To Be Like Bill


After scrambled eggs and goodbyes with Mom, on the morning of July 19, 2014, Dad and I (and Bill the SCOBY) began our drive from Kansas City, Kansas, to my (and Bill’s) new home in Burbank, California. I was to be staying for an indeterminate time in the apartment of my sister and her boyfriend, so at least I’d have friends and family for continued support once Dad flew back home. But I had never lived outside of Kansas, never lived much more than forty minutes away from my parents, so the move seemed, to me (and them), like the kind of big deal that would be a big deal for a long time.

Things hadn’t been progressing in the way I wanted them to back in Kansas City. I had been sitting around so long waiting for the future to happen that I forgot about the present. One day I decided that I had to leave, whether I cared to live in California or not. As corny as it may sound, I had to go if I wanted any hope of making my screenwriting dreams come true.

Once you’ve made a life-altering decision like this, it’s crucial that you find a way to follow through as quickly as possible because our minds are savant-like when it comes to generating paths that will keep us cozy and allow us to never change. The reverse, thankfully, is also true. Just remember that right after you decide, you have to do.

The beginning leg of our trip west didn’t offer much of Kansas that we hadn’t already seen, not that sights were all this journey had in store; and, Bill, having no eyes to speak of, isn’t so great at seeing things anyhow (in fact, he’s positively terrible at it). But I like to imagine that he sensed certain details of the landscape and the changes in elevation simply by his bearing — or the rate of slosh — in that glass container of tea sitting in a box on the floor behind the passenger seat. Since Bill and I, together, were moving to another place far across the country, one might even have said that, in the most basic of ways, his journey was my journey, and mine was his.

Bill is not a person. “SCOBY,” for those of you who don’t know, is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. This means, among other things, that Bill does not watch TV or listen to music or sleep in a bed, and he hasn’t ever (as far as I know) eaten a burrito. What he does do — just by floating a while in sugared tea, like some grotesque lily pad — is help create a fermented liquid that I affectionately refer to as “Bill’s Bathwater.” Technically, though, this healthful drink is called kombucha, and I wanted to stay healthy where I was going. Where I was going, I thought, I would need all the help I could get.

Whether or not Bill senses anything, he was indisputably present in the car with Dad and me during some interesting moments for us. When we passed through the green and lonesome cloud-shadowed Flint Hills, for instance, or cruised by the few stalwart windmills of Greensburg, Kansas, Bill was there.

When that swallow, having dipped suddenly (either by accident or showing off), missed our hurtling windshield by barely the thickness of one of her sleekly-elegant feathers, I could’ve reached back and tapped my relief on the lid of Bill’s container.

When we had come maybe 400 miles, and I realized that every train we’d seen so far was heading east (the direction of what would now be my “previous” home, the home I was already wanting to return to), Bill was in the car as if chiefly to remind me why I was going.

Later in our trip, when, after miles of scrub and rocks and sand, the drab horizon opened up to reveal the ghostly blue of a distant mesa, it felt like Bill was telling me, “See? Yet another sign you’re doing the right thing.”

And somewhere in Arizona, when we finally saw a train headed west, not in a languid sort of way, but really chugging along, powerful and with purpose, as if challenging me to a race, I almost yelled, “All right, Bill, I get it! Would you shut up already!”

Now that he’s in Burbank, settled on a kitchen counter with his tea towel (his “dew-rag”) draped over his container, Bill is basically what he always was: quiet and looking like a cross between a poached egg and a thick pancake made of used-up jellyfish parts. But he’s thriving here, constantly working on other layers — already making something of himself in this new place that’s as foreign to him as it is to me. And even if he’s not conscious of it, he is always open to change, open to letting the future just whisk him off to somewhere new by way of the present. Being more like Bill, in that way, is probably not a bad idea.

But look at me now. I talk a good game and, sure, I took a leap, but I’m still nowhere near as open to the New as I’d like to be. I’ve got plenty to learn about everything, and I will always have plenty to learn about everything.

Two things I have learned, though, are that in Burbank, it’s not the humidity; it’s the heat! And if you wish to see a cloud on most hot July days, you have to do a documentary on clouds and film it anywhere else.

But there are good things about Burbank also. For instance, every twenty feet there’s a restaurant, and every restaurant is within reasonable walking distance from wherever you live. When you’re strolling on a sun-baked sidewalk and you step over into the shade of a tree, the temperature drops from 130 degrees to about 42. And at night, when you’re in bed after watching a scary movie, you can feel pretty safe in the assumption that all the insane people are out on the highway.

“Who does this guy think he is?” you might be wondering now about me. “What in the heck does he know?”

To tell you the truth, I’m usually thinking the same things about myself.

Ah…but now I’m thinking them from California.


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