UNITED STATES—Room inspections were a routine part of Wylie’s real estate empire—an empire which included the half dozen houses, give or take, and actually a fleabag hotel, The Palmer House, with a prime location on L.A.’s downtown skid row. As an employee, I was not immune to the room inspections. One day he was showing the Manhattan Place, which was potentially for sale like everything else in the empire. I was out that morning and Wylie saw the shambles of my housekeeping: dust, clothes on the floor, papers all over the place. Until the intrusion of the real estate people, I had been blissfully unaware of how my housekeeping might look.

My room was on the second floor, where the heat gathered that spring, one day reaching a record 112. It had a window that looked across the driveway and over to the bungalow of the neighbors, Salvadorans who did mechanic work outside the garage. One of the family was married, and once or twice they left the curtain open to their nightly gymnastics. It made for spicy viewing on those hot spring nights when I’d barge back into my room after an evening of dunning tenants, that is, hitting them up for back rent.

My shame at the real estate people seeing my room as it was—a shambles—was equal to shame that the coupling couple may have felt and that compelled them to keep their curtains usually drawn. It was a turning point being caught with my housekeeping pants down. I steadily shaped up after that in that roomy rectangular from the teens or twenties.

Down the hall in the front room lived Joe a raspy voiced, rampant, bearded beast of a man, a prince of a man from Milwaukee. A stand-up with a master’s degree in History and a great knowledge of the Mideast. There was a stream of visitors and a flow of phone conversation.

The room next to me, facing the dusty back yard belonged to Nikki, a cute blond girl who’d come to Los Angeles to study to be a stewardess; she’d practice the codes to the international airports. As a matter of fact, she was from Watsonville; we had in common that farming town that most have eaten, in the form of strawberries and broccoli, but few have stopped in.

Amy Garrity a tall, confident redhead was my first new tenant as full time manager, and the house at Kenwood Avenue was a bit more working-class than maybe I had been accustomed to back in St. Louis. On the weekends, she came over to use our washing machines on the back porch. She felt clean and safe here. Well, Joe by the time she finished folding her laundry, had invited her to join him at a Thai restaurant.

“Victory belongs to the brave,” said Joe. Who wouldn’t want to be Joe? At the office they thought he was crazy and Wylie, the recipient of some very pointed phone messages from Joe detested him in that very shallow way typical of landlords with sixty-odd tenants. Joe was a warrior for decent plumbing and hot water.

During a much later inspection, Wylie got wise that Joe’s downstairs room served only as an office and it was a front for the stairs in the closet that rose to the attic level, which Joe had made into a man cave. And he had boarded over the rafters where that capped gas tubes still ran that provided gaslight to the mid city homes long after it had become a relic in the rest of the country.

Oh yeah, poor old Estrella Avenue had its coin washer removed. Somebody had pried off the top and robbed all the quarters—no doubt for the ephemeral joys of a crack pipe.

Grady Miller is a humorist. You should read his early pieces in “Late Bloomer” (on Amazon) selected from when he used to be funny.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)