Silver Lake Couple Seeks Craftsman-style Crack House in South Los Angeles

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 1.19.05 PM.pngPeople keep telling us, “You’ll know it when you see it!” Which is maybe the funniest fucking thing I’ve heard in my entire life. We’re not wending around a bend in a quiet neighborhood that leads to a cottage that just needs a little TLC. We’re exiting the freeway at Crenshaw or Arlington, driving south, hanging a left at a KFC, then the Arco station, then parking across the street from two unaffiliated iglesias that are separated by two unaffiliated liquor stores.  And as soon as we’ve past the daycare that looks like it’s part of the Ariel Castro franchise, we’ve arrived.

Rather than a white picket fence, there’s a chain link one that the city put up four years ago after the neighbors complained that people were selling drugs out of the house. The cops sent the drug-trafficking tenants to prison, squatters moved in or never moved out, and the house got so bad that Code Enforcement had to put a fence around it, board it up and put up signs reminding people that this squat is in fact a private residence. We’ll know it when we see it? Oh, fuck off.

But we didn’t learn about the house being condemned from the seller, “New carpet! Good bones!” We’ve become professional sleuths. We’ve learned how to do the impossible – navigate city and public records. Based on citations, building permits and dental records, we’re able to determine that a perfectly lovely family spent like, 50 years not maintaining, but also not completely neglecting their home. Then someone old died and the significant other of that old person, who was old herself, was sent off to a facility to eat Jell-O with a group of her peers.

That was 2007 and probably would have been a good time to buy this slightly dilapidated but perfectly acceptable hovel. Even at the height of the housing bubble, you could have had it for 150k. I say “you” because in 2007, I was fairly certain that by 2018 I’d own a thatched roof bar on the beach somewhere south of Ensenada. I certainly had no intention of becoming a person who sits in front of a computer all day, then sits in traffic, then complains about work, traffic, a lack of exercise. I never would have dreamed I’d decide to find the only pocket of Los Angeles where I could possibly afford to displace the current residents and impose my will upon them. I thought I’d spend my nights pouring mescal and my days writing a thinly veiled novel about a guy from California who expatriates to Mexico, opens a beachside bar with a thatched roof, then discovers the crushing loneliness of being a stranger in a strange land with limited wifi. Why are we talking about this?

Oh yeah, you should have bought the place in 2007 before it was a crack house. Interestingly, becoming at crack house has only increased the value of the home. It’s like putting marble countertops in the kitchen or vaulting the ceilings in the master bedroom or restoring the original hardwood floors. Except they didn’t do any of that and now they’re asking for $730k which everyone agrees is a steal. Since we guess we’ll know it when we see it, we decide that we’ve seen it and we now know it. We put in an offer. We don’t pop champagne. We go back to Silver Lake and order a couple German beers even though neither of has ever appreciated a Spaten.

“I hope we get it.”

“I don’t really care.”


“Desperately desire a three-quarters of a million-dollar crack house once, shame on me. Desperately desire a crack house twice – well, now I feel like George W. I guess I mean I don’t know that I can keep getting excited about living in a house where the walls are coated with whatever is involved in making crack. Baking soda?”

“The neighbor said they didn’t make drugs there. They just sold them.”

“Strictly retail?” She nods. This is good news. Maybe even great news. “I never thought we’d be able to afford a place that wasn’t previous used to make drugs.”

“Well, they haven’t accepted our offer yet.”

“Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?”

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Let’s Make This Crack House a Crack Home

I’m standing at a shiny new taco stand where a Frenchman is excitedly, but not particularly efficiently making tacos. He takes square, apple pay, credit cards. This is the change I’ve been looking for. The Frenchman works slowly so we have a moment to take in the scenery. It’s 7 pm. Cars and buses careen down Jefferson while Mexican kids with Beats by Dre headphones blow through red lights on fixed gear bikes. It’s encouraging. The only noticeable downside is the air or the street or the bottom of my shoe smells like shit. I check the ground in front of me, the bottoms of my Clarks.

What are you doing? She asks.

Confusion. Purposelessness. These are signs of weakness. They make you vulnerable, a potential victim in an unfamiliar land. I don’t want to be what the boys at the LAPD call a “walking victim” so I refuse to answer. Or maybe I don’t answer because I’m sort of an asshole.

