Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Final Move (Part 1)

520 Wall Street.
The Courtland. My new residence. The building with the huge glass front. This street is no different than one you would see in New York - a quiet, brownstone lined street.
I put this iconic inspirational saying on the back of the door when I moved in to keep me fighting. The last thing I did when I walked out of that room forever was to rip it from the back of the door.
Room 378, Marshall House. This is where I lived for 9 months. Moved out on July 10, 2008. I made sure that room was perfectly clean when I left. I remembered my father telling our YMCA group that statement when we left our first overnight camp experience in Soledad Canyon as a kid. "Always leave it spotless, like you have never been there." Yes, dad, I am listening.
The Marshall House on San Julian St, the loudest, filthiest and most drug infested street on Skid Row. A battle for its soul is raging on an on going basis. I was told to make the Marshall House work for me. I listened. It did for me what was necessary. I did what was necessary to do while I was there.
The gate to my very first stop on Skid Row, the Transition House.
The aisle in which I slept for 71/2 months at the Transition House. They give you a bed and a locker. Two people who lived on that aisle have died from overdoses after they left the facility.


About three months ago, I visited the residence of Wesley, a co worker and friend. Wesley grew up in my neighborhood, around the corner from me. I wrote about him in previous postings. In those postings it is clear that Wesley has been sort of a guiding light for me in many respects.

Before he moved to his place Wesley lived across the hall from me at the Marshall House. I was glad he was there, not only in the building but across the hall from me as I was unsteady in my self confidence and pessimistic about my future. Wesley was a link to home and a pillar of strength.

A few months after I moved in, Wesley moved out of the Marshall House into The Courtland, around the corner from where I lived. The Courtland is on the most quiet street in Skid Row. The Central Division Police Station is on that street. Therefore people avoid it. To me, that was one of the benefits of being on that street. The police station kept anyone who was engaged in illegal activity off of it.

When I visited his place, I knew I had to go to that building. It was so quiet and it had air conditioning which is a rarity on Skid Row. I believe it is the only one of twenty six buildings that is managed by the company that has air conditioning. Wesley had a street view. He said he would not trade his unit for any place else in the neighbhorhood. There were larger and newer units but they either cost more or were on the eastern edge of Skid Row. Wesley, like myself, was not interested in moving east. We had the desire to move west. My first westerly move was from Crocker Street to San Julian St. I was on the waiting list to move into a vacant unit in the inventory of units that my employer had but I had no idea how long it would take. I had been on the list since I moved into the Marshall House.

I was notified that my rent was going up from 141 dollars to 429 dollars on June 1.
It is customary in Skid Row for the rent to be increased once you secured a job and have worked for some time. That is the way it works on Skid Row. With that notification I needed to expedite,if at all possible, my move out of the Marshall House, which is considered transitional housing, into permanent housing.

My origional goal was to be out of the Marshall House by the beginning of the summer of 2008 and I wanted to keep that time schedule. I was ready to move. I had been preparing for it in many ways. I opened a new checking account that did not charge me a monthly fee as did the previous account. I bought new plastic storage containers as well as household items for my future place. Per Wesley's direction, I authorized my employer to deduct my rent from my paycheck so I would not have to be bothered with paying the rent and it wouldk provide the management company with a solid comfort level to motivate them in letting me rent a unit from them.

I began to ask Karl, every day, about the availability of a unit in the Courtland.
Someone had just moved in there and he told me that other units were coming available. He worked for the owner/management company also. Unfortunately I was told that there was an unusually low vacancy rate of 2% in the buildings the company managed. In Skid Row, most buildings are full in the cold months as people want to get out of the cold weather. Shelters are filled up and people behave themselves so they are not evicted from housing or discharged from shelter facilities. In the warm months, the vacancy rate increases because people want to be outside. The consensus among Skid Row veterans is that the vacancy rate increases in the summer because people would prefer to spend money on drugs and be outside rather than use that money for housing.

Finally,one day, as I was walking across fifth street, I heard someone yell my name. It was Karl. "Walter, don't leave", were his words as he was trying to end a conversation with someone so he could inform me of the latest events. I knew there was a breakthough.

First he told me about the Rivers but the rent was too high. He also mentioned he had several rooms that were coming available at the Courtland. I wanted the Courtland, I told him. It suited my needs perfectly. Every person on Skid Row raves about the loft apartments in the Rivers and how large they are. It was a little bit over my budget and it was on the eastern end of Skid Row. As I said earlier, I wanted to go west. One block west would make so much difference in my life.
It would take me off of the dirtiest, filthiest and loudest street on Skid Row and put me on the most quiet street where I could hear myself think. I would be closer to Metropolis Books
where I am a frequent customer as well as the bank. And one thing I liked to see were the new art galleries on Main Street.

