It is 8:30AM on Skid Row. At 7:30, I walked out of my front door to get breakfast. The streets were crowded. People had been up for hours. Most people do not realize that people on Skid Row wake up early. In the facility where I stayed, we were awakened at 5:30. breakfast between 6 and 6:30 and morning chores at 7: 00AM. Most of the missions and shelters are like that.
You are up and out early.
I was late for breakfast. I go to Tony's on 7th St for their great waffle breakfast.
Activity was bustling on 6th and San Pedro. The peddlers were out. I do not mean the drug dealers. Most drug dealers sleep in at least until 8:00AM. If they are up too early it would signal that they are struggling and their dope is no good. "Sunglasses,$2.00), bird cage, $1.00. Socks $2.00". Socks, that surprised me. Socks are usually sold after the 1st of the month when people receive their respective government income checks.
a quick digression.
When I was at the police station, I heard them prepare for the !st of the month just like I heard the facility where I lived prerpare for the 1st. In the shelters, they are preparing for an exodus of people. It is expected that between the 1st and the 10th of each month, when checks are received, a percentage of people will receive their money and go out and do drugs. I remember when I was told this. And yes, it is true. People receive their money and can not resist the temptation of cocaine or heroin or marijuana. They will go the drug , knowing that they will not return to their residence before the curfew hour and get thrown out on the street.
The shelter monitors make sure they have enough plastic garbage bags in which they can put a person's belongings when they do not return.
The police prepare differently. They know they are going to have to deal with a tremendous influx of drug activity. During roll call, I heard an officer prepare his men for the monthly tradition.
A quick digression
Residents of Skid Row. Do yourself a favor. Challenge yourself. Try to stay away from the dope man. I know it can be hard. But do so. It will save you a great deal of grief. It will save the Police Officers from having to do the paper work they have to do to process you into jail. Save yourself from going to jail.
Give yourself a chance. BOYCOTT THE DRUG DEALERS. IF ONLY FOR A DAY, BOYCOTT THEM. IF YOU CAN DO FOR ONE DAY, YOU MAY BE ABLE TO DO IT FOR A SECOND DAY.
Yes, the early bird gets the worm. I mention it because I am sick and tired of worrying about getting a job. I want a career. One lady told me that now that I was in a stable living environment, I should pursue what I want instead of what I needed I the time she met me. She secured the warehouse job for me.
I was terrible at it. She and I both laughed at that.
When I first arrived on Skid Row, I had one pair of sweat pants, a shirt, and a pair of shoes. I had a dime and a penny in my pocket. I had no cell phone. I felt cut off from everything. I could not even use the public phone because I had no money. People would receive calls all of the time. Not I. Nobody knew where I was. I did not want anyone to know where I was. I wanted to concentrate on getting myself together. I wanted to get back to where I was before I was arrested. I wanted to continue what I was doing that resulted in my ceasing drug usage. THAT ACTIVITY WAS WRITING.
I started writing again. The very first day I arrived at the Volunteers of America Center, I told Rory Cromwell I wanted to write a book to help people keep off drugs. I showed him a package of paper. He asked me what it was. The package consisted of everything I wrote while in jail. Rory took one look at it and stared at me for ten seconds. He then looked around to see who was around us. Satisfied that nobody would see him, he stood up, walked to a cabinet, opened the door and grabbed to legal pads. He handed them to me.
"Don't tell anyone you got those from me. It will cause a problem," Rory said.
He gave them to me because a few hours earlier he told me I could go try to get some clothes. I told him then, five minutes after I first met him, "Rory, I will not let you down. I am doing to be one of your success stories." He let me leave the facility. He does not let people leave when they first arrive there. He trust me and I returned. Most people, he said later, get there and if they get too close to the gate, they are tempted to run for the hills and head for the nearest drug dealer. I never stopped writing from the moment he gave me those pads.
(Later, I will show you the stack of stappled sheets of paper I accumulated while writing at the Transition House.)Rory lets me go in and out of there to use the computer, to "keep up the good work" as he says it. "Melton, you are doing it. You are doing the damn thing. You told me you were and you never let me down."
