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OCT 2000

The girl I had moved out to LA for convinced me that if I lived anywhere outside of Santa Monica, my throat would be cut. “How about Mar Vista? West LA? Or Palms?” “Ewww,” she’d respond, although I found out later that these and other neighborhoods I suggested were perfectly safe, they were dangerously unhip. There was nothing in the desirable beach city of Santa Monica under a $1000. So, despite “FOR RENT” signs on lawns all over Los Angeles, I paid a $500 finder’s fee and $1065 a month to live in a small “rent-controlled” one-bedroom on Arizona Avenue, about thirteen blocks from the beach.

The Wyn Lyn Apartments seemed to be modeled after the architectural wonder that is the Motel 6 chain, with a row of doors facing the street, right on top of one another, a narrow walkway on the 2nd floor. I had a small lawn which was used mainly as a toilet for any and all dogs walking past. The grass was generally dead due to the onslaught of urine that it got almost daily. The owners of these dogs would actually get angry if you scolded them for allowing their dog to have a fit of diarrhea under your living room window.

Although the apartment seemed fine at first, once I moved in, I realized it wasn’t going to work as a home/office -- or even as a home.

All the outlets had two prongs, as if no one had plugged in a modern appliance in there in the last forty years. The heater only had a setting for HIGH and was placed so it only heated the living room and not the bedroom, although it was less than a foot away. The gas man told me not to keep it running at night or my bills would be “out of this world.” He told me to just to run it for an hour before I went to bed, presumably so I’d be nice and comfortable before I froze to death in my sleep. At night, bums would congregate and crash out in the alley behind the Wyn Lyn, directly under my first floor bedroom window, drunk, yelling obscenities and coughing up TB spores. I had the police on speed dial to get rid of them.

The living room was a tight rectangle and didn’t seem to be designed for a couch. If you had one against the longer wall, you couldn’t put a TV on the other side of the room because there was a half-wall there and behind that, a kitchenette. If you placed it against the back wall, there was no space for a set on the opposite one, because there was a giant window and the front door. So I bought no furniture except for a two piece desk, a chair and a bookcase.

My “office” was essentially the end of the kitchenette. My scanner sat on the cobalt blue refrigerator, which my desk butted up against.

The main problem was my neighbor, Tim Winkler. Tim was a “producer," but didn’t own a car and had no visible means of income. His day consisted of standing barefoot outside his apartment in khaki shorts, the T-shirt he obviously slept in, and talking loudly on a cordless phone while chain smoking. Occasionally, he’d have pitch meetings on our shared lawn, which he’d commandeered as his office. Guys who looked like thugs would jump out of their SUVs, fists pumping, cigars in their mouths and pitch their projects to Tim. Since the only window I had faced the lawn, I had to listen to Tim and breathe in his smoke from ten in the morning to usually midnight. He rarely left his post. I had to buy an industrial fan from Sears, place it in front of the window and face it outside to keep the smoke from drifting in and to drown out statements like, “I was supposed to direct that, you fucking asshole!” The only thing he seemed to produce was carbon monoxide. Just my luck -- move from a fume-filled midtown Manhattan walkup above a parking lot to mere blocks from the beach and have it ruined by a smoker who never left his house -- just like me.

His long-suffering girlfriend drove a black Lexus and went to graduate school, but seemed to be home an awful lot as well. Their apartment -- a mirror of mine -- was six hundred dollars a month, which I’m sure she paid for. They could only fit two small leather loveseats, a portable TV (placed next to the door) and two fat cats in their living room. Like me, they had a desk tucked in the space that would have held a kitchen table, where the living room and narrow kitchen met. Their fax sat precariously on their kitchen half-wall.

Actually, the sad fact is Tim really produced a movie, a straight-to-cable Tarantino wanna-be gangster flick that starred Willem Dafoe. He went to Japan for two weeks in December to promote it and it was the only peace I had since I moved in in October.

My other enemy was the parking situation. The building didn’t come with parking. Actually, it did, but the few spaces that weren’t being used by the older tenants had been rented out privately -- an egregious move, beneath the worst LA slumlords. And apparently all the car dealerships on Santa Monica Blvd had their employees park on our block instead of their own lots. I began to dread leaving the house, fearful of the frustrating twenty-minute odyssey it would take to find a parking space.

On street cleaning days, it was even worse.

