Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Did you fuck the bitch?"

“Did you fuck the bitch?” , the words were banging inside of my head as I was driving through Skid Row on my way home. “Did you fuck the bitch?” I was reliving the moment when I first heard that question, my eyebrows raising as I stared at the man who whose fingernails were scratching against the chalkboard of my soul. He had walked into my office earlier in the evening while I was filing something away in a back room. I heard someone walk through the door and immediately walked out to see who was coming in. One does not want to be surprised on Skid Row. It is safer that way. I met him between the door and the backroom, in the narrow corridor that served as an impromptu rendezvous, not of my choosing. “Don’t swing at me Walter; I know I owe you some money. I got you on that but I came to tell you something”. Like hell you do you lying SOB. You are not going to paying me a dime. And you really don’t want to tell me a thing. You are baiting me for some reason but I will find out what it is in a minute. You are too obvious. You always have been. It was Michael. He and I work at the same company and he was a resident where I work. For months he would borrow a few dollars from me and would pay me on payday. There was no need to pay his debt when he moved out as he did not have to see me every day. Payment to me was the cost of passage to his room. He made more money than I did,lived rent free, had endless overtime hours but it never seemed to be enough for him. He was not doing drugs, at least not those that are material for a rapid brush fire of gossip in the neighborhood. His kind of drug is the dominant, though not unanimous docrine in most circles of the male population in Skid Row His addiction is power. Sex is his tool to gain it. Women are his victims. Any woman. If the woman could breathe he wanted her. Had to have her.

It was rumored that he could not keep himself in his pants and his adventures were constant topics in the virtual employee coffee rooms throughout Skid Row. But embellishment is a key ingredient in the Skid Row storytelling culture. Or it seems to be. So I took what I heard with a grain of salt, filtering information into the categories of possibility and probability. Then I saw for myself when, every night, he would parade women in shifts for fifteen minute interludes inside of his room. “Oh, ok, I get it now. That is where his money goes”, I noted after having a front row seat to his escapades.

So I stood there and waited for him to continue with what was obviously a subterfuge of some sort. “You have to be honest with me, Walter. Seriously.” You got a lot of nerve demanding even a hello from me, let alone honesty. “Did you fuck Karlita? Did you fuck the bitch?”
While he was trying to figure out how to continue with this charade, a resident walked by my office and yelled,” You can come by in 10 minutes to get your chicken, I am a little late.” OK, so that is the reason. You spent your money on the hookers. You are hungry and the only reason you would come into this building is because you had no other way of feeding yourself. You had to walk by me and and figured the best way to distract me from telling you about your lying ass was to distract me by talking about something you figured would keep me from throwing you out of here, sex. You are not worth a rat’s ass.
“Ok man, I got some info for you. She did it. Karlita finally went out. She finally went out and she is on one. You can get that pussy for cheap now. 10 dollars. But Robert is fucking it up for everybody. He paid the hoe 400 dollars to eat her pussy. Stupid mother fucka. If he keeps doing that, the brothas might have to pay the bitch 20 dollars for some head and some pussy. Someone ought to kick his ass!!!!” , he barked.
I did not say a word. I just looked at Michael while he was basking in one of his hobbies—being the Paul Revere in Skid Row, announcing to any predator who could hear that a woman was ready for the taking. “Fuck her, abuse her, demean and humiliate her as you please. And while you are at it, make her suck your dick even harder to make up for the times she would not respond to the insulting and degrading overtures that you made. I mean why not, you were only doing the bitch a favor letting her service you!!” It is the dogma that is part and parcel to many on the Nickel. I just looked at him and thought about Karlita and many that I met like her from the moment I set foot on the Skid Row campus.
Karlita is one of many women that have a past. It is part of the Skid Row pedigree, not unique to it, but more visible on the women and men in the community here than in other places. Women struggle to carry the shame with them as they attempt to walk with dignity through the streets of Skid Row while men are offering drugs and money to them, baiting them to come back into the fold of self destruction. The burden of guilt is heavy on their shoulders but you would never know it. They are stoic in public. They shed tears when they are alone with themselves or with fellow women in private rooms where they can talk openly about their pain with those who can appreciate how deeply the ‘past’ cuts into them and the bleeding never ends. There are times when the bleeding is less than other times but it never ends, I was told. Never. Yet there is always the fear that the ‘past’ will come again in the future and the scabs that have developed will give way to a flood of new and more powerful bleeding.

