If you haven’t had the opportunity or inclination to read any of my other many blogs about being homeless, I will give you a quick briefing: I’m a 49 year-old white female, college -educated former business owner and artist. I became homeless a year ago, and my blog chronicles the adventure from the beginning up until now (I’m still homeless). I didn’t become homeless as a result of mental illness, drug-addiction, alcoholism, or domestic violence. I became homeless as a result of a declining economy, just like millions of other American small-business owners. You’d be shocked to find out how fast your life can and will unravel after only two months of little-to-no income. If it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
I’m sure your laughing hysterically over this title. I laughed while typing it, and I’ve laughed while trying to live it. Sometimes. So, you ask, how does one go about trying to franchise a business while sleeping in the backseat of a $600 Craigslist Shitwagon? Exactly how does one conduct any kind of business when one is homeless? Easy! You waste every single second of your insomnia-cursed, semi-waking life (or lack thereof), chasing after scumbags who promise you the world. I will write a quick summary of all the crazy characters I have met over the course of the last eighteen months while trying to expand my business. But before I do that, I think it would be helpful if I gave a little background about the “how and why” of such a challenging decision.
When I first started my small business, I did so under the assumption that it would be temporary. It was initially planned as a means by which to survive in Los Angeles among trillions of other photographers and makeup artists while I pursued my real goal of working in the film industry. I had already accumulated a relatively large amount of experience with the “gender-fluid” in Denver, so I was only doing what came natural to me and I wanted to fill what seemed to be a great “vacancy” in the community. Similar businesses had already existed long before I arrived, but they were closed or on the brink of closing when I launched my own version. To my knowledge, none of them offered professional photography as a service, and mainly focused on makeup and retail sales (which I wanted no part of).
So I began my little service by going to all the gay/drag clubs, and a now-famous venue called “The Queen Mary.” I had only been inside the club a few times, because I had just started dating a guy who I knew would not understand or dig that scene. It was a new relationship, so I was still working hard to conceal my inner pervert. I was lucky in that he took semi-regular trips with his family, leaving me to explore the city on my own and without judgment. Of course I ended up in the drag clubs, and always thought to myself that I needed to revisit the good ol’ times that were the “tranny-scene.”
Flashing forward a couple of years, after he had left me and I was free to roam about the cabin with my usual reckless abandon, I found myself rubbing sequined elbows with my sisters once again. I made up some business cards and handed them out to the cross-dressers that hung out at the QM. I had my first appointment immediately and never looked back. Once I was a few months in, one of the rich CDs (that’s cross-dresser to you) I “made over” offered/threatened to bankroll a real business venture that involved renting a large, sparkly property that would feature his/her new “star artist.” I was only a hair away from signing my life away to someone who had no qualms about working me to death and taking all the revenue I would generate on his/her behalf. That would be my very first foray into the hive of villainous business “investors.”
Once I figured out that I could grow my own business without the aide (slavery) of Daddy Warbucks, I never again entertained the idea of selling my soul, or my talents, to an investor. I knew I stood a chance of succeeding in one of the largest markets in the world, only if I kept it manageable by avoiding an expensive retail storefront. I conducted business from my two-bedroom apartment for the next fifteen years, eventually completely converting what was once a living space into a functioning workspace.
Over those years I was offered the moon and stars many times by wealthy CDs, and I always declined because those offers always came with some sort of uncomfortable compromise, mostly in the form of me doing all the work and handing them most of the money. Why on Earth would I need to do anything like that? I was doing just fine keeping my business small and within my creative control. After all, I had seen several of those businesses fold due to their high overhead and it was obvious that it was the cause. Once I was in my fifteenth year, or thereabouts, I started to feel stagnant. I kept hearing the echoes of those voices from my past that whispered into my ear…”franchise….franchise.“
I had just begun the process of researching this idea right before I lost my shop. I made the decision to finally take the advice of my many business-minded clients, and start looking for an investing partner. I was in talks with one of them when the proverbial hammer came down. This person was very nice, and seemed to have honest intentions. However, after weeks of “getting to know you” kinds of discussions, he/she was relocated to another state and took the deal right off the table. This person knew I was very close to losing the shop, so it came as a pretty hard blow to me. Little did I know then that I would be tormented by nine more over the next year. Like clockwork.
Enter: Carlotta Goodhead
With a name like that, any thinking person would would know “she” was a fake. Even though most cross-dressers use fake names, this one was over-the-top, even to me. I gave “her” the benefit of the doubt. After the long spiel about his/her vast amount of business connections and experience, I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. In my own defense; it was not due to naivete, but desperation and panic. The wolves were closing in on me any day to take my shop, and I would have stopped at nothing to save it. Including allowing such an obvious con artist into my office. Carlotta Goodhead was actually a 60-ish man who spotted one of my ads looking for a business partner, and since he was a lifelong cross-dresser, he had not only a financial interest in my business, but a personal one as well. He called me and insisted we meet early the next morning. He said he was driving up from Palm Springs, and wanted to meet right away. He arrived at my shop early Saturday morning and stayed several hours. He showed up “en femme,” and looked as if he had put himself together in the dark while drunk. Quite possibly the worst attempt at passing as a woman I had ever seen up to that point, and I had seen a lot. Oh yea, and he was drunk.
