Monday, January 31, 2005

These are the People in My Neighborhood....

It’s not every day that you see a six foot two, two hundred fifty pound woman walking down the street in a bright pink pant suit wearing a long auburn wig…inside out. That’s right. Wig inside out and tilted a little bit down and over the eyes. The expression on her bright and smiling face said that she was having a good hair day, felt confident and looked fetching. Well. She did make me smile when I went by. So I guess she served her greater purpose, which was to make people smile, thereby brightening their day.

This brings me to a subject near and dear to my heart...and that is the culture of “characters” that inhabit the more urban parts of this fair city. Yes, they exist in every major city in the country, but we seem to have a disproportionate amount of them here due to the good weather and the particular rejection style of the entertainment industry. It’s one of the reasons I live by choice in a more urban area of the city. There’s always something going on and when it happens, it usually happens there first. Living in a more “gentrified” outer suburb of Los Angeles is something that I have tried and never warmed to. Mainly because I can't stand the term "gentrified." I lived in rose lined, pretty Pasadena for a few years and was able to see the San Gabriel Mountains a total of 5 times during that period, and then only after a heavy rain – even though they were about twenty blocks away. I figure if I’m going to live in filth at least be honest about it and move back into the city. Being able to walk out of your building to see a large, colorful woman wearing an inside out wig; a Hollywood exec picking up a 15 year old hooker in his Beemer; watching the neighborhood Tweakers make their way home squinting with pain from the glare of the morning sun after a weekend crystal meth binge in a dark room; noticing that the pretty 20 something girl at the end of the block who is prone to depression has had her face inexplicably tattooed with some sort of Maori design... can be more jam packed with comedy or tragedy than anything you’ll see on the teeVee. Unless you watch the commercials.

There is a delightful cast of characters that can be found on the avenues, streets and at the numerous Starbucks of L.A. proper – with the notable exception of a woman in suburban South Pasadena who eats avocadoes all day while simultaneously having secret whispered yet animated conversations with her left hand -

For example, there is “The Creature,” as she is cruelly nicknamed by people with jobs, but I prefer to refer to her as The Woman With the Really Tall Shoes...this woman seemingly floats down La Brea Avenue in a ground length black caftan, wears her hair in a severe top knot that puts Cindy Loo—Who to shame, wears bright circles of rouge high upon her cheeks and custom made platform shoes that are seven inches high. She slowly makes her way up and down La Brea, speaking to no one, deep in thought...floating. She’s fabulous.

Then there’s a man of indeterminate age, somewhere between 55 and 120, stoop shouldered, wizened, terribly thin, with overly tanned skin that has become shoe leather. He likes to walk down Wilshire Boulevard wearing nothing but a leopard print thong. This I could live my entire life without seeing and be the better for it.

There’s a guy at my gym who is tattooed over all areas of his body not covered by clothing – and I’m thinking that he is tattooed on those areas covered by clothing as well, since the guy that did the two that I have said that he has tattooed some “privates” in his day...which just fills me with scary visuals that know no bounds...anyway, his bald head is covered with tiny and dainty flowering vines. I wonder what kind of work he does.

One of my all time favorite characters is a guy at Venice Beach who rolls around on skates while playing an electric guitar that he has a special battery pack amplifier for...if he catches your eye, he will follow you for several yards, composing a song right on the spot...just for you. He delights in your embarrassment. It was better though before he got the guitar, because in years past it was a ukulele, which has far more embarrassment potential. To be serenaded with, I mean.

There are so many more than those I’ve mentioned and there’s always a little tragedy that goes along with being a character. That is, at some point in time the individual made a decision to completely retreat from the world – or the world retreated from them. The Hollywood history books are rife with the forgotten or rejected that threw themselves off the Hollywood sign, or killed themselves in some other fashion after their fall from Hollywood grace. For some reason a bizarrely large number of those people lived on Woodrow Wilson Drive. You will never find me living on Woodrow Wilson Drive for any reason because of that fact alone. I doubt I’d even go to a dinner party there. When I speak of the Hollywood forgotten, there is one woman in particular that I find rather haunting. She is an elderly woman, of the homeless variety, who can be found wandering around downtown or thereabouts, with an Oscar in a paper bag that by all accounts is hers. I’d like to know her story.