So I keep on writing and I can write more now. For the last month, I have been attending job classes. Actually, they started at the Transition house in July. Most people go to the classes need the classes to learn how to do a resume. I needed the classes to rebuild my confidence and to break away from the guard shack as it had become my sanctuary from the world. I was scared of the world. It was mean and cruel and I was satisfied at the guard shack.
Whenever, they needed a volunteer for it when I first arrived at the Transition House, I ran to the front desk to make sure I was picked. I would sit there sometimes from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night. It gave me a chance to be alone. It gave me a chance to read and study. It gave me a chance to write.
Iwrote sometimes, for twelve hours, non-stop. Rory would come in and out of the parking lot and just look at me, amazed that I could sit there and write all day. I watched news all day and wrote all day.
I did not want to ask people for cigarettes. I would look in the ash tray for them and smoke those. For some reason, when I was slowing down on my drugs, I was slowing down on asking for things. It was a maturing process. I did not want to ask for anything for my mother for myself at one point. At the end I was asking for money to purchase tools for the house. Or, I took the money and started to pay bills. I was becoming a manager of the house.
Anyway, I stayed to myself. A little over a month after I arrived, I noticed that no one was picking up all of the cans and bottles that were in the trash cans at the facility. No one. People would purchase soft drinks all day long at the facility. I knew that the recycler was two blocks away. I would oftern see men and women carry bags of cans and bottles by me at the guard shack and they told me where the recycler was.
Now by this time, I was substituting for someone that I met at the Transition House. He would give me pouches of tobacco as long as I sat in the guard shack for him. It was a great arrangement. I was bartering. I was starting to negotiate. The blood was circulating. I was getting my bearings.
Everyone has to sign up for duties and they let me substitute for them at the shack. I figured I could accomplish three things at once. I could read, write
and make my rounds and pick up cans. I was able to have change so I could get
tobacco once my friend left, wouldn't have to ask anyone, and I could save money. I never wanted that feeling of not having any money on me ever again. I saved every dime except for my tobacco purchases. I could wash clothes and dry them in the machine instead of washing them by hand and drying them in the sun. I did that for about 2 months. As I think about it, it was a long process.
Picking up the cans instilled the discipline in me and the confidence in me to run a business. I knew it would do that. Each time i picked up a can, it made me feel like I found a client. Each time I picked up a can I imagined that I just signed a real estate deal: it could be an "exclusive right to represent" or a
I did that for months and held on to every dime. I did not start purchasing soft drinks until July. I was using the discipline that my mother and father instilled in me and the disciplined I rediscovered while writing and trainin for the triathlon before the bottom fell out of my life. But I was determined to pick up the pieces. I never sat around and socialized at the facility. I either read, wrote, picked up cans or encouraged others to stay away from drugs. Some stayed away. Most did not.
Guys would get these checks and spend money on all of these clothes, tapes, and gold chains. I was dressed in a couple of things. I wore the same shoes for months. I wore my vest and sweat shirts. The vests were the main thing. I had two. One was stolen. I had to have my vests. I could keep my food in the pockets but I could keep my pens and pencils in the pockets. I had at least ten pens and pencils on me at all times. I was terrified of running out of them as writing was my therapy and my new passion. I was going to take it to a new level. However, I needed pens, pencils and paper. Workers would stop by and give me paper while I was at the guard shack. Residents would sneak paper out to me. They would come by and give me fruit.
"Keep writing, Walter. You need to tell the story about this place. Nobody else will be honest. It will work out."
"Keep doing what you are doing, Melton. You mind your business. I have been watching you. I don't mess with anyone. You have to watch yourself at a place like this. You keep doing what you are doing, it is going to work out for you."
They were starting to say the same things to me that they said to me in jail.
I wanted to do a documentary on drugs. I had been thinking about it for years. When I started to decrease my drug usage in my neighborhood, I started lining up people to do a documentary. My mother was reading my writings. She would sneak to read them while I was swimming at USC.
BEAR WITH ME. I AM SAYING ALL OF THIS FOR A REASON. I AM GETTING TO IT. IT WILL TAKE TIME. I DID NOT KNOW I WAS GOING TO GO THIS DIRECTION, SO DEEPLY TODAY.
