying it through the store so it’s selling again, but to be honest with you, I’ve already gotten my money out of that.
Karl: That’s so interesting.
Chris: After London, I came back and started a band called U.P.O. I got a deal with Sony and had a couple records with Sony Epic. The first album did really well and had some big top-5 singles. The second record didn’t do well because there wasn’t money behind it. At that point I was like, “I think I’ll change careers.” I had gotten sober and I kind of liked talking to people, so I thought, “You know what, maybe I’ll do therapy. I want to explore that.” And I really liked it.
Karl: Being someone who has dealt with a lot of therapists, I think it’s great for a patient to find someone who has the life experience. Many of the family counselors that you come across have never had kids, or counselors for postpartum who have never given birth, so that experience really adds a certain quality to the therapist.
Chris: Yes. And I work with a population of people who have substance abuse. We have a pretty young population that comes into our level of care, which is out-patient. I look young for 44, and am probably a little bit more hip than some of the other clinicians, so I work well with that population.
Karl: So when you get the Masters, are you going to stay put?
Chris: Yeah. It depends what program I can get into. If I can do everything online, I don’t really care if my shingle says Johns Hopkins or University of Arizona. I just need to be able to practice for money. To be honest with you, I want to do family work. Not couples but family.
Karl: Well, you can speak from experience there too. Tell me about growing up here. What did your parents do, how did they end up here?
Chris: My mom was from Los Angeles, my dad was from Milwaukee. He came through New York where he was an actor, and came out to Los Angeles where he ended up doing real-estate. He did some space movies in the 50s before anyone had gotten into space. He did one movie called Phantom Planet. I had seen the movie recently because I had ordered it and chopped it up and edited it as a present for him. So I was familiar with it. He had done this in 1960 or something like that. Anyway, I’m watching TV at 6 in the morning, about to go to work, and I notice something that looks familiar. It was this hotel chain, La Quinta Inn, they had bought stock footage of this movie, of my dad, and he was selling hotel beds! They dubbed over his voice, it was incredible. I would’ve seen that it was my dad when he was 20, but I only really got it because I had just edited it. It was really a one in a million chance that I just caught it out of the corner of my eye.
Karl: Where were you born?
Chris: I was born at Cedars. We had a house on La Cienega and Fountain.
The house isn’t there any longer.
Karl: Is it one of the big condo buildings over there now?
Chris: Yes, they started at a $1.5 and those same units are now down to like $999K. But there was a house there that I grew up in throughout the 70s.
Karl: Are those positive memories?
Chris: Yeah, I have great memories of that house. We had a huge backyard to play in with an avocado tree. My grandmother lived in a small house in the back and my great grandmother and my great-aunt lived next door. We used to hang out at my great-grandmother’s house. They were Polish and were always stuffing and hanging kielbasa from the ceiling in the kitchen. It was all old-looking. Even back then, it was old. All the furnishings were from the 40s.
Karl: Were there lots of kids in the neighborhood?
Chris: No, I didn’t have lots of friends to be honest. I had friends, but they weren’t in the neighborhood.
Karl: Which school did you go to?
Chris: I went to Kindergarten through 2nd Grade at St. Victor’s, which interestingly, we’re going to try to get her into. They’re starting a preschool.
Chris: Yeah. We’re going to an open house next week. Then I went to The Center for Early Education. That’s the school over on Melrose and La Cienega – the big one that Steven Spielberg donated $10 million dollars to, or whatever that story is.
*dog barks in the distance outside and family dog, Trouble, perks up*
Trouble, no barking! I gave her a valium. She doesn’t seem knocked out.
*girls bring a plastic cell phone over to the table*
Karl to girls: Wow! That’s so cool. *points at princess phone* Who is that? Sleeping Beauty?
Chris: *chimes in* That’s the Little Mermaid… No, I think that’s Cinderella. Doesn’t Sleeping Beauty have dark hair?