As if trying to find a free space during the week wasn’t bad enough, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, you had to park on one side of the street between one and three or risk a forty dollar ticket. On those days, parking veterans in neighboring buildings would peek out their windows looking for the meter maid, wait for her to pass, then run outside, jump in their cars and immediately park on the side of the street she just inspected, so that the following day, their cars would be on the “good” side of the street. Of course, with that method you couldn’t drive for twenty-four hours. Not to subscribe to that type of mercenary parking, I would run all my errands on those days between one and two thirty, time it so I came back a quarter to three and then park on the side that she had inspected, confident that she was way gone by then, evidenced by tickets on cars caught up in the sweep.

Another horrible realization I had is that I had moved into the same building I had left in New York. Not the same physical building, of course -- although the narrow, rusted copper mailboxes were the very ones I had on 35th Street, made in the 30’s, before magazines were invented (it would take a jaws-of-life to get them out and still shread the covers) -- but the same rent-stabilized purgatory filled with the physically or spiritually handicapped living -- living out rather, their rent-stabilized lives.

In New York, there was Ms. Levy, an old bat in a jet black wig and rubber gloves who lived in the building next door, also on the fifth floor, whose kitchen faced mine. She spent her days and nights obsessively cleaning, ranting to herself and reporting on pigeons and Puerto Ricans when she saw me through the window, which was, without fail, everytime I stepped into my kitchen. It got to the point where I had to permanently leave the shade drawn. Even then, she would get her broom and bang it against my window to get my attention. I fantasized about grabbing it and pulling her out with it, but then figured she would die soon of natural causes since she was in her 70’s and would most likely give herself a heart attack with all the screaming and crying jags she’d put herself through. Seven years later, she was still alive and I was still eating my meals facing a dirty shade, sunlight burning around the edges.

Two floors beneath me was the Youngs, who were anything but. They had moved in in 1947 and their apartment looked like it hadn’t changed since. It had a Victrola, old mouldings, a rotary phone, crystal doorknobs, faded dainty wallpaper and a separate “Honeymooners” kitchen. They paid $100 a month for their one bedroom, a deal most New Yorkers would have sold their soul for. But he was almost blind, walked with a cane, she had bad knees and with a broken buzzer, they both had to climb up and down three flights of stairs for everything and the nearest supermarket was a mile round trip. Often, they’d miss Meal On Wheels because of the locked front door. And only once in seven years did I see any of their children visit -- and they too lived in Manhattan.

And across from the Youngs was the married little Hispanic man in his 60’s with the yappy little Pomeranian that barked incessantly, who didn’t open his door to help me when I fell down a flight of stairs in front of his apartment and broke my tibia. “I no sorry,” he muttered from behind his door as I lay on his doormat, twisted in pain, the dog barking madly all the while. I saw him and that dog almost every time I left my apartment, no matter when, day or night. He spoke little English and I couldn’t imagine how long he lived in this country or what he could have done for a living or what he lived on or what he did all day when he wasn’t shadowing me. I would have moved to LA just to get away from him, get away from what he represented -- this tenement, vacuous existence, a rent-control state of mind: move into a cheap apartment and hunker down there until the building collapses or you die, never moving up -- or out of this world.

Now in LA, I had another tenant haunting me.

Bill was also in his early 60’s, was clean shaven with rosy cheeks, crisp chinos, a windbreaker, Pearl Vision frames with passenger window lenses, slicked back hair with a sharp part and lived directly above me. He had one of the few garages, though I only once in six months saw him take his pristine green convertible out, usually opting for walks around the block. I would run into him coming, going, checking my mail. All the “hi”s and acknowledging nods were tiring me. He told me he was retired, had worked at Columbia Pictures in the computer department (probably when they took up a whole room and could only do what calculators do now) never married (gay) was proud of his $500 rent after living at the Wyn Lyn for 30 years. He even was a bit smug about it, knowing I paid over twice that much for an identical cramped space. I did some quick math and figured if he bought a place in Santa Monica thirty years ago, he would have now PAID OFF his OWN HOUSE instead of throwing -- and still throwing a few hundred dollars a month -- to a landlord who couldn’t put in a mailbox that fit more than 3 letters. Not only that, the house would be worth many times than what he paid for it. Old fool. When I wasn’t bumping into him, he was above me pacing the floor and banging and sawing for hours, making, what I assumed could only be an ark. Maybe he did dream of getting away, after all.

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