UNITED STATES—While I was waiting for that first renter, er, sucker, to walk through that door, see a room and say ‘I love it,’ I got to know the hood.
I got to know some of the homeys who hung out on the porch of 1980 Estrella. They slouched and got high, their ink-covered arms raised beer and pot to their mouths, and they were viewed from a real estate angle as a liability for the prospective renter. They had provided my raison d’etre for being on-site manager. I spoke Spanish and I was here to sweep the homeys off the porch. You gotta admit the view was great; those old downtown houses were up high, as if they awaited a flood, and afforded a fine view of the street and its denizens.
There was a shrimp from El Salvador, looked like he was 12, who had lost one hand to a land mine. He’d come up and flash a broken-toothed smile, “E.T.,” he’d say in that high hoarse voice and raise his arm with the stump and rotate it. The stump looked just like E.T., all right. I had to laugh and a little tear fit into my eyeball as everybody else laughed and grinned.
There was the professional drunk, Angel, who staggered right down the middle of Estrella Avenue, shunned and ridiculed by all humanity. Lucky for him we didn’t have many cars to speak of in that little atoll between Mt. St. Mary’s and the freeway. The people on foot owned the Avenue. Juanita, the neighborhood worrier, lived in the house behind us. She worried about Miguel, one of the homeys. But he looked very un-gangsta, with puka necklaces instead of tats and the curly hair you get when you cross the Caribbean and the African.
Juanita was worried because he smoked some kind of drug in a glass pipe, and he “loses himself,” she said. He had luck with the girls and he had to leave the neighborhood awhile after getting a girl pregnant or had gone to jail. I was never sure.
I’d still not met the owner of the house in person. Estrella Avenue was a lone outpost in a vast real-estate empire, but I knew the owner had plans and soon there’d be a locked gate in a wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the house; the homeys couldn’t intrude without a key. New grass could grow, and Jacinto would have to park his minitruck in the drive. But that was coming later. To provide security and order now was Grady, a fearful and insecure California neurotic thrust into the shoes of a building manager.
I dreaded walking back to the house after a movie, a trip to the store, or a visit to my friends on Nadeau Drive, and find them huddled on the steps drinking beer and smoking pot. I had to rehearse always: stand tall, you have the upper hand, also I had to remind myself of the option, if they didn’t move, I could call the cops. But before calling the cops I could THREATEN to call the cops. But it never came to that; they dispersed fairly docilely and didn’t talk smack, that I recall. I guess I played the role of manager pretty well, or heaven forbid, the homeys were polite within the gamut of their studied surliness.
There were mementos of their visits, for sure. They left empty beer cans. Other times they left behind spraypainted gibberish. My job was to paint it over ASAP. It was a neverending boulder of Sisyphus, recovering clean painted expanses and later to have them immediately tagged. There’s the broken windows theory’ take care of graffiti while it’s fresh, before it gives more miscreants permission to vandalize.
Look, it wasn’t all bad stuff. One time, after exiting from their porch perch, the homeys left behind an unopened Negra Modelo, my favorite, on the sill of the art-glass windows that indeed came to be replaced. The plywood covering it was removed and things were looking up at 1980 Estrella.
To be continued…
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of the humor collection “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon.com. Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.