Tag Archives: South LA

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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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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I’m on Crenshaw Boulevard and no one is reading Proust

The long ZZZ

Don’t I ever do anything but stare longingly at the 405 carpool lane, I thought, as I stared longingly at the 405 carpool lane.

As if the thousands of brake lights flashing in front of me wasn’t a clear enough indicator, I peered deep into my phone for confirmation. Google Traffic was a river of red dotted streaks where there used to be freeways. I had time to kill. I decided to sing the only Christmas song I could remember.

“On Denver, on Dover, on Dubai and Blitzen. On Helsinki, Reykjavik, strippers and vixens…”

And so the song went as I went from the 405 to the 10 East.

I exited on Crenshaw Boulevard. I drove south again. South toward South Central Los Angeles.

South Central Los Angeles: once home to African American Males With Attitude (Or A.A.M.W.A.). Now home to Central American immigrants, Kendric Lamar, and two lesbian poetesses who just want to be left alone.

I spotted a postal employee and wondered whether he had read Chuck B.’s novel on being a man of the post in Los Angeles.


I leaned back my seat. When in Rome… I was practically supine, leaving what happened in front of my car to fate. Fate, I laughed to myself. I was driving along Crenshaw Boulevard.

In these types of neighborhoods, instead of having a Starbucks on every corner, there’s a liquor store. Instead of people standing outside texting or pretending to read Proust, people are talking, and they’re talking loudly. Almost all of them are talking to themselves.


But I had a job to do. I turned right off of Jefferson and headed south. I drove very slowly so as to not miss anything such as: the man selling vacuum cleaners on a basketball court or the gentlemen wrapping tin foil around street lights.

I pulled up to the address I’d been given. It looked like all the other houses on the street: impenetrable. There was a fence and about ten signs that warned of a malicious, but yet unseen dog that would kill if push came to trespass.

Typical home south of the 10

The door opened. A Hispanic woman in either her thirties or seventies opened one door then another and then another. She peeked her head out, store-bought blonde, and asked me if I was here about “the drapes.”

The meaning of drapes was seemingly endless, but I surmised, in this instance, drapes was likely code for either cocaine, heroin, bath salts, speed, crank, meth, immigrant sex slaves, locally-produced sex slaves, “hot” iPhones/iPads/MacBooks, pirated DVDs featuring Catherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher or Chinese Democracy—the album.

“Yeah, I’m here for the drapes.”

“Come in.”

“Um, is there a dog I should be aware of?”

She laughed, waved me in. I gulped then sprinted all seven steps to the door. Once I got there I didn’t feel much better.

It was a mini-factory within a house. It looked like the inside of a meth addict’s mouth. And I was inside, which pretty much meant I was making-out with a meth addict. (Not to make light of meth addiction or the destruction it causes to mouths, but I’m trying to make it clear that this wasn’t Versailles, yo.)

I handed the woman a blank check for $500 dollars.


“I don’t have any cash,” I said. “Sorry.”

With an acrylic nail she tapped the trash bag on the table. The table was tall and crowded with rolls of material and carpet. Across the table, a few Hispanic women pretended to not notice that I was hyperventilating. I was hyperventilating because while all this was going on I was bracing myself for the moment when I would be clubbed over the head with a drain pipe from some abandoned home which I would likely wake up in—if I ever woke up—from my forthcoming bludgeoning.

“And that one, too.”

Three little boys, maybe seven years old, tossed another bag on to the table.

“O.K.” she said.


She nodded. I threw the bags over my shoulder and made for the door. I figured I was either walking out of there with the bodies of two recently slain gang members (age: 8 and 10) or twenty odd kilos of Colombia’s Most Stepped On.

AA esta cerrado... entonces?

I threw the bags in my trunk, turned on the ignition and held my breath until I was on the freeway again and west of La Cienega. I passed five cops, forty-two transients, three white chicks, fifteen ads for Mexico’s most flavorful beer and one apartment complex called The Rosa Parks Villas.

What did I do with the bags? Well, I did what anyone would with trash bags of unknown contents procured in South Central. I dropped them off at an elementary school in Encino.

(This is in no way an admission of guilt. Any bags found with cholito corpses are merely coincidental. Any bags full of contraband with a decent street-value may be returned to sender: 1825 Wilcox Ave. #1, Hollywood, CA 90028)

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