at the corner of third and kenmore
The movie Barfly is adapted from stories by
the Los Angeles writer Charles Bukowski.
The bar in
Barfly is the Banzai Room—corner
Third and Kenmore--my corner. Bukowski
never lived in this neighborhood. Third and
Kenmore  is Mexican and Buks preference
was  for white trash--the hustlers, chislers,
house-arrest and other low life types who
concentrate here and there in the dismal
wasteland flats of east Hollywood.

But there is a connection here. There was an
edge to Bukowski and there is an edge to
Third and Kenmore. Sometimes its called an
edge and sometimes it called a pain in the
ass. Its the spinning of the wheels concept--
a lot of activity to no conceivable purpose.
Thats Third and Kenmore. If there is a
Mexican Bukowski in Los Angeles this is the  
neighborhood for him.

I live on the 300 block. Ive been here 20
years. I moved in and it wasn’t too bad.
There were signs of declining morale but
nothing unmanageable. The day I
discovered  human poop in my driveway
was still 15 years in the future.

Your first concern when moving to new digs
are the immediate neighbors. My building
was cool and also the building next door--
the Windsong Apartments. The manager
there was an elderly dude who rented to
other elderly dudes. The apt directly
opposite my own was inhabited by two
Alzheimer types in a deteriorating state.
They didn’t even watch TV. They just sat  
staring at each other like mutes. It was
perfect.

But that was then--the good old days. Today
is different. Its the usual: noise, crime,
garbage. A little crime doesn’t bother me.
The things that make us snap are the things
that interfere with our sleep. I wont labor
this one. There was a story in the
Times last
year . A woman living in north Hollywood
rose from her bed at 2AM and grabbed a
shotgun and marched outside to deal with a
car alarm problem. She blasted in the
windows of the car and then moved on to
the owners house--her neighbor and
landlord--and applied the same treatment to
the windows of the house. That was her
mistake. Now she was in jail. I wrote a
letter to the Times. I said: this woman
should not be in Jail. They should put her
face on a stamp. (The
Times failed to print)

Lets go back 30 years. I arrive in LA. I arrive
from New York. I am married. My wife and I
jump in a cab at LAX and get out on the
corner of Wilshire and Normandie. Its 82
degrees on a gorgeous mid-February
afternoon. The day is brilliant. Sometimes
you can see Griffith Park and sometimes
you  cant and sometimes its like seeing it
through a sky full of gin. My wife is dressed
in wool. She says: “I like it!”

We stayed  in a hotel while looking for digs.
In New York there are no digs. You go to
church on Sunday and pray for an apt.

We cruised the neighborhood and here on
Berendo St  was a row of four-plexes, one
with a vacancy and the door was open and
up we went. Remember the four-plex? The
apartments were like houses--seven-
roomers with hardwood floors and windows
up the kazoo and all this light splashing
around and a front yard and a back yard and
a garage to go with. We called the number
for the rent: $175.00. I said to my wife:
what do you think?

We lived there seven years. AT the end of
the 4th year we got hit with a $10 rent
increase. At the end of the 7th year a
divorce occurred and I moved four blocks
away to S. Kenmore—where I remain to this
day and refuse to move because I have
cheap rent. I am stuck--a victim of my own
good fortune.

A neighborhood thrives or goes into the
toilet according to the density of the
population. the four-plexes came down and  
up in their place went the multi/multis--the
beehive concept. Before you had 300 people
on a block. Now you had 2000. Its more
people and they are people on the move--
transients. They come and go. Once that
happens you can kiss the neighborhood
good-bye. It isn’t a neighborhood--its a
study in social engineering.

You may remember a famous experiment
with rats along these lines. They put 3 rats
in a cage and everything was cool. The rats
were fat, happy motivated.  They were
always laughing. Into another cage they
put  20 rats. In this cage nothing was cool.
The rats lost weight, they couldnt sleep,
they couldnt eat, they couldnt poop. They
developed ulcers and their hair fell out.
They were not laughing. There was a lot of
anti-social behavior that manifested itself in
the usual ways: biting, raping, maiming.
Need I labor this one?

At some point the elderly dude who
managed the Windsong Apartments
dropped dead--also the Alzheimer couple in
the apt facing my own--and was replaced by
a young guy--a Salvadoran--and the next
thing I new I had a building full of
Salvadorans and their families and their
music. The Salvadoran manager  was
replaced by an Armenian and the building
gradually filled up with Armenians. The
loudest race are the blacks. In second place
are the Latinos and the Armenians are a
close third. The Armo left and we got a
Mexican and there was another Armo and
we went back and forth between the Armos
and the Mexicans for a few years.