Karl: Snow White has the black hair.
Chris: No, you’re right, that could be Sleeping Beauty.
Karl: There’s like twenty of ’em now, I get them mixed up.
*girls return to living-room*
So as a kid, what would you do? Did you skateboard or…
Chris: Bikes. We would ride to Aero Market.
Karl: Was is seedy?
Chris: I remember there was a sniper in one of those giant buildings on La Cienega. Yeah, I guess it could’ve been seedy. I remember walking into Barney’s Beanery and it was a completely different layout. I mean the walls were all the same but they had a bar in the back that was closed off. I went in at nine years old with my dad and I remember going into the bathroom, putting a quarter in the machine, and getting a little book of naked pictures. I put it in my pocket until I got home, opened it and they were little drawings. *shakes head*
Karl: Bummer. *laughs* So riding your bike to Aero Market, you never encountered any problems or anything?
Chris: I didn’t. No.
Karl: No neighborhood fights with rival kids or anything?
Chris: No. We would ride to Pan Pacific Park, and people would be fighting there. But it wasn’t like anyone was pulling out an AK-47 or anything.
Karl: How has this area changed since then? How does raising a child here now compare to memories of your childhood here?
Chris: Well, I felt pretty insulated as a kid, like I was in my own little world. I had a big backyard and we’re raising her in a condo. We’re more cautious now. There was a guy in the building here that got arrested for some stuff that he did with kids.
Karl: Do you still have affection for the place?
Chris: I was excited to move back to West Hollywood. Interestingly enough, I just ended up right down the street from where I grew up. I guess I do sort of feel like it’s a home base.
Karl: What are some of the changes you’ve seen since moving back?
Chris: *thinks* There used to be a Piece O’ Pizza next door to Holloway Cleaners. It was there forever. That has turned into a series of bad ventures by people who think that they can do something different with no parking, or whatever the challenge is there. I feel so bad for everyone that goes in there because you know that they’re excited to be opening. But I want to say, “You’re doomed!” There are a couple places like that here, and that’s one of ’em. There are also some buildings that people, when they had money 5-years ago, were investing in. I wouldn’t live in them but those modern ones down the street for example, that they’re now selling for $300K less than they originally thought they could get for them. There’s a feeling that there was going to be a lot of money put into this area, and excitement that this area was really going to thrive, and then it just didn’t quite catch. Like people started to do that and then lost their nerve, and didn’t have the money. Although the middle of the Boulevard, around Rage, I think they’ve done a nice job with. I have to say about West Hollywood, this is the cleanest city around. There’s a mattress up the street and your eye goes to it immediately. You think, “Someone left a mattress out,” but I’ve lived in areas where that’s common place.
Karl: Yeah, even close by.
Chris: Absolutely. You drive 5-minutes in any direction and it feels like they don’t care. West Hollywood feels like it cares about its residents.
Karl: Would you say that’s the general attitude of the community?
Chris: Yeah, from the people I run into. Yes. That’s why it feels kind of homey. It’s like someone’s taking care of you. The homeowners associate may be different. There are some unscrupulous people there and it’s sort of a micro version of a city in itself. But they’re building that library deal. Somebody had the guts to do that.
Karl: What do you think of that?
Chris: I think it’s great. Anything that says, “Kids” on it now is great. I always wanted to feel included by government programs, but nothing ever pertained to me. But now that I have a kid, I say, “Well okay, it’s got kid stuff!”
Karl: So in your opinion, all of the construction in Weho is a positive thing?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. As a home-owner, it doesn’t bring the value down, it can only bring it up, unless they put some monstrosity next to us, but that’s unlikely. *looks out over girls toward living-room window* I picked this place because I like the openness of the huge window and the tree outside. I also like that I’m not looking at some apartment building, I’m looking at a beautiful house. So this is my world. Other people might look out at an electrical pole or something.
Karl: Or a wall.
