Three: Monsters and Mummies

Posted: September 27, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row
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A green smudge of a light filled my vision. I rubbed my eyes and it changed, slowly forming shapes and finally numbers. 06:00 – damn, it was early.

I opened the blinds and pale morning light filled the room. I could see Shakey’s Pizza, whitewashed apartment buildings, rows of palm trees tall as high-rises and, in the distance, the Hollywood sign. Maybe it was jet lag, but the H-sign didn’t look real; it was like a pencil drawing somebody sketched on the side of the hill.

Kate was lucky to get this gig. She was co-managing this apartment building with a friend called Martin, so the rent was dirt cheap. Only hiccup was that Kate and Martin fell out just before I arrived – they weren’t speaking to each other and Martin looked pissed. It was bad timing, but I was sure it would blow over.

Wearing a sweater for the damp air, I strolled around the neighbourhood. Sweet jasmine drifted over from bushes on North Kingsley Drive. I walked around the block as pastel-pink buildings soaked up the brightness of the sun. Everything was quiet, relaxed, ordinary. People moved slowly here, elderly Mexicans and Asians hung their laundry from balconies as young kids held hands on their way to school. An amphibian monster lurched out of a street painting covering an AT&T box; it looked like a B-movie poster from the 1950s. A mummy wrapped in white linen rampaged across another AT&T box further down Sunset.

East Hollywood is poor compared to its glamorous neighbour West Hollywood, but let’s put things in perspective. Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg lives in We-Ho, so does Drew Barrymore and countless other millionaires who, by the way, still aren’t as rich as this guy.

Before arriving I heard East Hollywood was a rough area, so I was expecting something from City of God: prostitutes on every corner, gang fights, drug barons and shanty towns. LA has all that, I found out, just not in East Hollywood. Or if it is in East Hollywood, it’s much more discreet.

Ea-Ho wasn’t posh but it still looked like inner city suburbia. Every house had a front lawn and a driveway. Every driveway had a car, usually two. Sounds smart for a “poor” part of town, but this is California. Three cars per household is the state average.

What Ea-Ho lacked in money it made up for in characters – old Mexican men wearing Stetsons, young kids playing catch in Shakey’s parking lot, an eccentric clothes store owner who pumped disco music onto the sidewalk every evening. Hispanics might be a minority in this zip code but they were a lively one. Checking out at the 99 ₵ store, I felt like I was in a village in Mexico. The cashier knew everybody and had huge disregard for the long line forming behind the register.

I fell for East Hollywood on my first day. Maybe the magic would have disappeared after a while; that’s how things usually work with me. I never found out. Three days later Martin pulled a coup – he called the apartment owner and got Kate fired. Our furniture could stay for a month, but we had to leave.

Less than a week after touching down, I was down and out.

Tune in on Monday for the next installment of The Road to Skid Row. (By the way, if you subscribe to my RSS feed you can read these in Google Reader.)

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