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How To Say ‘Los Angeles’ In Comanche, Part 2
So there we were, my nephew, little sister, and myself in a small white four-door Saturn LE leaving the the outskirts of Barstow. I had just called our host to notify him where we were.
Let me explain what little back history I had with this host at that point. He was the host of an online blog radio program based out of L.A. When Velroy was published, his radio show was one of the very first interviews I did to promote the book. After the interview he told me that he actually enjoyed the book and thought Los Angeles would be a great place for me to start on a reading tour. Giving it some thought, I contacted him back a week or so later and agreed to come out to California. I even worked it out with my friend who was driving in from San Diego for us to read together at these venues. The host was in love with the idea, and promised us both good venues where we would be the whole set. There was even a couple of readings on the Sunset Strip. He assured me he could put me up at his place along with my nephew and sister. Apparently his cousin had a vacant furnished home where we could stay the whole time. I was really psyched about the idea at that point.
Anyways, right when we pulled into the city limits of San Bernardino, the oil pressure light in my car comes on. So we pulled into a 24-hour gas station to see what could be done. Lifting up the hood, bellows of black smoke rolled off the hot engine and into our faces. After pouring in a few pints of oil, it was then I called my host and told we had made it without mentioning car problems. My host was happy to hear we made it and made good time. Again, he said to call when we got close to North Hollywood for directions to his home.
After that though, from San Benardino to North Hollywood, the guy called my cell phone every 15 minutes, consecutively, to get a status report. During the status reports, I received directions, piece by piece, to his residence which was located off Van Nuys Avenue. Thank God for GPS on cell phones. After navigating through freeways and going past network studios and the neon fronts of liquor stores, we finally made it. The last phone call, the host told us once we pulled up on his street, he would meet us in this parking lot. So we arrived and parked in this vacant parking lot with a rusted out El Camino on cinder blocks in one of the overgrown corners. And the vehicle looked like it had sat there since the late 80’s. It was a parking lot with no street lights. In the shadows lurked our host.
So far, the only contact I had with this individual was by cell phone. By his voice, I mentally pictured him a bit hipsterish, energetic, vegan, Latino. An up and coming poet in his mid to late twenties who had an edge, as well as good social networks, due to his radio show. He would know other L.A. poets and how to navigate L.A.’s poetry maze of book stores, coffee shops, poetry lofts.
Out of the dark and into the headlights of my car, here came a mid-forties, short scruffy, trucker-looking man. He wore thick lensed glasses in wire frames that had to be at least fifteen years old. His teeth were stained dark brown from drinking pots of black coffee all his adult life at small dingy cafes tucked neatly away in the corners of L.A.’s poetry scene. Despite the initial shock of appearances (me, a 300 lb Comanche who writes poetry), I expected warm welcomes and fist bumps as comrades-in-arms. But no, the only greeting we got was, “Follow me…”
So I left my car in this vacant lot. After passing a couple of burnt-out houses and the burnt wire frame of a couch tossed out onto the sidewalk, we arrived to our “furnished place to stay.” But to actually get to the entrance, we had to navigate down this ill lit driveway. It was a 25 square yard labyrinth of 8 ft tall cinder block walls and broken down RVs. Three to be exact. We entered the residence, it was a garage where our host lived. Inside, was his bed which was the top part of a children’s bunk bed set. Underneath the bed, hung all the clothes he owned. And he had a love seat and a small bed stand with a 20 inch T.V. nestled in the middle of the hung clothes. The linoleum floor was covered with empty milk cartons, old, torn food wrappers, and dirty clothes. But in one corner of the garage, there were a couple of shelves hung on the wall. Neatly placed on the shelves in alphabetical order were books of poetry—classical, modern, and contemporary. On the love seat and watching TV was the host’s girlfriend, a student in a Creative Writing program somewhere in central California.
This was where our host had planned for us to stay. This was the cousin’s “vacant furnished residence.” The host insisted that my sister, nephew, and myself, all three of us, sleep in his bunk bed. As I mentioned earlier, I am a big man; my nephew is about the same size as me. The two of us, alone, could not fit in that children’s bed. The host appeared to be well pleased by this arrangement, but his girlfriend was not. She whined and wanted to sleep with my nephew and me while her boyfriend slept on the floor with my little sister. My group immediately suggested other arrangements, like we sleep on the floor. Well, our host had another idea.
He suggested another room that was in the house next door. It was apparently on the same property. So we followed him through a series of doorways and small corridors and finally reached the outside of the garage-residence. We walked across the pathway into the next house. Now this house was empty except for this old ratty couch that was propped up against the wall because it had only two legs left, diagonal from each other. Although there was no locks on the doors, “it was safe” to sleep there. The host suggested my sister sleep there and we (my nephew and me) can sleep next door on the floor underneath the host and his girlfriend. As he was suggesting this, a thin man with dishwater blonde hair and a thin mustache suddenly appeared from the back of this vacant house and stated that “a lot of hookers have slept on this couch.” He was the host’s cousin. He disappeared to the back of the house from where he came.
After seeing the fight or flight expressions on my nephew and sister’s faces, I told my host we did not want to put him out, and for the night we would just get a hotel room. We walked back to the garage where his bed was, still trying to convince this guy we’d be fine with a hotel room. All of us were exhausted at this point for we have driven all day and night, and just wanted to collapse somewhere without the fear of some stranger jumping us violently or sexually. At one point, I just told him to literally point to the direction where there were some hotels, and we be on our way. The host then insisted on picking out the hotel for us. He used his “laptop,” which was actually just an internet keyboard. Host and girlfriend then started arguing about the failure of sleeping arrangments and which hotels were cheap. So after fifteen minutes of haggling with the host about what hotels to stay at, we finally picked one. From out of nowhere appeared the cousin again, he agreed on the hotel selected. “You might not want to stay there because there are a lot of hookers that hang out there…” added the cousin. Once again, he disappeared. So we went back and picked another hotel.
The host and girlfriend suggested we follow them in our car to the hotel. Sounded like a good idea, so we navigated back throught the cinder block corridors and broken RVs to the sidewalk. And as we turn down the sidewalk, the same cousin, who appeared and disappeared all night, came pulling up the driveway in a tan beat-up minivan with a middle-aged black male prostitute in the passenger side. Both waving to us goodbye.
So we finally got to the hotel; it was ancient. Maybe one Jim Morrison’s old romps. Keys were still being used instead of security access cards. Plus the manager spoke broken English, and had trouble swiping my credit card. I usually work on a cash only basis. So we decided to go across the street to the newer Holiday Inn. As my crew walked back to my car, the host and girlfriend were on the hood of my car making out. Her pants were about to come off.
Once we got into our room with contemporary accessories and access cards, we gave the host and girlfriend the brush off. It was brought up they were wanting to stay the night with us. It was then I realized we were going back home tomorrow night. Our options of places to stay were slim. I didn’t know anyone in L.A. except for two friends. John who actually lived close by the hotel was M.I.A. for months. Jonah, who was originally from Beverly Hills, was out of town for the holidays still. At that point, we had only enough money for food, and that was spent up on the hotel charge. There was barely enough money to make it half way back to Oklahoma. Hopefully with what we had left and with what I make from book sells, we would make it out the next day. It was like Grapes of Wrath but in reverse…