She said I was good. She knew I was writing. She saw me write everyday, all day. I would stop only to look up words and research in my vast family library or in the ten inch dictionary my father owned before I was born. That dictionary was the tool I used to find my path back to scholarly pursuits.
You see, I had a plan. Everybody knew I smoked cocaine. Everybody knew I was into alot of things. I had several nick names on the street. "Tiger Woods was one of them. "Arthur Ashe", another. But when I started going to USC to swim and they also knew I was writing, they nick named me
"HARVARD/WESTLAKE, after my alma mater. It was a signal to me that the preppie who smoked cocaine had earned the respect of everyone from the streets. All of my hard work to gain their trust and respect was finally paying off. I was going to use it to make a documentary and each of the smokers of cocaine and dealers all agreed to do it. They would do it to keep kids off drugs.
I had lined every thing up for two years. I was learning how to do it. Everyone knew I was a 60 minute fanatic. They also knew my nick name was "Walter Cronkite" in elementary school. To them it made sense. "I will be damned" I said to myself. I am finally doing what my father said I would love and people at Harvard School said I would love. Telling Stories and film. There is this saying the "family Business". Well, I was starting to get fascinated with the school family business of Harvard School, film, television etc. for Chris sake, where have I been. Did not matter, I was finally coming home. You could do sports, real estate and film, news, or whatever. It all went together.
So I did the same thing at the facility. I started lining people up for my documentary. I lined up every dope smoker I could find. They all agreed. They all had compelling stories. They were courageous in sharing them with me.
I had no computer. I had no camera. Then they started a computer class. I woke up and they were installing all of these computers. I almost fainted.
"Rory, I want to do a documentary. Help me." He said he would. He could not find his computer or camera he had in storage. They were in storage. I kept trying to find a camera. I walked around all day picking up cans and looking for the optimal location in the compound from where I could conduct my interviews. I had been an extra for three years. That production experience was coming into play now. I talked to everyone about lighting etc. Jack Priestley the Cinematographer said I had an eye for it. he let me look through the camera. He was the Cinematogragpher for the "Trials of Rosie O'NeiL"
It was a television series with Sharon Gless. In fact they filmed it Downtown at
3rd and Hewitt. I was a regular background artist. I never had to take direction. They told me I had good instincts. "Just go where you want to go, Walter. Where you need to have balance" That was my training. Sharon and I became friends. She had gone to the Marlborough School so we had that in common. Barney Rozenzwig (spelling) was the producer. Years later at USC I would see his name at the Lyon Center where I swam. I remembered all of those lessons talking to producers, light men, sound, etc. I remember all of the procedures to film. I remembered it all while swimming. I remembered it all while in jail. I have my sweatshirt with me from that show"The Trials of Rosie O'Neil" to keep me focused on my goal.
That was the first time I read the name Tom gilmore. At that time. I was also a real estate man. I would sit at a quiet part of the set some where and study my real estate classes so I could get my brokers license. I already had my sales license. I would walk around this area because I knew the value of the real estate. I did this kind of thing in Philadelphia. I just could not convince Los Angeles friends to buy downtown. Dam. So I knew Gilmore was on the right track. I have been following him since.
Anyway, I saved and saved my can money. Some people began to realized that I never bought clothes. I never bought soft drinks. I never bought anything. They said I must have money. " I am broke. I have nothing." I wanted that camera. I would walked every day looking for cameras and looking at real estate.
I saw the Skid Row Kaiser Permanente story on 60 minutes. I never missed it. I haved watched that show from the day it started. I am a lesley Stahl
fan. It was a carry over from my Walter Cronkite fan days. I had my own news press when I was kid, for God's sake.
I saved and I saved. I would not purchase a phone. I had no one to call. I could not call my mother. My sister did not want to speak to me and I was scared to call my friends.
I wrote on the computers. I started doing research on the internet. I started looking at jobs at tv stations. But then I would get depressed because of my felony. I would look at real estate companies. Again I would get depressed. I worried and I still do about my license. I checked with the deputy commissioner but I am not certain what they will do. The one thing I learned in Skid Row is everything depends on the action of the person that is handling your situation at the time it is being decided. The deputy commissioner said it would not matter because it is not a fraud felony but you never know.