Eventually, like an underperforming blood hound, the scent leads me to turn around. A man who is roughly the size of the trash can he’s buckled over, lifts himself out. He smiles. Eau de shit isn’t just delicately doused behind his ears, around his décolletage. He’s caked in it.

A lead brought us here. A house that’s just been listed. The realtor’s phone number is 714: Orange County. Amateurs. He doesn’t know what he has on his hands so we plan to move and move quickly. Thus the 7 pm weeknight viewing.

The house has good bones – that’s a thing that I apparently say now. It also features a sparkling popcorn ceiling (sparkles indicate that the absence of asbestos or the presence of a previously insane tenant). Floor-to-ceiling mirrors line what feels like the entire house. There are two bathrooms. One that appears to have been condemned and left untouched since 1970 and another that has been meticulously maintained since the day it was created in 1970. Other than that, an estimated $15,000 in termite damage and a heating system that makes the talking furnace from Home Alone seem cutting edge, it’s perfect. We really love it, you guys.

And there’s more. A backyard. We checked out the google aerial view before we came but what we’re seeing now is a substantial slab of cement. Maybe 10×10! We could line it with succulents and other plants fit to survive catastrophic levels of neglect. On to the garage, which connects off the alley. Which is great! Because parking in this neighborhood seems impossible. So impossible that men old enough to drive and young enough to still walk dedicate whole evenings to chatting while double parked and waiting for a  coveted spot.IMG_1329.jpg Continue reading

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A Word of Advice from the LAPD: Stay in Silver Lake

Things I’ve learned as a potential homebuyer

  1. People assume you’re going to put in “sweat equity.”
  2. Sweat equity requires a hammer, two types of screw drivers, familiarity with a place called Home Depot, the desire to spend weekends splattered with paint sweating through an old and preferably gray t-shirt.
  3. People still buy, sell and smoke crack in Los Angeles.

We find the perfect house. I find it. That’s how deep in this shit I am. I found it on Instagram. We drive south to the open house. Everything is south.

It’s a gorgeous craftsman bungalow. It’s been beautifully restored by a Frenchman who knew love, lost it, then found it again in Riverside County. I don’t actually meet him. I learn a version of this from his realtor. Her eyes pull in opposite directions so I stare at the smooth skin between her brows.

We love the house, but we can tell this is going to be competitive. There are many skinny, bespectacled men with tuffs of hair protruding from their collars. The ones we’re most concerned about look like Moby and have Asian wives. There are three Moby look-a-likes with Asian partners and each is more serious than the last.

She says we should act fast. We talk to the realtor about how much we love the home, the community, the rich history of this part of LA that we’ve avoided for ten years. Actually, I don’t say any of this. I’m locked in on the realtor’s eyes again and the magnetic force pushing them apart. She says it’s a gorgeous home, has no answers for our “hard questions” (Where’s the electrical?), and unprovoked, says that the neighborhood is safe. We decide to take a walk around the block.

The Mobys, their Asian wives and their African American realtors huddle outside. We size each other up. It’ll be awkward later when we’re trying to determine which of the five silver Subaru hatchbacks belongs to us. 4 out of 5 have National Parks passes hanging on the rearview, but we’re a long way from Yosemite.

We walk the block and remark: Not bad. A few looks from neighbors – we wave. It’s good to see people outside. It’s like a built-in neighborhood watch where people gather on their porches and stoops to stay hydrated with, well, 40s, but still. It’s encouraging. I point out a woman sitting outside, taking in the afternoon sun. This is a good sign. We wave. She exhales and a plume of smoke hangs in front of her face. No matter how you cut it, it’s good to see residents enjoying the neighborhood. That’s what we tell ourselves.

We round back to the house and pass another cluster of Moby couples before heading inside. We confirm: it’s big, it’s a little more than we wanted to spend, but let’s do this. We shake the wild-eyed realtor’s hand and assure her, Oh you’ll be hearing from our realtor.

The woman in my passenger seat mentions the police station on a corner named for a Civil Rights activist who was murdered. Historically, a street named for him is a telltale sign that you’re in a place that doesn’t have a ton of pressed juice options. That’s okay. I don’t really like juice, pressed or otherwise. She says we should get their opinion on how the neighborhood is changing. We know that they see the worst side of society yet we remain unflinchingly optimistic.