Chris: Well, if I’m looking at a wall that doesn’t brighten my day, then yeah. That was important to me. The house I grew up in on La Cienega had a huge pepper tree. I don’t know what it’s really called but it was giant, and it would move with the wind… It didn’t feel like the city.
Karl: Yeah, this is calming. It’s really nice. People have complained about all the construction in the city, that’s why I ask that question.
Chris: I don’t drive. I know a lot of people complain about the road construction, and I can understand why, but I don’t have a personal experience with it.
Karl: No, the fact that you run removes that whole element from the LA equation. It removes the construction, the traffic, that whole thing, which is really nice! It’s a really relaxing way to live.
Chris: Yeah. And the bus is basically a limousine that I share with 90 other people.
Karl: I’m a big fan. You can get stuff done.
Chris: Yeah, I do my studying on the bus. Or do phone calls to and from work. Thank God for the iPhone.
Karl: What did we ever do without ’em?
Chris: I don’t know. We went home and checked our messages on tape-recorders.
Karl: Has the city changed for the better or the worse in the time that you’ve lived here?
Chris: Well, in the 80s I was in the rock n roll scene. My community was focused around West Hollywood’s Troubadour and the Sunset Strip. Talk about the Golden Age of any area, I’m sure it was also true in the 60s when the Doors where here, but in the 80s it was like that too. And that feeling then, as a 16 to 18-year old, felt really good because there was a community here. I don’t feel like I’m part of a community now. That’s not a terrible thing because I don’t need it as much, but I really felt like I was part of a community then. The streets were mine. I would walk down the street and I felt connected. It’s nicer now, it’s not as disheveled and falling apart, but it feels different. Maybe it’s just ’cause I’m older. I think a lot of people say the same thing though – that they lost that connection that was here.
Karl: Was the gay community and the Russian community a presence for you then?
Chris: It wasn’t really a factor. I didn’t have any Russian friends. My parents had some gay friends.
Karl: Well, I ask because I grew up in a very rural part of Pennsylvania where it’s totally not a factor by any stretch. People were very Catholic, Mennonite, Amish, etc., so I’m curious if it plays more of a role with the kids here too. It doesn’t seem to at all. It was prominent back then, but most of the kids who grew up here didn’t even notice it.
Chris: As far back as I can remember, West Hollywood was known as a hub of the gay community with resources and bars similar to San Francisco and New York. So for that community I think that they felt very bonded. But I didn’t really get it.
Karl: What would you like to see more of?
Chris: My fondest memory of West Hollywood was Ponyland at the Beverly Center. I found some home movies of me at my first birthday at Ponyland. Anybody that was here back in the late seventies will know Ponyland. It was a staple. In the middle of the city, there was a big dirt lot. It was huge. And ponies would run around in it. And behind that was an amusement park. Now, with the cost per square foot, it doesn’t make sense, but that was great. We did birthdays there and Saturdays and would eat cotton candy.
Karl: So you’d like to see more places like that pop up?
Chris: Yeah, something unique that’s not as commercial or just a building selling stuff – something special, like the library. It may take away an opportunity to make money but it makes it so much nicer to live in that area. I mean, I learned to swim in that pool at West Hollywood Park.
Karl: Have you got her in lessons yet?
Chris: She was in lessons for 9-months and we’ve just now taken her out for money reasons. Once she’s in school we’ll figure what else we’re going to do. She also likes to dance, so we’ll maybe do dance classes.
Karl: What would you like to see less of?
Chris: As little as it is, I still don’t like people begging and some of the smellier people that are out there. There’s a lot of crystal meth. I walk the dog at 6 in the morning and there’s a lot of guys walking around tweaking. They don’t usually come out during the day, but that’s not great for her. But I know we’re probably in the best area considering how much of that is around.
I would’ve said less dog crap, but I love all the plastic bag dispensers they’ve put up.
