Tag Archives: gentrification


How do I know if my neighbor is a gang member?
Do felons in California have to register their address?
Concrete vs cement?

But before I can dive into my google search history, I have to dig a hole. Three holes to be precise.

The ground is hard, nearly impenetrable. Jonathan Swift said, He was a bold man who first ate an oyster. But I say, He was a self-loathing man who first dug a hole. I have a myriad of tools: a shovel, a thing that requires two hands and looks like it could be used to serve an enormous salad, and something like a jackhammer that’s not a jackhammer which weighs as much as a Shetland pony.

Unskilled Laborer.jpg

Around each new turn I realize I know nothing of hard work. Last time it was a Jurassic Park-level cactus in my neighbor’s backyard. But that freakish plant is no more. Thanks to some version of hard work, it’s been slain and laid to rest in four trash barrels, each weighing three hundred pounds. Three hundred pounds of cactus gut and spikes. Some of it is still on the ground. Some of it is harpooned in my hands, legs, nostrils. I can’t sneeze without discovering a new alien spike lodged in me.

The mutant cactus is what brought me to the holes. Over time, presumable from when crack ravaged this community until last weekend, it flourished. It ate the fence between myself and my neighbor, just swallowed it whole. And since I now live in an area where people set off fireworks around the clock and the dogs never stop barking, I have taken to believing good fences make good neighbors. Or whatever Robert Frost wrote that people interpret for whatever case they’re attempting to make. So that’s what I’ll do. Misappropriate Robert Frost.Related image

A fence is a good thing because I don’t want to see the toilet that’s been sitting in my neighbor’s backyard for a decade and I don’t want my neighbors to see the toilet that’s been sitting in my backyard since Saturday. Also, my neighbor, who I’ve yet to meet, is allegedly a bipolar schizophrenic who I’ve been warned to not talk to. And he isn’t even my crazy neighbor.

It’s all new to me. Digging holes, a backyard full of toilets and cactus innards, seeing dogs with balls. The only thing that is familiar is not talking to my neighbors. I have that down pat. Other than a guy in Hollywood who I shared a hallway with for half a decade – who I’d drink beers with and talk about how we should find some place nicer to live than section 8 adjacent but we couldn’t beat the rent – I’ve not met one. I’ve just gone about my business not giving a shit about other people except for when it comes to institutional change. There I care. Here, in real life, I’m a bit more self-involved. I have holes to dig, walls to paint and a stack of New Yorkers that aren’t going to read themselves.

But lately I’ve wondered about meeting my neighbors. There is a new version of myself where I am a stranger in a strange land. I’m curious about this other way of life that exists south of the 10 freeway in places that people know from Mack 10 songs and documentaries about the Rodney King Riots.

Last week I was on set in what was supposed to be Columbus, Ohio but was actually the city of Hawthorne. East of the airport, most famous for the abandoned mall where Chris Brown shot “Party” and where gangs shoot each other as often as they can. While the location was being lit, I saw a police officer taking advantage of an ice cream truck that the production bought for the crew. She was 5’2 and her bulletproof vest came up high enough that she could rest her chin on it. While she ate a banana split, I asked: Had development from Inglewood overflowed into Hawthorne? No. Any shifts in the population? What? Any signs of gentrification? Um, we have a brewery now, she said.

I cut to the chase: I have a neighbor with the kind of face tattoos that you can only get in Salvadoran prisons. Should I be worried?

She shrugged, He’s probably a gangster.

Should I introduce myself? How does one exist with a gangbanger as a neighbor?

Under no circumstances am I to do that. Give him a head nod to show that you acknowledge and respect his presence, but then go inside. Stay in your lane.

I keep hearing this. Apparently, that’s how one maintains here: keep your head down. But also on a swivel. The cop tells me I shouldn’t do anything that people aren’t already doing. So no running up on cholos with blueberry pies and smiles.

Then she pulled up a map and systematically relayed the areas that I’m to avoid. All of Imperial. Most of Century Boulevard. Oh and stay out of Lennox. She said, You don’t go to Lennox.

Besides the homicide rate, a quick search revealed that Lennox has an air quality problem (thanks to LAX) that’s Flint, MI water level bad. But it’s in the hood, so apparently no one cares. My own air quality isn’t great. I’ve been huffing paint fumes every weekend for as long as I can remember (read: 2 weekends).

At the end of the day, there were three holes in the ground. Then a post was set. Then concrete that was mixed in a wheelbarrow was shoveled into the ground. I used to be stunned by One Last Poem for Richard. Now a dent in the earth, filled with concrete to support a fence post blows my mind. I think, this must be how they built the pyramids. Me and the Egyptians. We get it.

Of course I didn’t build the fence, but I was there. Across the street, my gang affiliated neighbor lit fireworks then rolled them under unsuspecting cars at the stop sign. I think I might go out of town for the 4th of July.

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Filed under De La Moda, House Hunters/Home Improvement

In which I Do Two Days of Hard Work

I’m thinking about writing a book: My Life as a Moron. The trouble is that I’m too busy living it.