The Southwest Division is quiet this Saturday morning. A TV in the corner plays silently. There’s an enormous bust of a former chief. Behind the counter are three white officers in their mid-twenties with biceps protruding from under their blue uniforms. They look like guys who played varsity football in towns just outside of Sacramento, Sedona and Salt Lake City. “Would you like to file a report?” No, no. Nothing like that.

We lay out our situation. We give them the address of the home we just toured, say we’re planning to move to the general vicinity and we’re eager to hear any advice or insights they might have. We want to go in with our eyes open.

The moment hangs and we get it – there’s a lot to discuss. They look at each other then burst into laughter. All three of them. Heaving. Buckled over. Tears running down their faces. They have to lean on the desk to steady themselves. And just when we think they’re through, they buckle over again. This lasts for about seven minutes.

Then they confirm, “You two,” they point at us, “want to move to this neighborhood?” They shake their heads. One guy pulls out a map of the gangs in the area. Admittedly, there are a lot. “Those are just the Black gangs.” He turns the page, “Here are the Hispanic ones.” The tallest of the three gets angry, “Don’t move here. Move to Silver Lake.” We tell him that’s where we live. Stay there. They show us a map of all the crimes in the last 24 hours. They tell us about a shootout two blocks away from the house we love. They tell us about someone who had a potted succulent thrown at her head, which doesn’t land on us the way they had hoped it would. We love drought-conscious plants.

They urge us to not move down here, but if we’re going to insist on turning ourselves into “walking victims,” we’ll have to fortify ourselves. Walls, bars on windows, barbed wire on top of the fence, flood lights and cameras everywhere. We say we want to keep the integrity of the craftsman bungalow. They say it’s in our best interest to mirror another piece of classic American architecture: Camp Fallujah.

So are we out of our minds for considering to move here?

They nod. Stay in Silver Lake.

Where do you guys live?




We get in our silver Subaru, drive 14 miles north where we slurp tonkatsu ramen and lick our wounds. Later our realtor texts us. The house is going for 100k over asking, site unseen, all cash. I’m guessing they didn’t swing by the police station.

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Gun Store, Liquor Store, Yoga Studio

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The Kindness of Strangers (in Public Bathrooms)

Two blow dryers, one next to each ear, each geared to its highest setting. That’s the first wave. Then the Morse code. She puts on clogs, which are really more like mallets for her feet. Once she’s in her clogs, she practices her vertical, soaring several feet in the air before landing back on the ground where she tries her best to stomp through our wooden floors. It’s as soothing as when your phone convulses with an Amber Alert.

Once she’s completed her clog-to-floor Morse code message, but before she leaves, she hovers over me to make sure I’m still pretending to be asleep. I am. She walks to the front door, opens it and then with all her strength, using two hands, she slams it as hard as she can. The frame of the house shakes, the windows next door rattle, a cat scaling our fence loses its balance as a wave of vibration rolls through our neighborhood, kicking up loose chunks of sidewalk and jolting the SmartCars and Mini Coopers between Riverside Drive and the 101.

Now that my cortisol levels are through the roof, it’s time meditate.

With expanded lungs and an open heart, I follow Sunset Boulevard from Silver Lake to Hollywood. I pull into a hospital across the street from one of the dozen Scientology Centers between Highland and Hillhurst. Inside the hospital, a woman sticks a needle in my arm. It’s full of poison. A small dose. They call this a flu shot. There may be pros and there may be cons, but like the samples at Costco, I’m not doing it because I’m particularly interested in an eighth of a chicken pesto wrap, I’m doing it because it’s free.

Before I leave, I slip into the bathroom. I’m walking with my head down, scrolling through Twitter, not registering anything: more sex offenders, more natural disasters, more school shootings and a Harold Pinter quote that I read three times and still can’t make sense of. That’s what I’m doing. I’m saying a Harold Pinter quote from a play I’ve never read in my head when I look up to see a guy, with what I guess you’d call a carbuncled face and hair like Don Draper, staring at me. He’s smiling. “Hey man.”

Remember, I’ve meditated. People say hi and I say hi back. Compassion, empathy, “I care about your pain, darling.” Some Buddhist teacher said that. I nod. He holds up a plastic bag with a small cup inside, “Would you mind?”