For hours I sat patiently listening to his many stories of business successes, promises of massive amounts of money he and his partners had at their disposal, and his desire to help me turn my concept into a household name. Before I could say a word, he had me convinced that I had finally gotten my Big Break, and I was about to see my years of hard work finally pay off. I heard a beeping noise coming from his brown polyester pants-suit pocket, and as he shifted as if to conceal the noise, I saw his phone fall out and a bright red light was blinking. He fiddled with the phone in a desperate attempt to turn it off, and that was when it became obvious that he had been recording the conversation. I had just revealed my entire plan to a stranger who was clearly acting with malevolence. He hurried out of my office with the promise to return the next morning with a huge check, to which I just laughed. I knew I would never hear from him again, and I was right. Even after a few emails calling him out on his bullshit, he vanished like a fart in a windstorm. I Googled every secret and hidden corner of the cross-dresser playground, and there wasn’t a fucking trace of anyone named Carlotta Goodhead. He/she was a fucking phantom, and I was the chump who fell for the ruse. Call me paranoid, but I assumed it was a competitor’s evil plot to uncover my plans for the business. More on that in future blogs.
The third person to contact me about expanding the biz was another CD named Raven. In his male life, he was a real estate agent just outside of Los Angeles. He was interested in licensing his own location of my business, and wanted to meet me to discuss it. I found him to be very intelligent, likable, and funny. We hit it off nicely and had a good time chatting away the afternoon. But my frustration and panic came through, and I could see that he knew I had much to do and to learn before I was ready or able to embark on such an endeavor. He cut me loose, but not before referring me to a friend of his that might be more inclined to overlook my lack of readiness, or better put: even more desperate than I was.
I was told that this girl came from a wealthy family and would be the perfect candidate to license a location of her own. She was a young makeup artist and “genetic girl” who desperately wanted and needed steady work, and who had compassion for the transgender community. I contacted her and she was very excited by the prospect of owning her own business, especially one that allowed her to be creative and financially independent. What she didn’t tell me was that her life was an absolute shambles (even worse than mine), she had no access to any funds whatsoever, and she was flakier than a gourmet French croissant. And it took her almost two months to come clean with me, even after I told her a dozen times the price of the licensing fee.
Jeramy was a FTM (female to male) transgender man in Phoenix. He saw one of my ads for licensing and insisted that he had access to more than enough funds for this venture. After the first four “mishaps,” I was becoming a bit wiser in my initial interviewing process. We went through the usual “getting to know you” dance, and had arrived at the decision that I would travel to Phoenix to meet him and begin training. It was a “sure thing,” as he was ready and capable to start the process of opening his own location. Just as I booked the flight and hotel, and called him to confirm my arrival info, he pulled a Carlotta and “ghosted,” never to be heard from again. I didn’t even bother with a cuss-out email this time.
Lizzie, the porn-addicted cross-dressing Pentagon employee who was stationed in Afghanistan as an engineer. He was dying to do something with the oodles of money he was earning, and the idea of running a business that would allow him to be a girl and have perverted sex with boys in uniform…well, it just tickled him to no end. Of course he offered me loads of money, of course he made promises he had no intention of keeping, and of course he vanished once I sent him an executive summary that was a bit too real and jarred him loose from the fantasy bubble he was in. NEXT.
She was a genetic girl and makeup artist who was already trying to wiggle into the trans-community. When one of my cross-dressing Facebook friends saw one of my posts about how frustrated I was becoming as a result of my partner search, he intervened. He messaged me directly and asked some questions about what I was looking for and why it was so difficult. I explained that I seemed to be attracting all the wrong people, and his response was that he would forward my info to this woman in Ventura County that was already working in the community, and who had a wealthy family. She contacted me and was so excited at the prospect of training with the “Great Gina Jet,” that she seemed hardly able to contain it. Weeks and weeks and weeks of the same game: being excited, making promises, disappearing. Same shit, different person. Moving on…
Tom was probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to actually succeeding at opening another location of my business. I was working up in San Rafael at the time that he contacted me, again in response to one of my ads circulating around the internet. He was the first one to demonstrate any real intelligence and competence in business, since he had already been running his own successful business for decades. He knew way more about the legalities of business than I did, so I instantly looked up to him as someone who could teach and lead me through this challenging process. He wasted no time. After one long introductory phone call, we met the next day for hours in his home.