I found that most people who are thrilled to be at the Rivers and the New Terminal are those that plan on being on Skid Row for the duration. If they are happy then I am happy for them. But I am looking at my tenure on Skid Row to end. I do not want to lose focus. When I was in college, my father told me to not get distracted by things that were not important. My stay there was transitory, he said.
Well, I did not follow his direction. I got distracted and did not accomplish my goal. My stay on Skid Row is transitory and I must make sure that each day I do not lose sight of what it takes to keep moving forward and out of here. It is so easy to get stuck.

I thought I was going to be stuck here forever. Now my perspective is changing. I do not have to be stuck here. It all comes out to how badly I want to do anything.
If I elect to stay here that is fine. The point is having a choice. Now I am in a position to make a choice and my position to make an objective choice increases in strength every day as I learn more about myself, what I want to do and begin to search for ways to accomplish my goals.

Karl told me to have some paper work completed and returned to him. As I sat in his little office I had the feeling that I was about to make a major change in my life, a significant, substantive change that will catapult me into a whole new level in ways that I did not yet know.

I completed the paperwork but after a couple of days, Karl told me there was a delay in the units being cleared for rent. However he did tell me which ones were available. I went to see it without him knowing about it and discovered that it was on the 4th floor of the Courtland and it had a view that overlooked the downtown skyline. The view itself beat the caged in and depressing feeling I received whenever I looked outside of my Marshall House window into the side of the building next door at the Russ Hotel.

I learned while going through this experience on Skid Row that I had to be patient. Don't obsess on things. Don't worry myself to death. It only made things worse. I have become pretty good at letting things go. My only concern was that somebody would get it as a result of politics or a pre-existing agreement with a government agency that gave them the right of first refusal of any units that became available. Three were available in the Courtland. Only one was facing the skyline. I wanted that room. It was a writer's dream.

I had been preparing for my move out of the Marshall House from the very first day I had arrived there. In the Transition House I was just trying to survive, waiting out the time I had to be there and to deal with the trauma of past events; low self esteem and a crushed ego that were a consequence of the events I experienced. It was not easy but I made it.

At the Marshall House I had to gain a footing. For the first three weeks I had to go to County of Los Angeles classes for job development-Money management classes that were mandated by the management of the Marshall House as well as Men's group discussions once a week. I wondered if there was ever going to be time to work on moving forward. I remember getting my driver license renewed. That was a big step. The whole time I was worried that I could not make anything happen but they did happen-one piece at a time. Slowly but surely.

So I went back to preparing for my move. I bought plastic containers. I bought towels etc. I wanted to replace everything that reminded me of pain and hardship.
I bought new things--not additional things but new things. I replaced shirts.
Threw out the ones given to me or donated them. etc etc. I kept refining my operations. Progress is measured in many ways. Discipline and habits is one that is overlooked but vital to sustain growth and progress. I focused on those while waiting.

Finally Karl called me on my phone and told me that I could begin the final paper work to obtain the unit. Yes, it was mine--unit 428, the one that I wanted so badly but did not count on getting it. I knew Karl would do the best he could to get it for I developed my relationship with him over time and he appreciated my patience. He respected me. It is another example of how goodwill that is developed can yield great things when you need it.

As soon as I filled out the necessary paper work, I darted out of his office to get him some documentation that was required for my application; bank and earnings statements. Upon obtaining them I sprinted back to his office and put the documents in his hand. On Skid Row, it is best to do things as quickly as possible. Everyone is accustomed to people dropping the ball. I was not going to leave anything left to chance.

"Ok Walter, you are set. All we have to do is have you interview with Ernest and have Danny show you the unit". Ernest had come over to me and saw me on my laptop while I was waiting for Karl earlier. He had to deal with a contingency as a woman ran into his office shouting obscenities, ending with "You no good honky." Yes, racist attitudes do spring up on Skid Row. More on that later.
I was surprised at this woman because I had seen her on and off on San Julian. It was clear she had relapsed and was coming down from a binge of drug usage. Fortunately I was able to develop a rapport with Ernest. Danny already knew me from a previous job interview so I was a known quantity with him. That is important on Skid Row.

My part was done. With a quick handshake, I walked out of Karl's office, strolled through the Grecian column lobby of the Russ Hotel and out of the front doors.
All I had to do now was wait. Shortly, I knew I was moving out of the Marshall House. I knew I was leaving a lot of the pain behind me. A new life was going to start for me. I was excited. In a very short period of time, I knew I was going to begin my last term at the Universtiy of Skid Row.

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