“I care about your suffering.” I don’t say that to him, but I think it. This is someone asking for help and I know how hard that can be. I take the cup in the plastic bag and walk to the stall. It’s locked. I think about waiting but he nods at the urinal. Sure.

While he stands behind me, I fill the plastic cup with remnants of hot water, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Fuck me if I’m not my guru’s follower. I walk over to the sink, wash my hands and pass the carbuncled Don Draper my urine. He takes it from me like he’s taken the urine of a thousand men before me, which makes me feel better because I was starting to feel weird about this whole thing.

He raises his eyebrows, doesn’t say thanks and walks out of the bathroom. But that’s okay. I don’t need to be thanked, because I care about his pain, right? His suffering? Though it’s starting to feel like my morning practice of compassion is wearing off. I’m starting to feel like, yes, I’m psyched I was able to pay it forward, I hope that if I ever need a stranger’s urine, someone will pee in a cup for me. But I’m also feeling like, How about a fucking thank you, Don?

Not for the first time, my medical provider declines to validate my parking. I trot to the structure, pay $54 for my 32 minute visit. I’m on my way to work when it occurs to me that as well intentioned as I may have been, as pure of heart as I hope to be, I did have an edible last night before I watched Dunkirk, so that guy is definitely going to fail his drug test.

But hey, purity of my urine aside, I still care about your suffering, darling.

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Soundbath Sociopath


I’m told it makes me a monster. I stand and receive one of our soon-to-be depleted resources, carelessly letting it fall on and around me like it will last forever, and how do I celebrate this communion? With a quiet lather.

It’s something I don’t share with people. They either think I’m a sociopath or they simply don’t believe me. “Come on, when you’re alone and the pressure’s cranked and you’re feeling like a million bucks?”

“It’s never occurred to me.”

“Sure, bro. Sure.”

So I keep it to myself, this secret, the secret that I… I don’t sing in the shower.Don't Speak, I Know Just What You're....jpg

But the secrets don’t stop there. The Canadian man who leans into the small of my back pushing me deeper into pigeon pose tells me (and the rest of the room) that I’m deserving of love. After ninety minutes of paid instruction on how to follow my breath, I corner the Canuck.

“Yeah, so about that deserving of love thing—” He closes his eyes and nods his all knowing head. “So, am I still deserving of it if I set my Spotify to private so I can listen to Chief Keef and other sirens of misanthropic drill music while lifting weights in an effort to lift more and heavier weights so in this alleged “survival of the fittest” world I can readily beat the living shit out of my fellow man — even you — even though I respect you and all your slow breathing, it’s really helped me a ton. But you know, if it came down to it, I’m only listening to that stuff so I can prepare myself for the moment when I may have to crush not your um, spirit, but your actual skull. Am I still deserving of love?”

His eyes are kind and deep. Well, I don’t know about deep, they’re the size of marbles. So even though I can’t speak to their depth, they’re definitely kind. The man who fled the rule of Justin Trudeau says, “This is where your mind drifts, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s just an invitation to return to the present, to follow your breath back to the moment one inhalation,” he breathes in deeply, “and one exhalation.” He breathes out for what must be two full minutes. He reaches up and puts his little Canadian hand on my shoulder. “I’m actually doing a soundbath workshop on Saturday that deals with exactly what you’re talking about.”

“Really? Which part?”

“Well, it’s a full hour of yoga, so I’d say all of it. There’ll be steel drums and — you know what? Let me get you a flier. I have a feeling this one’s going to fill up fast.”DJ Soundbath.jpg

And my next secret? I ride two hundred miles into the desert on the back of a knock-off Asian Vespa to listen to steel drums bounce off the Rockies and our chakras. And in a way, my problems begin to resolve themselves.

We don’t shower, so there’s no longer any reason to feel shame about the thirty one years of quiet showers I took before I arrived here.

And there’s no wifi. I’ve gotten to a place (spiritually?) where I’m so paralyzed (free?) that I don’t know how to listen to music without wifi or at least a cell signal. Just like that, Chief Keef falls out of my life.

I’ve been reborn. I mean, I’ve only been out here for two hours, but just like the flexible Canuck promised, the soundbaths have healed me. I’m whole again.

