It took two weeks and a series of intense interviews to get a part-time job setting appointments for a janitorial company. One night, Chris and I had stumbled across a Manpower office on Fifth Street, downtown. The representative there had taken our resumes and had us fill out a couple of applications. he’d seemed very impressed by all of Chris’s experience in film. He didn’t seem terribly interested in me at all.
He sent us some office skills tests to take at home. They were basic computer and simple vocabulary and math tests. I took them right away and was called in the next day for an interview. I was told they had a part time job as an appointment setter in a janitorial company in Koreatown. It would be an hour and a half bus ride for a $10 an hour job, but I was so desperate I agreed to an interview.
In the meantime, Chris took his tests and apparently failed them. They wouldn’t send him out for anything until he retook the tests which he refused to do. I couldn’t figure out if he intentionally threw them so he could stay on unemployment or if he really was an idiot; I suspected the latter. He might have just been nuts. One day he lost a piece of paper with an important number on it and threw a fit, tearing apart his apartment and throwing a glass at a wall. I barely escaped the flying shards. I was still afraid to leave. if it hadn’t have been for him I never would have gotten paid by the petition company and I would be even closer to homelessness than I was.
I had an hour-long telephone interview with the janitorial company. The two men who owned the company Joe and Ted, grilled me about every single job I ‘d ever had. I felt like I was up for partner in a law firm and not for a crummy part time job a parrot could do.
After the telephone interview, I was invited to come in for a personal interview and tour. This time, it was just me and Ted. He was about five feet tall, maybe a hundred pounds, he had sharply handsome features that were hidden underneath a full beard and moustache. He just firmed up a few of the things he’d said on the phone. He handed me a training packet and told me to come back in a week.
As I walked back to the train I wondered what I was going to do for a week. I had less than no money and audience work was completely over for the year. I would only be able to sell my plasma twice in that time and then it would be at least three weeks before I got paid.
Chris had decided to abandon his job search as he was going on an all expense paid trip to New York, courtesy of his wealthy daddy. I still hadn’t paid rent . I wondered what I would do if I got evicted before I got paid. Chris told me he’d told the guys at the front desk of the Rosslyn to let me stay in his room if I needed to. Every night I would lie in bed wondering if there would be a cop knocking on my door wanting to throw me out.
The cops in Los Angeles were brutal. I had seen them screaming at an old Asian lady to whom they were giving a Jay walking ticket. I don’t think she spoke any English and she was scared to death. I had seen ten of them surround a drunk bum who had taken his pants of on Hope Street and stand over him with Billy clubs drawn.
One time I was on a bus going from San Pedro to the Rosslyn. The bus was packed with people on their way downtown for the night. The busses emergency sign was stuck and it had a message across the front saying “Call 911″ or something. We were pulled over by two squad cars. The bus driver told them the sign was just stuck, but they evacuated the bus anyway. they made everyone on the bus stand facing a fence while two officers stood with their guns trained on us. several more squad cars arrived and surrounded the bus. I looked back to see what was going on and one of the officers cocked her weapon. They searched the bus and fond that nothing was going on.
When we all got back on the bus I said I couldn’t believe how reactionary the cops were in LA.
A fellow passenger said, ” It was just a mistake”.
He had no idea that we could have sued for what happened to us. He had grown up in the slums of Los Angeles and knew to avoid confrontations with the cops. I wanted to tell him that if disenfranchised people would just stand together the cops wouldn’t stand a chance, but what was the point? I was beginning to realize the one thing I had no power against was the mass acceptance of powerlessness in LA.
I called Vito and told him I got a new job and would pay him in three weeks. He said okay, he was too busy with the holidays to deal with this. I felt almost grateful to at least have the roof of my horrid dump over my head. My good feelings quickly dissipated when I was stuck inside my apartment listening to my neighbors children stand outside my door and scream.
One of them showed me his new skateboard and told me it coast $100. I was living off of ramen and Fritos at the time. He also told me he’d gotten a WEI for Christmas.
His mother was a welfare recipient who had four children from four different men. She weighed about 250 pounds and often had to use a wheelchair because her knees had become so weak underneath all of her fat. She had a son who was living with her after having gotten out of prison. He had a good job in a refinery. The probation office in los Angeles has a program with the refineries where many of the jobs go to ex-convicts. He made at least $17.00 an hour. The apartment they were in was a section 8 unit which meant rent was about $500 a month for a nice three bedroom apartment. two of the dads paid child support and she got SSI and the kids got food stamps. All in all she had a pretty good deal. The amount of money to be made from practicing unprotected sex and having kids you can’t afford never ceases to amaze me. Why do we reward people for screwing up? Don’t get me wrong I’m all for all forms of publicly funded birth control, I can even understand having a kid and needing help for a couple of years. But, being a baby mama should not be a career.