I met Karlita while I was in a computer lab on Skid Row. At the time I did not have a laptop and was a regular visitor of this computer lab as it was the only place where I could upload pictures. I used to live in the shelter and was given the privilege to continue using the lab after I moved from the facility. Karlita was a student in one of the programs there and was making progress putting distant from her collective as well as her most recent ‘past’. She arrived at the shelter from prison which is standard in Skid Row. She struggled but was able to keep the dogs away from her. She maintained focus and a bit of hope. The dogs never stopped barking at her with lurid comments on what they wanted to do with her, not realizing or caring what those comments were doing to her.

Red flags came up when she told me she had a boyfriend. Boyfriends are synonymous with trouble on Skid Row. (Funny, I keep saying Skid Row as I always say that when you look at Skid Row you look at America). She had a job when I last saw her. She was widening the distance from the ‘past’. I knew she was still in the minefield but she had a chance. Men kept telling me about this woman that they saw all of the time, “Man this bitch will not give me any pussy. She thinks she is all that. I am going to wait. I will get it. She will fall. She will go out one day. She will start smoking. Then I will punish her and buy that pussy for little or nothing.”. Secretly I would cheer Karlita and the other women on rooting for her to keep walking through that minefield.

Then she stepped on one. She was laid off. I do not know if she was smoking at the time or not. The predators say she was. But that means nothing. I waited for word. I called her. Talked to her. She was concerned about getting kicked out of the residence where she lived. She needed to pay rent. She needed money. Those fears drive one to smoke at times.

She stepped on another. She was kicked out of the residence. She could not pay her rent and refused to give in to the offers that paid her money but stole her self- respect. I tried to call her. Her cell phone was not in service. At night I could not find her. I wanted to speak to her. Help her. It is interesting that those women, who bleed so much from the pain they feel, help others with the pain they feel. It is ironic that the men who hurt them are the men for whom the sit and listen patiently and attentively while the men tell them their problems and pain.
She could hold on no longer. The mine exploded beneath her, scattering her and at the same time catapulting her into a new ‘past’. The predators were happy and Michael, the Paul Revere of that clan, was happiest of all.
At night, after work, I drove my car through Skid Row hoping I could see her in the shadows of the night and get to her before another predatory dog could chew on another chunk of her spirit. But I had no luck. And then yesterday I heard that she was beaten up in a facility on Skid Row, one of the facilities where drugs are not supposed to be present but where Karlita hung out because it was easier and safer to get drugs there than on the street. Yes. It was easier and safer for her to get drugs in a facility that demands sobriety from its residents.
I heard the residents of this facility beat her up because she wanted more than her fair share of drugs which, of course, would leave them with less.

I wondered where she was. I hoped I could find her last night. I did not recognize her stride in the crowds of women on the streets. Perhaps her gait had changed with the weight and shame of her new ‘past’. I searched for an hour. I gave up.