So...while I continue to nosily watch the goings on, wonder at the back stories and comment on the lives of my various neighbors, I’ll continue to be furious at the meager offerings of the television set and prefer the comic yet sordid entertainment and mystery of my own 'hood, reveling in the sights, smells and filth that make up that place I call Home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For years I lived in the suburbs of Northern San Diego, never knowing what I was missing. In the early 90s, I moved to San Francisco and discovered a world that seems tailor-made for the small screen. Weirdos, drug addicts, pimps and hookers all wandered through my neighborhood at all hours. Not a day went by that I didn't wonder how these people came to inhabit the lives they did. Then I moved uptown and away from the great unwashed to my detriment.

Now that I live on Maui, the most I can hope for is an occasional ugly tourist sighting.

The Monkey Diarist

01 February, 2005 01:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. What an interesting neighborhood you live. Found your site via BlogExplosion. I'm a people watcher myself and find it intriguing how different individuals lives are. Have a good day.

01 February, 2005 12:10  
Blogger Laura said...

We are lacking in characters in the 'burbs, that is for darn sure. The U provides a few, but not nearly what you'd find at a UC Berkeley or a San Francisco State or even UCLA. But then again, this IS the midwest. I loved your vivid descriptions of the tragicomic souls who people your neighborhood. You're right, who needs TV?

01 February, 2005 16:44  
Blogger Jet said...

Outstanding. Thank you for that beautifully crafted urban picture. I feel like I just received a present.

01 February, 2005 17:44  
Blogger I.M. Dedd said... least it doesn't SNOW...

01 February, 2005 19:01  
Blogger Whymrhymer said...

You have a real gift for description -- that was a hell of a great tour of your wacked-out neighborhood.

01 February, 2005 21:33  
Blogger ~Betsy said...

I really enjoyed this peek into the characters and shades of Life in your neighborhood; some so sad and poignant, I wonder about the lives led and lost, especially the old woman with an Oscar in a paper bag. I'd like to know her story too...

My 20-year-old stepdaughter embarked on an eye-opening new adventure last fall when she moved from a sleepy little Michigan town to downtown L.A. to attend USC. The wild stories she tells (and I'm sure there are some she keeps so as not to scare the hell out of her protective father) of people and happenings in and around her L.A. neighborhood are quite shocking, funny, sad and even scary. Being groped in the movie theater was probably the pinnacle of terror for her, and she's much more cautious now.

I've sent her the link to your blog, I know she would enjoy it. Thanks, Millicent, for letting us inside your world.

02 February, 2005 05:24  
Blogger R said...

On one hand though, this horrifies me. I had a great grandmother who went mad (although, in the words of my aunt "Hon-eee, back then it was probably no more than PMS) and I die to think of my daughter living like that. Everytime I see a homeless person now I start bargaining. Please God, I'll be good, I'll never cuss, I'll never lie, just NEVER. LET. MY. BABY. WIND. UP. ON. THE. STREETS.

02 February, 2005 14:02  
Blogger Dana said...

I hail from a rural Kansas town of 8000. LOL. Although I am back 'home', I did spend a few glorious years in Chicago, and what you have written about here is EXACTLY

02 February, 2005 14:33  
Blogger Dana said...

oops....published too soon

...EXACTLY what I miss most about the city experience. People were characters, interesting, eccentric, different, but that was OK! I simply loved the annonymity of being part of that whole urban thing! Thank you for reminding me how much I enjoyed the diversity!

02 February, 2005 14:38  
Blogger PATCAM2005 said...

Damn, and I thought my neighbors were whack, I think I am actually sheltered compared to CA.

02 February, 2005 23:41  
Blogger Cranky Liberal said...

I know Venice Beach guy. Well I don't know him by name, but I know who you mean. That area seems to be like the Bermuda Triangle of odd characters. Certainly one of the more interesting places I visited when I went to grad school on your coast. Your writing brings back memories....

04 February, 2005 13:55  
Blogger ~Betsy said...

To your neighborhood blog link that I sent my 20-year-old stepdaughter (USC student), she replied:

"that was a great piece. the scary thing is (other than the fact that i can relate...) is that i've heard of the guitar guy. i have friends that have had many encounters with him. i do love it here.
hope everything's going well in the frosty north.
hugs all round"

I believe that she won't be coming back to Michigan to live, so we'll have to come out and see what her slice of L.A. Life is about... maybe we'll have a weird encounter!

The strangest it gets up here is people wearing camoflage to a wedding (or a funeral), and folks knowing how to make good stew out of anything you can hunt or accidentally hit with your car.

I just listen and nod politely. Uh Huh.

04 February, 2005 17:59  

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