Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Photo of Green Dumpster posted by Cobalt123 (Flicker)

When I returned from living in Korea, I was forced to move nine blocks from the ocean in an area I describe as the ghetto. Rents had sky-rocketed while I was gone due to gentrification. Plus, the L.A. folks discovered our cheap real estate with ocean views causing droves of them to head south to my city.

I had never lived more than three blocks from the ocean in my twenty years in this town. I mean really. What's the point of living in the greater L.A. area if you don't have an ocean view or at least can smell it from an open window?

I found a one bedroom in a beautiful chateau. The Chateau Le Grande was a registered historic landmark in Long Beach built in 1928. It looked like a tiny French castle. I loved my jungle-like courtyard and my apartment's hardwood floors and built-ins.

Even though the gentrification culprits were calling it the "arty" East Village in effort to up the property value, my hood was ghetto and that was all there was to it.

I had a back door with steps that I sat on from time to time while I drank my morning coffee. I liked the light from there, but it was a ghetto alley.

There was a green dumpster against the wall of the apartment building across from me. The tenants from this building seem to do a lot of midnight running-the-hell out of there from evictions. Leaving furniture next to the dumpster was nothing new. Once there was big T.V. and a very nice dresser.

Of course there were homeless people who passed by all the time. Sometimes they stopped to dumpster dive. There was an old Mexican woman who came by everyday. She was always smiling, had two long gray braids, and wore a dress that showed her slip. A different slip each day. One day it was bright pink.

I am not quite sure if she was homeless or just trying to supplement the family income with the bottles and cans she collected. Her shopping cart was always very organized. She carried a big bucket she turned over and stood on to reach into the dumpster. She was very short.

Photo of Old Mexican Woman taken by Miss Monson (Flicker)

This woman always talked to me in Spanish. Small talk. I usually just listened. She was from Zacatecas. If I had to guess, I would guess she was in her 70s. You could tell she was beautiful when she was young. Still was. Blue eyes that must have drove the boys crazy. Now her blue eyes had a thin wax paper-like film over them. Cataracts.

The Mexicans are big on extended families. So is Kurt Vonnegut. He has an MA in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. Anyway, I bring up Mr. Vonnegut because I always wondered where this old woman's family could be. She made me think of the Kurt Vonnegut book Slapstick.

In short, Slapstick takes place in an apocalyptic New York. One of the main characters, Wilbur, decides to run for president. His slogan on campaign buttons says, "Lonesome No More." Wilbur promises, if elected, that everyone will have huge extended families thus eliminating loneliness and homelessness for good.

Wilbur says that everyone will get new middle names with a number after it. It could be a flower, stone, or element. In other words, if your new middle name is Daffodil-11, then everyone with a middle name of Daffodil-11 will be your relative. It would mean you could have tens of thousands of relatives. Cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles.

On the campaign trail, someone in the audience asked, "but what if you don't like one of your new relatives?" To which Wilbur replies, "that's the beauty of it all. Since you have tens of thousands of relatives to rely on in times of need, you can say to this new relative, 'Why don't you take a flying f**k at a rolling doughnut. Why don't you take a flying f**k at the moooon.'"
Photo taken by Ben (Flickr)

Imagine if Wilbur was president. That old Mexican woman would not be dumpster diving. Though far from her home in Zacatecas, she could open up any phone book and look for other Daffodil-11s who might be able to open their homes.

I no longer live in the Chateau Le Grande. Luckily, rents finally went down a little. I am three blocks from the ocean in a pink Spanish-style hacienda built in 1923. And yes, I can smell the ocean from my open windows. The courtyard is beautiful with a pond and waterfall. Sometimes in the afternoon, I sit out on the veranda, have a beer and read. It is very peaceful.

In this area of Long Beach, I never see homeless people, but I know they are out there. I had to turn my heater on tonight for the first time this year. Lucky me. I have a roof over my head and heat. I thought about the old Mexican woman tonight. I really want to believe that she was just collecting bottles and cans to supplement her family's income.

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