Paul Dano, Issue 47, Editor’s Letter

The last editor’s letter – Issue #46, if you’re tracking – left me standing on a mountain vista overlooking Pine Mountain Club, while my realtor Jim peed his pants (or more specifically, while he filled his adult diaper). I urge you to go back to that issue and do a quick catch-up, as I’m going to dive right in and continue the legend of Jay Stellar, and how I came to be contemplating the purchase of a house in the wilderness two hours north of Los Angeles.

The trouble was, back in 2000, I was stuck. I was leading a super-creative life as a freelance photographer, but yearned to do more. Back then, I never gave myself a break. I was so focused on being responsible and “making it” that I didn’t let myself stretch out and widen my horizons. I guess it’s a classic creative survival instinct: you find some success in an improbable field, and you hang onto it for dear life. When I was a kid, I was absolutely riddled with interests. I skateboarded, wrote music, played in a band, drew cartoons, wrote stories, and invented all sorts of schemes to amuse myself, like skate contests and ’zines celebrating the local music and arts scene. But as I got a bit older and my career took off, it was all I could do to keep up with my expanding client base. I had to learn how to manage a business, invoice, market my work, hire employees, and work with agents and publicists. The fun days of skating and playing music and drawing started to slip away. I had work to do!

So here I was atop a mountain, on the verge of a completely rash and impractical move. I was a single guy with a perfectly good house in Santa Monica, but something about the Mt. Pinos air was seeping into my bloodstream. I was refereeing a conversation in my head between the strong baritone voice of practicality and disapproval, and the voice of the impulsive fun-seeker that registered an octave higher. “You can’t do this – it’s ridiculous. What would you do with a second house? How would you furnish it? How would you pay for it? What are you going to do, be a hermit in the woods?” And the other voice: “But it would be soooo cool! We could get motorcycles! And firewood! And we could paint, and write music! And there’s snow!”

This battle in my head started on that vista, and would continue for weeks. I had no idea of the emotional roller coaster and life upheaval that was waiting for me. Jim finished his business, and we drove on to look at a few houses. There are a few classic home styles that reflect the pine forest aesthetic. We looked at log cabins, A-frames, and more traditional homes. Jim showed me the low end first: houses that were no bigger than doublewide trailers on flat lots near the town center. As we wound our way up into the mountains the houses and their lots got larger, yet most of them still left a lot to be desired. They were older, lacking in charm, and outfitted with only the basics. I was beginning to realize that my friend Val, who’d turned me on to the area, had found one of the nicest homes.

But then we turned onto a street called Ironwood and stopped about halfway up. We stepped out onto a gravel driveway to look at a faded, peach-colored A-frame. Because it was surrounded by mature pines, not much of the house was visible beyond a glimpse of deck. I had pretty low expectations when Jim opened the door, but within seconds I knew I’d walked into something special. The doorway led straight into an open floor plan enclosed by exposed wood walls and 25-foot ceilings. There were massive windows that framed a stunning view of the valley and the mountain range beyond, and the biggest deck I had ever seen. Once out on that deck, I saw it was at least 30 feet down to the ground. There was a master bedroom loft above the great room, and another whole floor below. And best of all, the backyard was huge, private, and full of promise for just about anything I could dream up back there. The carpet was gross, the kitchen floor was ugly and the peach paint induced a slight queasiness, but other than that, this place was my mountain dream house.

And then the disapproving bass: “This house is way too big. It’s for families. I bet it’s $500,000 dollars. Walk away. Walk away!” And then the kid: “But we could put a ramp in the backyard, and a trials motorcycle track! And that deck…wow! We could barbeque out there! And just look at that cool loft!”

Jim interrupted the argument. “This is a good house, and it’s priced to sell. They want $260,000 but I think you could get them down.”

“Yee haw!” said the kid. And then something funny happened. The disapproving voice was silent. I experienced a feeling of freedom like no other in the moment before I answered Jim. I realized I could actually make an offer on this house and at this price, possibly even get approved for a loan. It dawned on me that there was no one I had to check in with to make this decision. I could do whatever the hell I wanted!

My answer came out more like, “Hmmmm…” But you’ll remember from the last chapter of this story that Jim, while prone to leaks, was a Jedi. He knew what I was thinking.

As I drove back home that day I let myself imagine the series of events that would lead to my sitting on that deck with a beer and a bag of peanuts at my feet, either strumming a guitar or sketching or just watching the blue jays. I imagined needing a truck to haul the motorcycle(s?) I was going to have to buy. I imagined needing furniture and utensils, and all the things that go with a home. Since I’d still be living in my Perfectly Good House in Santa Monica most of the time, I’d need a second set of almost everything. As I drove into north San Fernando Valley traffic, my enthusiasm started to wane, and Mr. Veto was back. “Do you really want to go to all that trouble for a place that you might not even go up to that often? What if you get up there and you’re lonely and depressed? You do know you’ll be paying two mortgages, don’t you?”

But as the internecine dialog roiled, something else was occurring deep in my gut. A presence, a persona, or maybe even a spirit, was stirring. I was a long way from defining or understanding it, but Jay Stellar was coming to life on that drive home. Life would never be the same.

– Sam Jones, December 2015