Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thanks, Sister

In 1994, I lived with my sister in a two bedroom apartment on South Granville Avenue in West Los Angeles. I was twenty five and having a major career slump. We called the area "no man's land", because it was profoundly nondescript and vibeless, with no real neighborhood to speak of. It was also affordable,unlike the hipper eastside neighborhoods we'd lived in before. Our apartment was in one of those peach and brown colored motel style buildings where all of the units faced a grim kidney shaped pool. The year we lived there played like a low-rent version of Melrose Place and had all the requisite drama.
The renters on the first floor consisted of a couple from New Jersey that thought my sister and I were lesbians, despite the obvious family resemblance. He had long Axl Rose hair, a whopping caterpillar mustache, and an accent so thick that it could feed a small African village. She was raspy and skinny and seemed to live in her miniscule two piece bathing suit. They had large pool parties with lots of beer and the likes of Whitesnake and Metallica blasting on the stereo. They also had a black cat that was my cat's Doppelganger. Every time I walked by their open front door, I would see my cat sitting there staring at me balefully and have a mini heart attack, wondering how the hell he got in to their place. Their neighbor was a large single man with curly brown hair, thick glasses and a fairly pronounced case of Tourette's syndrome. We could hear him approaching the building because he was quite loud, following each outburst with multiple apologies-"F*ck! F*ck! F*ck! Sorry..sorry..sorry". He seemed like a nice person, but his affliction definitely kept us from inviting him to the Nuart for the Ingmar Bergman retrospective or out to a quiet dinner.To his left lived an African American couple that pretty much kept to themselves. The only interaction I had with the wife was just after I had put one of my cats to sleep. I came home with the empty carrier, and she was standing in the courtyard. She saw the carrier and said "Awww... who we got in there?" to which I replied "No one" and went upstairs to weep uncontrollably for an hour and a half. Call me antisocial, but if I had tried to explain, I would have lost it in the courtyard, and I really did not want to do that. The last apartment downstairs belonged to a young married couple. He was small and diffident with shoulder length hair,a trimmed mustache and glasses. She was very outdoorsy and wore oversized t-shirts,shorts and Tevas all of the time. I rarely spoke with them or saw them, but the husband sent me an extraordinarily inappropriate note about nine months after we moved in declaring his lust and desire for me and asking me to give him an indication of reciprocation by putting a red ribbon on my door handle. Seeing as he was married, and I did not reciprocate in the slightest, I just tried to avoid all contact for the next few months, which turned doing laundry and taking out the garbage into stealth operations.

Upstairs was even stranger. In the first unit, we had John, an angry heavyset thirtiesh receding redhead who lived in a studio and had subscriptions to Soldier of Fortune and Guns n' Ammo. He was polite,if not solicitous, unless he was randomly shouting "Fucking N&*%ers" in the general direction of the Afrian American couple's apartment when they left their laundry in the machines too long. The first time I heard it, I thought the Tourette's man had changed his repertoire. When I realized that it was coming from the lair of what could easily have been the next Unibomber, we started thinking about moving. Next to John, there was James, a celebrity photographer. He had a sensational portfolio and was kind enough to photograph me as a favor. He went on to publish a beautiful and haunting book of photographs about being American before dying a few years ago from kidney disease. He might have been the only other normal person in the whole building. The studio next to his was a revolving door of random Russians and college students that partied all night and never paid their rent. My sister's room shared their wall, so she spent a lot of time at her boyfriend's apartment to escape the noise. On the other side, there was Michelle, the manager, who lived alone. She was delicate and pale, with short red hair. She kept to herself,or so she thought. She would come home every day after work and grace us with the muffled sounds of self pleasuring. It was a little awkward because if we had a tenant issue, if was difficult to look her in the eye when she answered the door since we knew she wasn't exactly playing Pinochle in there. Next to Michelle lived a pretty Asian woman who we rarely saw, but whose attire suggested that she might be employed in the adult entertainment industry. I once went to deliver a piece of mail to her apartment and saw a magazine on her doorstep. I picked it up to slide it under the door and glanced at the cover. The image on the front was beyond X-rated, the kind that scars a person for life. It made the Cragslist casual encounters page look like a church newsletter. I threw it down like it was covered with ants and went home and washed my hands thoroughly. One Sunday morning, an angry man in a black Corvette showed up, still wearing Saturday night's clothes, and began yelling threats up to her from the driveway. We all watched from the slatted vertical blind covered windows as he revved his engine and hollered. Eventually a shoeless shirtless man bolted out of her apartment and ran away as fast as he could. The Corvette man didn't chase him. He nodded slowly to himself,put onhis sunglasses,got back in his car and drove away, never to be seen again. The final apartment was inhabited by an over zealous cat lover named Arlene who had five giant cats in her one bedroom that were allowed to roam freely outside. During the summer,their presence caused such a flea explosion in the back parking lot that the blacktop was literally pulsating with ten million shiny black jumping fleas, like some low budget sci-fi movie. For two weeks, we listened to the tenant's frantic footsteps, running from their cars at night, vainly trying to escape the inevitable forty fleas catching a ride into their apartments and biting the shit out of their entire body. My sister and I had taken to parking on the street to avoid the flea issue entirely, but they slowly migrated down the driveway. When the Terminix man arrived, thinking it was a straightforward case of fleas, he retreated in a panic, claiming never to have seen such an infestation. He sprayed the parking lot several times and eventually the fleas subsided and the footsteps returned to normal.

One afternoon, just before our lease was up, a nun, dressed in a traditional habit, strolled down the driveway and asked about the room for rent. I assumed she was referring to the crash pad next to our place, where no one stayed more than a few months. She asked if it was a quiet building. I looked at her sweet beaming face, and I pondered this question: with the sporadic racial epithets, the ridiculous pool parties, the constant masturbating, the 3 a.m. parties, the menacing boyfriends, the lust letters, the menagerie of cats, and the guy with Tourette's syndrome-was it quiet? I shook my head. It most certainly wasn't quiet at all, and it really wasn't the place for her. She thanked me-called me an angel- and left. As she walked away, it struck me that the only positive thing about living in that apartment was that it didn't collapse during the big earthquake. I wasn't there when it happened, but my cats survived and most of my stuff did too, so for that I am grateful.
I looked up at the peeling peach colored paint and banal exterior of the building and realized that, for the past year, life had been more bizarre at the place I called home than anything I was exposed to in outside world.It was definitely time to go. Definitely. I owe a thank you to the kind Sister, who I hope found herself a cozy place to hang her habit. She may not have saved my soul, but she sure helped me see the light.

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