He was very organized, as he had lists of questions prepared. He was very articulate, professional, and almost rigid in his approach. We had an excellent conversation, and we went to look at several properties that same day. I was certain that this one would pan out, because he was very serious and obviously very trustworthy. He told me that he needed to think on it, and he was not making any promises. He asked if I would wait a few days before he made a solid decision. Those few days turned into eleven days, and I was trying to get back to L.A. by then, so I wrote him. He told me that he was going to decline because after much thought he realized that this endeavor would be more time-consuming than he initially thought. He also told me that if he changed his mind, he would let me know. So that’s where I left it. For a while.
A couple months later, I was contacted by yet another makeup artist who was interested in working at the new location, so I reached out to Tom again. It seemed as though he was back in the fold, so to speak, and ready to seal the deal. Of course after much more back and forth, he too disappeared, and the last I heard he was about to open his location without my help. I’m sensing a pattern here. Sigh.
The filthy-rich actress who wants to piss off her rich Catholic Mommy by investing in a business for transsexuals. More extravagant promises (like investing at least $50,000 into my business) followed by stories of her Big Hollywood Career. This one talked of partnering up for an all-female production company, me moving into her West Hollywood penthouse, and being best friends forever. This went on for a month, complete with nightly conversations that lasted hours. She promised me the moon, but she wouldn’t give me her last name, email address, phone number, and she would only call me after 10 PM.
Even if Pathological Patty wasn’t the most recent con artist to poison the well, I would have saved her for last anyway. She is the crown jewel of my adventure. You can imagine that by now I am more than just a little fed up with the endless stream of bullshit artists and time-wasters. You could also probably guess that I am fully aware that it must be me that is causing or creating this situation for myself. I’ve been over it a million times in my head, to the point of it keeping me awake at night. I comb through each of these experiences with fine detail, looking for my role in each failed attempt. Of course I blame myself. I’m obviously doing something very, very wrong. Obviously I was a serial killer of children and puppies in a past life. Obviously.
Patty was a woman a bit older than myself, who lived in Sacramento. She claimed to have been watching me on Facebook for a long time, and “finally found the courage” (her words) to reach out directly. She began the interaction by asking for my advice about starting a business like mine up in Sacramento, to which I replied that “my 17 years of blood, sweat, and tears is not going to be given away for free.” She humbly asked if I would be willing to have a conversation about it, and I agreed.
Our tumultuous relationship began the first time we spoke on the phone. I was in a parking lot of the Burbank library, and I was doing some work on my business plan. We talked for what seemed like hours, but I noticed immediately that she was very hyper and very intense. She could not focus on any topic for more than a few seconds before she hopped onto something else and lost her previous thought. We covered a lot of ground, focusing mainly on my intent to license my business to other people, and to not give anything away. By the time we ended our conversation, I was completely drained. She was the most exhausting person I had ever met. But she wanted to give me $25,000 so that I would train her to do what I do. I put up with her insanity because that money would have saved my business and my life.
Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Sacramento. She picked me up from the airport, and I was exhausted within minutes of meeting her. She was all over the place, in conversation and physically. Her house was a disorganized mess, much like her personality. But the one thing that really threw me and raised many red flags, was her overly-emotional and delicate state of mind. She broke into quivering tears every few minutes about something, like someone who was literally on the brink of a nervous breakdown. One minute she would be laughing, the next minute in tears. No matter what I said or did, I could not get her to discuss any matter of business, and all she wanted to do was socialize with the many people that flowed in and out of her house. She took me aside the next day and confessed that she was a heroin and meth addict, but I still tried to give her a chance. After all, she was promising a lot of money to form a partnership and expand my business. We ended up in a terrible fight the last night I was there, so I hopped a plane back to L.A. and tried to forget about her. She contacted me a few days later, ready to “get serious,” or so she said.
I told her I would consider a partnership only if she agreed to go to rehab, and she agreed. Somehow our “business” relationship quickly evolved into me taking care of her, taking care of her dog while she was in rehab, and her paying for an apartment for me until she got back. All of which seemed completely ridiculous and beyond all boundaries that I had, but was still willing to do as a result of absolute desperation. I was living in my car, with my cat, and all hope seemed lost. This crazy bitch was my only way out, so I had to swallow her insane behavior in order to save myself. But even the most desperate of fools will eventually tire of false promises and games, and get wise. Our last words to each other were very angry, and that’s where it ended; with a great big loud “fuck YOU!“
Needless to say, after all of this, I am a bit gun-shy about prospective partners. I have no idea how I will ever find that ever-elusive unicorn that is an honest, genuine business partner/licensee. I won’t give up, but I will also not ignore my instincts again in the name of desperation. Almost all of these encounters occurred while I was living in a car, so undoubtedly each of those people assumed I would be desperate enough to sell myself short. I didn’t do that and I never will, and that’s why I’m still living in a Goddamned car.