I turned down Fifth St and headed to the freeway. My head was pounding and the echo was bouncing from one wall to the other. It did not fade as I put physical distance between me and the Skid Row campus. The echo gloated on the fact that it no longer had to compete for attention as there is so much that can grip one while on the Nickel. The echo reverberated louder and louder while ricocheting from left ear to right ear with each passing mile on the freeway on my way home……”Did you fuck the bitch?”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Life is a paradise if only we give it a chance. For the past month I had been commuting to work, in Skid Row(funny how I view a five mile bus ride a commute), from Leimert Park and then driven to my mother’s house at night. This year has started out with a bang and it’s still spurting fireworks. Every day a piece of the beautiful cluster explodes and reveals more to behold. It took a long time to get to this point.
As my year began with new beginnings, so did the country experience the same. It said goodbye to many things that kept our collective growth and spirits handcuffed-an arrested development if you will.
President Obama said that we as a country must get up dust off ourselves and begin anew the process of rebuilding and building. Those words were poignant. They navigated their way into the archives of my Skid Row Soul. “Walter, you have to rebuild yourself. Get up, dust yourself off and start over.” Words that were simple in concept, yet the thought of executing the task were overwhelming.Two and half years ago I stood in the driveway of the family house, next to my mother’s car. She had given me the keys to get the car started. Within minutes, my hands were behind my back and handcuffed. “You were stealing your mother’s car but that is not what we are arresting you for” said the officer. I looked at him in disbelief.
Our nation has been evolving and transforming for years and finally, in November of last year, it was ready to take the next step-to make its transformation official. It elected Barack Obama. The official transition period started on the day of the election and it ended on January 20, when the ‘new’ became official. It was a long road and the country traveled it alone from the days of the slave ships to the inauguration ball. It was a long road and it had many challenges. Our problems were many and they were serious.
I know a little bit about dusting myself off and rebuilding and building. My development was arrested decades ago when I chose a life of self destructive partying-the high life, they call it. It almost ended my life in more ways that I care to let myself imagine at the moment. I experienced too much of it while rebuilding—the wonderment if life was over, that is.
It was a hard road which I started on February 7, 2007, when my ship landed in Skid Row. Of course, I had been on the slave ship Lady Cocaine for a couple of decades, sailing the seas of life in circles, experiencing much of nothing, loosing most of everything and did not see the sands of my soul leaking out of me. As much as I was sailing, I was so anchored. I landed on an island-“Island Los Angeles County Jail”. And there, I was stranded and isolated. People were stranded on the island as well, and many, were dead before they arrived. Many continue to die, in various ways, while I was there. The island made it possible to seal the death of a part of me by separating me from the tides of destruction. Sure, I had made it ashore but the will was a new stalk that had been born and was frail. The island allowed it to gain strength and grow in isolation. It was in that island where the rebuilding began.
In the fall of last year, I decided to purchase a car. It traveled many miles on that rebuilding road just to get to the point where I could think about a car. Fortunately, the preparation merged with opportunity and I was successful in making a deal. Each paycheck I made a payment toward the total price of the car and on Christmas day I made the last payment.
I was in transition. The evolution started years ago when the forces inside of me fought for something new that preserved life instead of, of the negative forces that was killing it. Many seeds of growth had been planted starting from the day of that arrest. Those seeds were watered with endless tears that I shed, day in and day out. Suddenly, in the pool of many years’ tears, I saw a glimpse of a rainbow. Tears of sadness and heartache became tears of joy. That joy grew every day as well as my view of and the size of the rainbow. The seeds of that sudden rainbow were planted when I landed on the County Jail Island but I did not know it.
Today, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles. I had registered the car and insured it. However I had to get it smog checked. I had my appointment and I could see that things are different at the agency. I had visited it at each step of my rebuilding/building process—the first time was when I needed Identification after landing on Skid Row from the Island County Jail. I could not use my home address at the time. Could not use it when I went to get my driver license earlier this year. Ahh, but I could use it when I went this morning to turn in my smog proof form. It is the address on my new registration. While there I changed my driver license from my Skid Row address to my family house address. Interesting, is it not, how things can change.
I finished my business and had my tags in hand, walked out of the door and went to my car. Before I could enter it, an elderly man stopped and spoke to me in the best English that he could. I do not know his mother tongue. Yet we were able to figure out what he needed and I was able to communicate to him to follow me in my car to where he had to go. I was able to tell him a few words that carried him far like the words that carried me a long way, “Walter, dust off yourself and rebuild.”
Waiving him on, I went home –a place where I could not go for two years. I went home in the same car, where, the last time I stood next to it, before I purchased it I was ‘in the back of it’—behind it. Yes, I purchased my mother’s car, the same car that an LAPD officer told me that I was trying to steal.
I rebuilt myself and I am building myself.
I know a little bit about dusting myself off. I had many problems and they were serious. If I can do it, our nation can do it. We already have in some ways but that is just the beginning. The election was the license to do so. We must put one foot in front of the other. It will be tough. We will shed tears. But the tears will water our future and nourish the seeds of a new beginning. It will take times for the seeds that we plant to germinate. But they will. I am proof of that.
I missed the Bird of Paradise plant while I was back east in college. They do not grow in the snow of Philadelphia. I used to see them upon my arrival back to Los Angeles when my father or mother would pick me up at the Airport. I loved them.
I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is find a “paradise” plant. Sometimes you can build a paradise in a place where you think there is none. Yet I found Paradise in Skid Row. Found it in myself and waited the test of time for it to grow and spread.
Our nation is strong. We have overcome the insidious drug of hatred and divisiveness. Now we can water our “Birds of Paradise” plants together and nurture it to be greater than it has ever been to fly like the eagle our bird is.
We can do it. We will do it. I must go. Time to go to work In Skid Row. Time to get in the car and sail. Talk to you later.