After graduating from college, I moved to Los Angeles in June 1977, after an eventful trip west on my mortally wounded ’75 Suzuki T-500.
The first place I lived on my own was a dumpster apartment complex in Van Nuys, Located on the corner of Victory and Fulton Blvd, it backed up to a dinky strip mall on Victory Blvd. California Donuts, a CPA, laundromat, maybe a dry-cleaners. It was right across the street from Jimmy Smith’s Supper Club, where Jimmy held forth on his Hammond B-3 Fridays thru Sunday nights.
Immediately across the street was an Alta-Dena Drive Thru Dairy, where you could buy milk, smokes, and the LA Times for a dime (but not all together). Down the street was Changing Times Hair Salon, owned by the irrepressible Juan Lizarraga; “Hair styled by Pierre of Pacoima, formerly Walter of Watts”. But that was in the future.
The traffic was constant, the air gritty with smog, and the neighborhood was relentlessly ugly. It seemed all the trees were several blocks away.
The apartment building itself was a faded 2-story courtyard complex with an alligator pond for a pool. I looked at the apartment the day after my grubstake arrived after being lost in the mail for three weeks. I’d been staying with a college friend whose young marriage was dissolving, the job she’d lined up for me had evaporated, and my wheels were a gigantic beast of a Dodge ’71 pickup truck to replace my dead motorcycle.
When I walked into the courtyard, the pool was half-empty, with several of the mullet-headed vato chicas with their KISS Army t-shirts and heavy eye makeup standing around looking at it. The rental agent was glad that the unit was occupied, and vanished seconds after I wrote the check.
Everything I owned in the world fit into the corner of the apartment, which was $200 a month. That night I went to a Lucky supermarket, wandered the aisles, wondering what I was going to feed myself. I remember buying fish, white rice, household stuff, and a mop. Then I went home and made dinner, and ate it in silence.
As the days passed, I slowly began to come to terms with my new home. The building manager was a rowdy Filipino with a large fish-tank. The Vietnamese extended family lived in one of the 2-bedroom units in the back; the patriarch, wife, daughters, grandchildren, and the Anglo son-in-law. There was a spectacularly ugly Chicana who lived upstairs, and had a face an iguana would’ve loved. She entertained callers at all hours.
The Filipino vanished after a late-night drunk-fight with one of his homies ended in a sickening crack of his fish-tank, followed by a dead-silence, then 50 gallons of aquarium and fish hitting the carpet. He was replaced by a married couple that used their 2 small boys as basketballs. Tom, the husband, was a comic-book palooka with a room-temperature IQ. The wife was a porcelain-faced, Cupid-bowed mouth, heavy-hipped foghorn whose profanities were loud and memorable. Nothing she said was ever less than 90db.
I looked for work. Navigating this very large, strange city was exhausting. My truck got 8mpg with a tail-wind, had one locking door, and a concrete-splattered bed, minus the tailgate. The FM radio had 3 options; KBCA for jazz, KROQ for low-wattage New Wave, and maybe KMET for what’s now classic rock. It was the Ultimate Chick Repellant, which might as well have said “Never Get Laid” on the sides. I’d park this beast next to Jags, Benzos, anything that looked better than me. Nobody jacked my portfolio.
Looking for work here was only somewhat better than looking in Cleveland two years earlier. Now I didn’t have a fallback. This was it.
“Aw kid, it sucks now. You shoulda been here two years ago!”
“Didja go to Art Center? You shoulda”
I kept at it because I’d crossed the Mississippi with the express intention to escape Ohio. I got a hand-typed rejection letter from ABC. After that, the mailbox was empty most of the time. My dad sent a large box with paperbacks he’d plowed through and tossed. There were days I didn’t leave the apartment.
One day I got a call from a tiny magazine I’d interviewed at. Was I still interested? Uh, yeah. I was down to my last $150. It’d taken me 3-1/2 weeks to find a job. Now I had it.
Only later did I understand how lucky and fat that was.
Brilliant writing! My favorite: There was a spectacularly ugly Chicana who lived upstairs…”
Iguanas would cross the street when they saw her coming.
“…room-temperature IQ” I’m still laughing, can’t wait to tell others about this article!
There’s more in the pipe, guar-an-teed!
Always such wonderfully vivid, succint storytelling. This makes me want to go back in time and give you a hug and $20.
thanks! My good fortune is that I know you now!
Ha! I know that area quite well: “Located on the corner of Victory and Fulton Blvd…” is the same block an office I rented until a few months ago.