Maybe some bumps in the streets. I see people get up to 50 or more out here. *points out window* But no, there isn’t much, I really like West Hollywood. What do other people say? I’m just curious.
Karl: The same things… Less traffic, less homeless, less dumpster diving…
Chris: I totally support the whole recycling thing, just not in my backyard. My garage is locked. If you stand there, wait for someone to come out, and then jump in, you’re recognizing that you’re not supposed to be there. That’s the reason there’s a gate.
Karl: Yeah, it’s an interesting question to throw out there because this is a really hard place to complain about.
Chris: The public transportation is great. The people who say that, I don’t know if they take public transportation or if they’re just assuming that it’s not good. There are regular buses on Santa Monica and La Cienega, including the Dash which is a great option. I’ve never taken Cityride but there are Cityride buses I could take if I needed to.
Karl: Are you happy here?
Chris: I’m not happy with my choice of apartment – the condo, because I thought that the homeowners dues would be offset by the increase in value. But now with the economy I have lost all my money, and that’s worrisome. But that’s worrisome for everyone right now. I think the city has kept its value, but there was also a high premium on it when money was cheap. So I’m not happy with that. I’d like to be in a place that doesn’t cost so much.
Karl: So you’d leave the unit but not the city?
Chris: Well, my work is in West LA. On some days I can run home faster than the whole trip takes by bus. I can see the bus 4-blocks in front of me and I’ll sit there for 20-minutes and the bus still hasn’t gotten to me. So if I was closer, I could get to work easier. That being said, unless I live right next to work, I don’t know how much that’s really going to save.
Karl: Are there things you just hate about it? If you have any of that sort of resentment, I’d love to hear about it.
Chris: It’s not because of the area, it’s just because of the economy.
Chris: Yeah, life. I love my neighbors. There are unpleasant people everywhere. I genuinely feel that this community is just nicer. People say hello to you on the street. They don’t do that so much in Hollywood, or Pico Rivera, or *thinks of anyplace* Fullerton. There’s a lot of foot traffic which makes it kind of New York’y.
Karl: Where do you see things 10 to 20 years from now?
Chris: I don’t see the area broadening as far as the demographic goes. You have Beverly Hills on one side and the other side is really Russian, so this is really the densely gay populated area. Because of that I think it will retain its value. You can’t make something bigger if there’s no space for it. So I think when the money comes back and people start to put money back into this area, it’s only going to make things more vibrant and thriving. We’ll probably get rid of some of the lower rent apartments. I don’t know how that works, but I imagine we’ll get rid of the ones that are obvious eye sores and put up condos when the money’s available again. But this is like an island.
Karl: That’s an interesting way to look at it.
Chris: I know West Hollywood supposedly goes down to La Brea, but that community starts to change pretty quickly on the other side of Fairfax. So I foresee that happening, and that’s just hoping that the money goes up and finances get better, which they slowly are. I was on zillow… Are you familiar with zillow?
Karl: Yeah, I don’t even want to know. I haven’t looked in over a year. It’s always so depressing.
Chris: Well, I won’t say the figures, but I do get these updates and you can see in the heading of the email, “Reduced… Lower… Decreased…” Those words always stick out. And finally, I saw “Increase.” I clicked on it and saved it, I was so excited. It was the first increase in 2-years or so. It was .1%! My place had gone up $1,000.
Karl: We’ll take it! *laughs*
Chris: It was a trend. 30-days in a row it’s gone up. So we’ll see what happens.
Karl: Well, I don’t want to press our luck with the girls since we haven’t had a melt-down yet.
Chris: Yeah, they seem to get along pretty well.
Karl: Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself before I turn the recorder off?
Chris: I didn’t have a child until I was 41. It’s a scary thing, especially when you’re moving into a different chapter in your life. But my motto is, “I’m at least as capable as half the people that are already doing it.” So I’m not going to not be able to do whatever it is that’s posed. That helps with fear of things.