There are many things that I know nothing about and I’m all too willing to accept this and return to the stuff that I do know and enjoy. But not everyone in my life accepts my shortcomings. So this weekend I bought a sander and alternately crouched, lay, sat, squatted and bent to sand baseboards.

This was, at the very least, a stupid thing to do.

I spent the weekend punishing myself because a professional casually recommended to the person in my life who refuses to accept that I know nothing about paint or paint-stripping or paint-scraping that I sand every baseboard in the house. In retrospect I recognize that this idea came from someone who speaks English as a second-language and my information was second-hand yet I took it literally. I bought a sander and boy did I sand.

It did nothing.

For ten hours, I exhausted myself while huffing lead-based paint and accomplished absolutely nothing. As I tirelessly made no discernible progress, I thought about all the times I’ve come home exhausted from a day of sitting in a room on a studio lot talking about how to make and execute episodes of television which would be produced, financed, acted in and directed by other people. And yet I thought I knew exhaustion.

I did not. I thought I knew tedium. I knew nothing of tedium. When people talked about back-breaking work, I thought it was a metaphor, hyperbole. And sure, I’m not so soft that I’ve never had a sore back but that was all done in good fun. Hell, I’ve even gotten a few calluses from deadlifting a couple times a year to remind myself that I’m not just a person who sits in front of a computer all day amusing myself with words. I can also pick up weights and drop them in an air-conditioned space surrounded by other people who spend their days hunched over keyboards alternately drinking coffee and La Croix (and don’t want to look like it).Image result for bad before and after jesus painting

As I lay on my stomach on a skateboard with a paint scraper digging into first 9 layers of paint and then because I’m unskilled: wood, I laughed. Probably from inadvertently snorting paint chips. It was the end of a long day of making a fool of myself in an empty house while my new next-door neighbor sang Drake, Shakira, Outcast then switched to a Spanish language radio station and listened to that for so long and so loudly that I learned the words to a Cal Worthington Ford dealership ad. In Spanish.

At this stage, a smarter person might retreat. They might beg the bank to take the money back – all of it – because really, what was so bad about renting a guest house in Silver Lake where I literally didn’t change my own lightbulbs? But I’m not a smarter person, so I’ll go back. I’ll change into an old t-shirt and strap on a pair of knee pads. I’ll put in ear plugs, don some safety glasses and I’ll run a sander aimlessly while wondering: where did my life go so wrong that I thought I could operate a power tool?

Next door Rampage will bark, my neighbor will blast Cardi B and in between battles with the apron of a window sill, I’ll watch youtube videos where people with tools that I don’t have and knowledge that I certainly don’t possess confirm that what I’m doing is futile and time consuming and should probably be left up to a professional. And yet… and yet.



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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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Filed under Formal Correspondence, House Hunters/Home Improvement

“I’m on the train!”

I was sitting on the train, trying to decode David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.. I had been trying to read for it entirely too long when he stepped on the train. Or rather, when he stepped on my foot.

“God damn, mother fucking! I don’t give a damn if I go to jail tonight!”

He reeked of Boonsfarm or some other cheap and fruity booze. Soon the whole train would reek of his wrath.

“And a black man in America. Martin Luther fucking King had his day. I don’t care if I go to jail, tonight!”

He started stripping down, layer after to layer. First he took off a large Pittsburgh Penguins Starter jacket, circa 1991, then a windbreaker, and then he took off a fleece. He threw article after article of clothing on the seat in front of him. He was about 5’4 and maybe 40 years old. I thought about switching seats. His scent was decidedly that of Skid Row Vet.

“Shut up! Just the fuck up! I’m on the train!” He was now down to just a tee shirt, which hung loosely on his thin frame. Piled before him was what looked to be half of the Fall Collection from the Salvation Army on Slauson Avenue.

He stood in the aisle of the train. I stared at my book and made as much progress as I had before his arrival. None.

Some people tried to read. Others just stared, waiting for him to make a move. Usually, things like this happen when I try and convince a friend from the suburbs to ride the train downtown with me. “Yeah, it’s safe,” I tell them. “It’s great and it’s just like the Tube in London. Nobody talks.” Fortunately or unfortunately, tonight I was on my own.

He frog jumped up in the air. He got pretty high in the air. Then he did it again and I jetted across the aisle and back a row. Everyone seemed to be laughing.

“Why don’t you sit down, sir,” a Teenage Girl’s voice called from the far end of the train. “You’re acting like a damn fool!”

“What!? What?” he charged her direction, but stopped and turned back. A hipster, clad in an oversized wool beanie, snug pea coat and skinny jeans stared blatantly. He stared more obviously than the rest. I figured it was because the Hipster was white and didn’t know better.

Retreating back to his seat. The 5’4 Penguins Fan curled up in a ball and started shrieking. People laughed. From the fetal position, which only a man of his stature could have fit, he yelped and sniffled loudly. After several minutes and a couple train stops he popped up, recharged.

“I am sorry,” he whined. “I’m wrong. I accept responsibility. I can’t help myself.”

The ethnically ambiguous Teenage Girl, who earlier told him to sit down, spoke up again.

