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.We continue inside. It’s dark. I flip the light switch. Nothing. But light does come through what’s technically the roof. A small thing like holes in the roof won’t faze us. This is LA, not Portland. Rain is a myth. Rain is a false construct invented by the government to enslave us to outsourced privately owned water. Crystal Geyser is not my God. And besides, we’re not afraid of putting in a little work. Sweat equity! Elbow grease! Or more likely: A dude with good reviews on Angie’s List! We open a door to a closet that has been hastily built in the middle of the garage. Inside, several lights beam down on a dozen five-gallon paint buckets that are home to stalky, chest-high marijuana plants.
I thought I smelled something, she says.
Not me. I still haven’t shaken off the scent of the little guy who went bobbing for apples in the trash next to the Frenchman’s taco stand. But this is California in 2018! Weed is super legal. And really, what’s the difference between a grow room and a bougainvillea flanking an altar? Grow rooms are the original urban garden.
The aerial view made it look like there were two garages but there’s a septic tank next to a building similar in size to the grow room/garage. The sliding screen door no longer slides. I have to extract it and lean it against the building. Then we unlock the sliding glass door, which luckily does slide.
We could make these French doors.
Yeah, French doors with barbed wire trim and barred window accents.
We file in. I guess I’m doing this because Brene Brown says we should “Lean into the discomfort.”
It’s dark, but I can make out an undersized refrigerator with cans of baked beans on top. There’s a sheen to the place, like a settled soot. A grime that hangs not just in the air but has nested in every nook. Well, the ones that are well lit enough to see. To my left is what you might call a half bath. I can’t bring myself to get closer. I’m actually interested in fleeing. When my eyes adjust I notice a dozen roaches of both the insect and smokable variety. And a couch. And some silver wear. Well, actually just a spoon, singed and caked with a chalky white substance. Could be a mortar and pestle for artisanal salt. Or, because it’s next to a couple syringes, I guess it’s more likely heroin. Yeah, artisanal salt tends to be pink or black. I don’t even know where the closest World Market is.
So I’m ready to leave. I’m actually ready to sprint as fast as I can away from this house, this block, this neighborhood. I want to sprint to fucking Big Sur and soak up some unadulterated air. But we’ve got to do a post-game analysis.
We huddle. The price is right. It’s in the middle of the block. Street parking sucks but we could convert that grow room back into a garage. And if we put in 50k into it, we could turn that trap house into a studio apartment.
Did you see the heroin? I ask. The Schedule 1 Narcotic paraphernalia? A few weeks ago, we were talking flow and Feng Shui. Now we’re considering a hovel (with good bones) where instead of fresh baked cookies wafting through the house, it’s black tar heroin.
Yes. The answer is yes.
Well, fuck it. Let’s make this crack house a crack home.
I say that but all I really want to do is go back to Silver Lake. But yes, let’s make them an offer. It might look like Skid Row on the inside, but it’ll cut our commutes to work in half on the outside. And this is Los Angeles. And what matters is on the outside.