Anyway, I kept picking up cans and I had been developing this business plan for an idea I identified since being down here. I identified it at the same time I saw the entrepreneurial opportunity to pick up cans in a captured marketplace where I would have a natural monopoly.
I have been developing the idea since then and have been working towards it in various ways. Finally I borrowed somebody's phone one day after I saw Blogdowntown on the net. I saw it everyday. I borrowed that phone everyday but never used it. "He would say no". "He would think I am crazy". But something inside of me had a feeling that it would work out. It was the same feeling I had all of my life about something and indeed it would work out.
It was the first time in a long time that I had that feeling. I called Eric.
and I will be damned, he listened to me. " Hello, Eric, my name is Walter and you are talking to a man who has experienced a bad time and now is turning it around. "
"Well, it is good that you are turning it around. I am glad for you", Eric said.
And that is when everything went to a new level. Poor Eric Richardson, I bugged him like you would not believe. He was patient with me. Now I bug Garza. (smile)
A few days after I met Eric, I bought my video camera. I use it to make the still shots for the blog. Have not figured out how to use it for the video. It is the darndest thing.
He let me write, Eric did. I told Eric my idea. He said it was a great idea. I have trying to learn how to implement it ever since. Everyday, I get closer. I learn more. I do more. I meet more people. All are necessary ingredients for success in this matter.
For 2 months I have been attening every type of prepare for work class. It has been a requirement at places. I moved into a new place to live and everyday I had to get on a bus and go someplace. The week,before that, had to attend another class, here, at Chrysalis. It got me out of my shell. Don't forget. I was the man who sat in the guard shack every day. I heard of chrysalis a couple of months before I came here but I never came. When I did, I was depressed because of the limited job opportunities. I knew why but still I was depressed about it.
The GROW class t eacher kept telling me I needed to be realistic. "You have a felony" she kept saying. "You need to concentrate on what you can get".
It was depressing. People kept telling me I could get a job. These people kept telling me that I could only do certain things. It was depressing. I felt they only worried about their statistics and funding to teach their class. If they could not place me, then they would not get funding.
Then, without their help, I found a property manager job, a job they never thought I could get. She even told me I could not get it. It was like finding a needle in a hay stack but I found it. They gave me the offer. In fact the lady at the public assistance offer almost insisted that I cancedl the job interview to attend a job fair to be a custodian at a company. I refused.
I received the offer. You know the rest.
Today is the first day, in over 6 weeks, where I have not had to be in a job class.
I found three jobs on my own. Two of those jobs I received offers but the higher ups would not let them hire me. The third was the property manager job.
I found all of those jobs when I felt down on myself. I found all of those jobs when I felt no one would give me a chance. They did not result in employment but they almost did. Now, I feel good about myself. I am meeting people and I realized that I have come a long way. Now, I can attack the employment market without being told what I can't do. It is good because now I am beginning to believe that I can accomplish things. I have some people who believe in me.
I have some people who keep me strong.
Today is the first day I can begin to do things that will propel me forward instead of just doing what authorities tell me to do. I have to go to the probation department soon. I have to still comply with certain other demands on my time. but I have perservered. That is what this adventure is all about.
Regaining confidence, no matter what. So today is a big day for me. It is 11:45AM and I have been typing for three hours. Just like old times.
I have to leave here and go to the Transition House. I will pick a picture to put on my blog. So when I write the word 'NOW' , you know that I have left, because they shut this place down for lunch. I will go to the Transition house and upload a picture. I will resume my typing there or at the library. I just want you to know what I must do to produce this blog. I go through that just when I type. Putting a picture on it is an amazing exercise of coordinating logistics.
Oh yes, they are having a wine tasting event at the The Banguette Bar on
4th and Main St tonight. It costs 30 dollars. They will have operatic introductions of the different wines. I hear Don Garza is preparing diligently to sing his best.
Thanks for spending the morning with me.
good afternoon world, I love ya.