The building next door had a problem--the
architect who designed it. How do you visit
someone who lives in an apartment? You
ring them up on the intercom and they buzz
you inside. The  Windsong was different. At
the Windsong you stood outside looking at
the intercom on the inside. Then you walked
around the side of the building to the
driveway--below my bedroom window--and
started screaming.

Here are excerpts chosen at random from
the Third and Kenmore highlight film of the
last 20 years.

One night I heard shots. I heard shots all
the time. The shots were routine. But these
shots were different--any closer and they
would have been inside the room. I was in
bed and hit the deck.

Now there was moaning. I could hear a
word--the f-word--propelled in a low voice
in great pain from a Spanish mouth. He
continues to moan and groan and spit out
the f-word. I went to the window and
looked down and there he was--bleeding.

My first thought was to call the police. my
second thought was to let him bleed to
death.

I stood watching him bleed and now a
figure appeared from the behind the
building--the parking stalls--and  he grabs
the victim by  both arms and drags him
around out of sight to the parking in back
and  there are car door sounds and the car
fires up and  comes roaring  down the drive
and out in to the street and they are gone.

There was the time the Armos were having a
party and it was 2 AM and the noise was
unspeakable and I was  standing on the
landing outside and to scream at them over
this ear-splitting racket was a pointless
gesture so I threw a glass through the
window with such violence that the
momentum pitched me forward and I fell
down half a flight of stairs and smashed up
my face.

There was the time a bum went into a coma
on the front steps and I shook him and then
I kicked him and he refused to wake up and
I dragged him off the steps and over to the  
Windsong and left him in the driveway.

There was the time the riots occurred and I
am standing  on the front steps with the
liquor store on the corner going up in flames
and the Vons next to it being cleaned out by
looters and there was the cruising gang
scum in a delirious state itching to
contribute to the mayhem and  my first
thought was: why don’t I have a gun?

One day Lateena moved in--at the
Windsong. Lateena was a Big Mama type.
She was a house. She was big, she was
loud, she was covered with tattoos and she
had a particular look--the jailbird look. In
other words not someone you would be wise
to confront with yourself in a vulnerable
situation--or have as a mother. She had a
child--a two year old. The less said about
this relationship the better. Child abuse is a
compliment.  Am I being too hard on Teena
when I say that some people die and the
world is a better place and she was one of
them?

Lateena moved in and the next day a
flourishing drug dealing enterprise was
operating full blast out of the window of her
apt--the rear corner apt on the driveway
side of the building. It went on day and
night. The hour seemed not to matter. It
was quite blatant.

Where were the  cops? The  cops arrived.
One day  a barricade appeared closing off
the 200 block of Kenmore, on the other side
of Third. This was a horrible block. It made
my block look like Los Feliz. Every building
featured an iron fence installed around the
property and there were steel doors and
bars over the windows--the bunker
mentality look.

The barricade appeared and with it a mobile
LAPD trailer unit--the anti-drug squad.

I went over to pay a visit. I rapped on the
door of the trailer and the door opened and
an officer appeared--a woman. she had a
9mm strapped to her hip.

I introduced myself and asked her to step
outside to obtain a better view of my
building. I said: “I live in that building. See
the building to the right--the Windsong
apartments-and the driveway separating
the two buildings”.

I said: “come to my apt and stand at my
bedroom window looking down into the
driveway of the Windsong and before 20
minutes pass you will see a woman named
Lateena selling drugs to a low life. Its going
on at all hours of the day and night and
interfering with my peace of mind”.

I said: “can we do something about this?”

There was a pause and she said: “do you
think the manager would co-operate with
us?”

Was it me or was this a puzzling  question
from a member of the LAPD with a cannon
strapped to her hip to query a civilian?

I said: “She is the manager”.

We went back and forth for a bit and she
gave me her card and said to call if there
were further problems.

I did call. I called two weeks later. The
number was out of service and there was no
new number.

Normally I like to end a piece on an upbeat
note.  Failing that I leave you with the
human poop in the driveway story. After 20
years in the neighborhood I thought I had
seen it all. I was wrong. A friend said to me:
"how do you know it was human poop?"

I said: "because a dog doesnt wipe its ass
with a  paper towel".
living like a refugee
oil painting by pedro perez
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