“You’re going to hell.”

“What? What you say to me,” his voice creaked and carried. He was shocked.

“I said – you’re going to hell, sir.”

He flung himself out of the fetal position. “Jail! I’m not going to jail. You provoked me. You attacked me.” He lunged forward again. “I did whatever I did, but what I did, I did because of what you had prior, prrrrior, done to me.”

“I didn’t say nothing about jail,” she yelled back. “I said hell. You are going to hell.”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” he sounded like a freshly pressed Little Richard vinyl, dated 1952. “I am not. I’m not going to hell. You’re going to hell. Not me. I’m not going nowhere!”

Although some passengers looked scared, most stared on amused. Passengers turned off their mp3 players and listened with the their headphones in. Open paperbacks and newspapers went neglected. Even the wealthier downtown residents let their Blackberries sit dormant in pockets and purses. I was facing away from the scene, but I heard it all. The Hipster continued to stare; more so than the others.

“Stay where you are, sir.” The Teenage Girl yelled. “I’m warning you.”

“You provoked me,” he shuffled a few steps forward like a fencer on the attack. “I did nothing to you and whatever I did do, I did because of what you did to me and I had forgave you for what you had said…”

“I’m telling you stay where you are or we’re going to have problems. I’m warning you. If I have to get up; there’s going to be problems.” She couldn’t have been older than fourteen or fifteen.

He shuffled a few steps closer. He had traveled from the middle of the train all the way to the last section of seats.

“You’re the one going to hell. Ha!”

“Man, stay the fuck back.” She stood up and so did her plump Mexicana friend.

Another black man, a few years younger, stood up and walked over to the Penguins Fan.

“Hey man, why don’t you chill,” he whispered into the screaming man’s ear. “Take a seat. You don’t want any problems.”

“You take one step closer and I will beat the shit out of your drunk ass.” The Teenage Girl threatened. The Mexicana giggled. “I will kick your ass, you drunk fool!” There wasn’t an eye on the train that wasn’t glued to the scene. The Hipster was now standing, looming actually, over my seat.

“They’ll call the police and everything,” the younger black man tried to reason. “You don’t want that. You don’t want to go to jail. Just chill, chill.”

The Penguins Fan pointed at the Teenage Girl. “You provoked me!” He lunged his head forward then turned to walk back to his seat. The girls clapped loudly.

“That’s what I thought, you drunk fool. You asshole!”

He sat down with his pile of garments in front of him.

A scraggly looking black man with a beanie holding a crossword puzzle with words like “Administration” and “Progress,” tried speaking with him. “That’s right, take a seat, just take a seat. Take a seat.”

When the Penguins Fan was already seated. The scraggly man leaned over. “You’re making us look bad. Why you making us– all black folk, look bad?”

The Penguins Fan, who was making black folk look bad, started to wail and loudly cried out, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I can’t help myself. I can’t. I can’t help myself.”

“Stop crying,” he said. “Stop acting like how everything thinks crazy niggas act. You see any white people screaming on this train? Any Chinese? La-tin-nos?” He pronounced every syllable independently of the last. The scraggly man stood over the Penguins fan until he thought he’d made his point. Then he went back to doing the crossword and shaking his head.

All was quiet for a bit. The Teenage Girl got off the train. From outside she yelled, “Asshole!” and the Mexicana giggled again.

The 10:19 p.m. train to North Hollywood zoomed on. He started wailing again. Passengers couldn’t help, but laugh. He was curled up into a little ball. With his knees to his chin, we couldn’t even see him, but we could certainly smell him. He shouted and howled, at the top of his lungs, sometimes muffled by the seat or his arm and sometimes not.

The man with the crossword puzzle got off the train at the next stop. “Damn fool,” he muttered. My stop was next. I stood up and walked to the door. I wanted to get a peek at this guy, but not bad enough to get near him. It wasn’t worth a confrontation. He cried behind his seat and I waited for a glimpse.

When the train was almost to my stop, the Hipster stood up and took a seat next to the Penguins Fan. I couldn’t understand why. Maybe he was getting off at the next stop too. Though we had passed Vermont/Beverly, Vermont/Santa Monica and Vermont/Sunset, the stops where everyone with a fixed-gear and pervasive tattoos religiously exited.

Then he looked at the Penguins Fan. The Hipster’s head dropped down by the sobs. Ten seconds passed. I wondered what was being said. Then thirty seconds and a minute. The sobs stopped. The Hipster, looked like he was talking to the man who made all black folk look bad. He looked like he was whispering something, like he was trying to comfort the man. He stayed crouched next to the man who had jumped and screamed at the top of his lungs. The man who now laid in the fetal position talking to a white kid in a wool hat and skinny jeans.

I missed my stop awhile back so I got off at the next one. I walked by the pair. They were nearly cheek-to-cheek. When I got off, I stared from the platform and the train left, headed north, with the Hipster who missed his stop and the Penguins Fan who gave all other black folk a bad name.

-The Neapolitan Mastiff

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Filed under Staring Into A Cobalt Pool, unemployment