I had been in contact with University of Southern California Hillel about attending services, but that never panned out. However, those contacts led me to a school message board where I found a girl named Katie* who had a room available for July and August. Even though I had lived in L.A. nearly four months, most of that was isolated to the Valley. I had no actual idea where USC was. For now it would have to do. The timing and price was right, so I agreed to take the place without once stepping foot anywhere near it. I’d graduate in May, stick around for a while I packed up and head back west in the middle of June. My cousins had already offered to let me stay with them until the room became available on July 1st.
I flew back to the east coast, drank too much, graduated, and my parents threw a tandem graduation party for my sister and I. Then I packed up and returned to California. I spent the next two weeks at my cousin’s house looking for work, which I found at USH. When the time came to move into the sublet I was thrilled about the idea of not living with two kids under the age of six.
The new place took two highways to get to and was just a couple of exits short of a third. I could describe my location as directly south of central Los Angeles. As I turned on to my new street, it was difficult finding a trendy angle-in parking space. Making one more loop around, I found a parallel spot nearby. The neighborhood seemed nice enough at first, but there was seemingly nobody around, lots of nearby construction and loud music coming from various windows. When I got to my building, I stood out front and this is what I saw**
Most buildings on the street were traditional white, brick or brown. My new building was pink, (coral or salmon, depending on who you ask). Someone was leaving as I was going in, and they held the door open for me. Perhaps this should have viewed this as a sign of friendliness instead of a concern for lack of safety. I made my way up two flights of creaky stairs and knocked on the door - it was opened by a heavy set, dark haired girl. Katie* had mentioned there would be others subletting for May and June, so I guessed this was who I was taking over for. The heavy set girl did not say a word; she just opened the door and went back to their room where she was studying with a friend. I walked along the off-yellow colored living room rug and part of me wondered if that was the planned color or one that been achieved over time.
“Hi,” I said, trying to break the ice, “I’m here to start subletting.”
“We’re not done yet. Come back in a few days,” large girl replied.
I told her that I had my stuff with me. Large countered by saying she had finals tomorrow and they needed to study. I agreed to give them extra time, partly because she was scary and partly because I wasn't exactly thrilled with the apartment. She handed me some keys and showed me the door. Taken aback by the situation, I went back to my cousin’s house and e-mail to Katie, who agreed to credit me for time I was not there.
I came back later that week and the girls were nowhere to be found. The apartment looked like it had been abandoned in the middle of a daily routine. Dishes piled in the sink, garbage overflowing and the fridge was a disaster. There was an uncovered large metal bowl filled with a lumpy brown batter-like substance with a spoon sticking out of it. It appeared as if someone tried to make cookies, took a bite, realized it stunk and fled the scene. The smell itself crossed so many levels of foul there were practically stink lines coming off it. I quickly pitched the contents and soaked the bowl in the sink.
The mystery of which bedroom was mine was quickly answered. I tried to open one of the doors and it barely budged. I got it open enough to fit inside – but that’s as far as I got. It seemed the three girls who had lived in the apartment designated this room to hold all of their belongings. Boxes upon boxes were piled up on the floor, on the bed, taking every inch of space. Of the other two rooms, one had a lot more space – because there was no bed. That left me with the smallest room and a metal framed bunk bed. The closet in my room was still mostly full and the plastic dresser drawers were taped shut, so I was forced to lived out of my suitcase.
I didn’t know anyone in my building or in my neighborhood. I would spend all of my free time closer to work and near my family. There was nothing in the apartment for me to do. No television, a terrible air conditioner and faulty Internet that I borrowed from the neighbors - it only worked in the storage bedroom or bathroom. I bought a paper plates, bowls and plastic utensils – nothing was permanent about this place. I had become a traveling salesman, coming home to a shady motel only to sleep, shower and leave.
Independence Day was the loneliest time. No fireworks, no barbecue, no friends. The sole redeeming aspect was that the neighborhood seemed very patriotic. Loud booms were heard throughout the night as I lay in bed. For days following the holiday, I heard the same noises echo throughout the night. In order to actually sleep, I convinced myself that all of the sounds were fireworks.
In those days I was working late shifts at USH that were saved for the newest employees. By the time I clocked out, changed and got home, it was after ten. I tried to put off being home for as long as possible, sometimes by doing unnecessary errands. On a specific night, I juggled three full bags of groceries up the stairs in one trip, not wanting to leave any of my refrigerated goods in the car.
I managed to get the key into the lock, opened the door, immediately dropped all my bags and reached for the light switch. Nothing happened. Like a waiting horror movie victim, I frantically tried it several more times, each yielding the same result. Walking to the kitchen, I soon discovered that none of the lights were working – the power had apparently been shut off. The agreement with the apartment leaser was that the first two month sub-letters would pay utilities for May and June and I would do the same for July and August. This was seemingly dismissed by the large study buddies and now I was suffering. I opened the refrigerator to find my food was as cold as one would expect from a non-air conditioned Los Angeles apartment in July – and it smelled just as fresh.
The refrigerator proved to be the final straw. In a rush, I threw away all of my ruined food, packed up everything I had there, including tonight’s groceries and some hangers that didn’t necessarily belong to me. My cousin reacted surprisingly calm to the late night call asking if I could come back and stay with them until I found a more permanent place.
The next morning I sent off an e-mail Katie, demanding a refund for my rent. She wrote back and agreed, while mentioning the girls who lived there before me had changed their numbers and not returned any of her messages. Giving the key back to her that September was nothing short of painful. It was the first time I was anywhere near USC since that disastrous summer. Katie was no longer in the apartment, having moved into a large, gaudy Sorority House. We exchanged only the simplest of conversation, I handed her the keys and drove off. (I actually ran into her later on in my Los Angeles adventures. She didn’t remember me, but I knew it was her. I'll save that for another entry due out this April.) In the end I got an apartment in a neighborhood that didn’t constantly sound like 4th of July and only was two blocks away from my cousins.
* I can’t remember the girls name for the life of me, and even if I could, I doubt she would want me to mention her in this context. Let’s just call her Katie so I don’t have to keep writing out “the girl who I sublet the apartment from”.
** Image courtesy of Google Maps and its street address stalking ability. I didn't actually take a picture of the building.