I sold plasma while I waited from my crummy part-time job to start. One night I got all the way to the plasma center in the valley only to realize I was there ten minutes after closing, they wouldn’t take me. I walked back to the train wondering what I was gonna do. I rode the train downtown without paying for it. I ‘d done that many times in LA; a lot of people do. Why they don’t simply invest in turnstiles we’ll never know. I sat on the train and considered pan handling or stealing someone’s wallet. There was a creepy old man staring at me. I thought about making him think I was a prostitute getting him to take his pants off and running off with the loot.
I figured I would get caught. I would try borrowing the money from Chris. I only hoped he was home.
“You look terrible”, he said when he opened the door.
I explained the situation and asked if I might borrow ten bucks. We walked to the nearest ATM that was located on Skid Row. We walked hand in hand through the legions of street derelicts that called the area their home. At night skid row was surrounded by cops so no one could get out, it was like a giant open air mental hospital. How it was legal for the cops to keep vagrants in a certain area is something I still don’t understand. A naked man wearing nothing but a see through plastic bag ran past us screaming the words to Dear Prudence”. An old woman stared at us with rage as she defecated on the street. A young toothless man walked past us gossiping with himself about someone he didn’t like.
I looked at them and wondered if I would be next. I could see how Los Angeles could drive a person crazy. Either you faced the truth went with the system and anesthetize yourself with anti depressants so you could pretend like everything was fine or you invented your own world and shut reality out completely. I understood the people walking around us more than I would have liked to admit. When other people reject you and crap on you enough you sort of had to laugh at it a little. It forced you to step back and observe how ridiculous this hierarchy of human life is. What happened if you just couldn’t stop laughing? Sometimes I would look at the people who were successful and considered “smart” and I felt like I was from another planet. What would it be like to just let go?
We got money and walked back down town. Chris Took me to Denny’s where I ravenously devoured a veggie omelet.. It was the first actual meal I ‘d had in a week.
I started at Janitors Inc the next day. Ted looked down at is feet as he handed me a list of numbers to call and a script. My desk was in a small office that I shared with young man named Armando, who was the inspector for the company. He would go around to the buildings and make sure they were all clean. He wasn’t around very much. I met the other boss, Joe.
Joe was a man about my age who was six feet tall and about 200 pounds. He seemed very interested in the fact that I had put screen writing down as a hobby on my application for the job. He told me that he had worked for a film distribution company before starting the janitorial business with Ted. Armando told me he didn’t like Joe. He said Joe would often come with him to inspect buildings Joe would smoke in the car with the windows rolled up and order him around. He told me the company was being sued for sexual harassment because of Joe. I started the week before Christmas and worked a total of six days before the new year ended.
I also worked a security job at a Roy Orbison concert at the Hollywood Bowl. There were all kinds of celebrities there including Julia Roberts. At first I thought she was just a Roy Orbison fan, then I realized that Roy sang “Pretty Woman”. There is always an element of self promotion in everything a celebrity does or anywhere they go. The security company was supposed to pay me the next week. Someone accidentally entered my name wrong and my check went to the wrong address. instead of just cutting me another check they told me I would be paid with the next check cut in two weeks.
Ted nervously gave me a $50 Christmas bonus and I finally got paid by the security company. They also booked me for a security job at a Jesus freak festival for New Year’s Eve.
I spent the holidays watching Dead Like Me videos, eating Rite Aide treats and taking the dog for long walks. One night, on a lark I put an ad on Craigslist offering my services as a tarot card reader. Much to my surprise I got a call from a man wanting to hire me for his New Years Eve party at a new bar called The Must downtown. It turned out to be a block away from the Rosslyn and Chris was getting back on New Years Eve. I called him to tell him my news. He was drunk as usual, but happy. He told me he was going to make me home made business cards. He told me he loved me at least five times. I wondered if he would wake up in time to catch his plane.
I studied my tarot book on the way downtown. I had to learn how to read the cards by the time the party started. While I was reading I got a call from the security company asking where the hell I was. I told them I would be there in two weeks.
I got to Chris’s at 8:00 and he had not made any business cards. He wanted to do other things, but I had no time. I had to practice. I read his cards ten times while he threw together some business cards on his computer.
I arrived at The Must at 9:00 where I met Yoshi, the man who hired me. He said how excited he was to have a real tarot card reader at his party. I felt bad; he thought I was a real tarot card reader. I didn’t feel bad enough to tell the truth; a girls gotta eat. Looking back on it, I realize that was the moment I became a real Angelino.
I was led to a small table in the back of the bar. I was handed a glass of wine which I gulped down. A woman sat at my table and I laid out her cards.
” My parents used to read tarot cards all the time.” she said. I” I consider myself something of an expert.”
‘fuuuuuuck’, I thought.
I began to read her cards. I had chosen the horseshoe spread. I fumbled my way through it making meanings for the card up as I went along. I think I may have accidentally said the same thing twice a couple of times.