Now I’m just throwing this out there but — is it a call for help if you find yourself screaming, “Om” in the middle of the California desert with a throng of Silver Lake moms who are all thirty-three and speak English with a British lilt even though they moved here when they were nine? Or… am I finally home?

With the palms of my hands together over my heart and my brain slowly leaking out of my ear, namaste.

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A Sample of the Red Flags that Made Me Realize I Desperately Need a Job

1.jpg-I was walking home from Trader Joe’s and I saw a group of people shuffling into a colorful building. It ended up being a guided meditation for gay addicts in recovery. It was hard to get a word in, but I decided to stay. I’ve been going twice a week since May.

-On June 3rd, I rode my bike twelve miles to get a taco because I couldn’t find my car keys.

-Nine hours ago, I was shirtless in my bedroom. I was also pantless. But I wasn’t thinking about my lack of shirt or pants, I was watching two flies buzz between my bedside lamp and a photo of myself wearing a suit on a mountain looking very lost.

I’ll spare you the gory details but in quick succession I killed both flies. One with a New Yorker[1] where I was reading about a divorced lesbian couple in Manhattan who were fighting each other for the right to raise Abush. According to the article, Abush is a six-year-old boy from Ethiopia.

Before I killed the fly, I had already decided that these presumably bored (read: loving) millionaires also needed jobs. Or more demanding jobs. Or they could adopt more children from Ethiopia. Or America. They needed to do something to keep Abush as far from the limelight as possible. And I say this as someone who grew up on the Central Coast where there were more kids named Forest than Bill.

But this isn’t about people named after and for shrubbery. Three months ago, I had killed one, maybe two flies in my life. In the last week, I’ve killed at least double that figure. We’re talking upwards of three flies. If I don’t find myself in an air conditioned building with free coffee and a desk with a phone I’ll never answer, I worry that I could kill as many as a half dozen flies before the year is even over. This troubles me.FullSizeRender.jpg

-Yesterday, I put my left foot on an escalator’s handrail, brought my head to my knee and had a nice long stretch for three floors in the Sunset Boulevard location of Kaiser Permanente.

-I went to the doctor for what I’ve heard called a “check up.” Nothing was wrong with me. I told the doctor that, but also said if he wanted to put his stethoscope on my back and listen to me breathe or whatever, he was welcome to do that. He looked at me like I was fucking insane, confirmed from a distance that, at least physically, I was fine and then told me that they didn’t validate parking for patients. My co-pay was $15. Parking in the structure for 53 minutes was $86.

-Since Sunday, I’ve spent nine hours in the sauna and two in the steam room and I fucking hate the steam room.

-I introduced myself to someone who I thought was my neighbor because I’ve seen him on and off for the last five years. He replied, “I’m carrying mace and as a member of the United States Postal Service I’d be within my rights if I used it on you right now.”

-I’ve started wearing sunscreen even though I once saw a poster in the nurse’s office in college with a teenage girl sporting a neon tank top and third degree sunburn. A blurb above her remorseful face read: 80% of skin damage occurs before the age of 18. I was 19 at the time and decided then and there I was never going to wear sunscreen again. The nurse told me that I definitely had alcohol poisoning but the worst was over and to be careful. She was so sincere that I felt one of us should cry. It was a relatively short game of chicken before she walked me out. I won’t say who left in tears because I’m a gentleman.

-I’ve watched both seasons of “All or Nothing” with the LA Rams and the Arizona Cardinals and I have no idea who won the Super Bowl last year.

-I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt from my high school (average class size: 107) and I almost introduced myself.

-On Wednesday around midnight, I got home from hockey and was greeted by two coyotes on the stairs leading up to my place. I thought, “Well, if I have to fight these ‘yotes to the death, so be it.” But then I remembered the flies I’d killed. Flies with fly families and fly children who probably stayed up at night wondering if their fly mother and father loved them and would ever come home; flies that can relate more to Jeff Goldblum than I can because I’ve never seen that movie.

As I stood there, my shoulder going numb from the weight of my hockey bag and my head full of Jeff Goldblum, which is exactly what that fucking guy would want, I saw the coyotes were long gone and while I might not have a job, I did still have four episodes of “The Keepers” waiting for me upstairs, and in this life, well, that’s more than enough.

[1] I signed up for a trial subscription seven years ago and I haven’t figured out how to cancel it. As a result, I’m wildly cultured.

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