When I was done she eyed me suspiciously and said,
“Thanks, I’m gonna leave you a tip.”
She walked over to her table and said something to her companion, he just looked at me. She came over and stuck a dollar in my jar and smiled sarcastically.
‘Busted,’ I thought.
After about fifteen minutes of just awkwardly sitting there. A man approached me and sat down. I was determined to sound smother this time. Most if the guests at the party were Japanese; I decided to use racial profiling
The horseshoe throw starts with the subject asking a question. This gentleman wanted to know if he should pursue a career in art. I told him that the first card represented his past. I said that he had a very strict upbringing where he was taught to be very logical and unemotional.
“That’s true”, he said.
I told him that he should pursue his dream and if he did he would struggle at first, but eventually become very successful.
The next person sat down and they wanted to know if they should go back to school; I gave them a similar spiel.
A middle-aged, Jewish man with feathered hair and a fake tan sat down and said he wanted to know if he should go forward with a certain project he was working on. I stereotyped him as a producer. I told him that the first card represented a past in the arts and the second card represented A present in finance. I told him that the third card showed me that these to things were currently in conflict.
“Yes, that’s it “, “ he said. “That’s it exactly!”
I was beginning to feel pretty confident about this.
I told him he should be brave and go with the project and that he would be awarded in the highest possible way if he did. It helped a little that the picture on the last card was of a man holding a sword, just like a certain statute. Some where out there there is an independent screen writer who owes me big time. He bought a reading for some chick he was hitting on as well.
One of the owners of the bar came over to me and had her cards read. She told me the guest loved me and that I should come back anytime. This was fun! Maybe LA wasn’t so bad after all. At 1:00 am I went to Chris’s and we counted the loot between the hundred dollars Yoshi gave me and the tip money I had made two hundred bucks.
We spent the weekend greedily planning our next move. I would work at the janitorial company for a few mouths and work one night a week at The Must for tips. Chris would work during the day to book me tarot reading gigs around the city. We went out to dinner in Long Beach to celebrate. Then we took a long ride down the coast.
We went to The Must for a drink on Sunday night and chatted with the bartender. He was very friendly and chatty, he told us he was an actor. We also met the other owner. I ‘d seen her walking around the night of the party. She said hello and gave me a stiff smile accompanied by a cold eyed glare. She didn’t speak to Chris at all. At one point I saw her go up to the bartender and whisper something while glaring at me. I decided that this was not the best time to ask when I could come back.
I was awake all night that night. What had that glare been about. Was she on to me? Did she figure out my racial profiling thing? Was it Chris she didn’t like?
I continued working at The Janitorial company. Although I set a couple of appointments every day, Joe had only made two sales. Ted decided to hire another salesman. A parade of salespeople came in for interviews. Eventually, they decided on a woman who had worked in the OC office named Mary Jo.
Mary Jo was fifty six years old and was impressively thin and athletic. She was about six feet tall and had long auburn hair that she apparently used a crimping iron on daily. She always wore tons of make-up including some unfortunate blue eye shadow. She had the most interesting work wardrobe I have ever seen. There was a leather mini skirt with thigh high boots and a halter top and jacket. There was the sleeveless mini dress with fishnet stockings and six inch heels. I think my favorite had to be the pink mini dress with knee socks. She would actually go out on sales calls like that. She lived in Sana Ana with her fourteen year old daughter and their maid. She had been a trophy wife for ten years until her husband traded her in for a newer model. Sometimes Hollywood stereotypes are accurate. She shared the tiny office with Armando and me. It kind of pissed me off that Mary Jo had ten times more than I did even though she and I worked in the same place and had the same level of education. The only reason for this was that she had been hot once.
I went to Chris’s about three times a week and walked past The Must just as often. At fist the employees said hello politely , then they just nodded eventually they did not speak to me at all and acted as if The didn’t know who I was. I never found out what I had done.
Chris continued to collect unemployment and lie around the Rosslyn smoking pot. He claimed to have sent out many resumes. One day he left his e mail open when I could see it and I noticed there was nothing in his out box. When ever I suggested we go out (Dutch treat of course) he would say he was broke. I noticed he could always keep himself in booze and pot.
One night We noticed there was a new comedy club opening up in the Rosslyn building. Garrett Morris form the old Saturday Night Live show was there. I always loved him. For those too young to remember, the show used to be funny and Garrett Morris used to do a great Idi Amin and he would sing opera as well. The doorman said he would let us in free. We went back upstairs and waited for the show to start. Chris got drunk and passed out and we missed it. I would have gone alone, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get back in as I didn’t have a key and I didn’t want to take his.
The next night Chris called me at home. He was drunk and crawling around on the fire escapes of the Rosslyn. I realized he was suicidal. I sat on the edge of my bed with the phone to my ear and listened emotionlessly for a plop.