Earlier last year I moved into some new digs in Venice, my adopted home and the best part of LA. It’s a one-bedroom apartment with wooden floors, lots of light and one block off the main drag called Abbott-Kinney. The position is great, the landlady is cool in short it was exactly what I was looking for.
But as soon as I drove away from viewing it, I find Nigel sitting in the passenger seat. Nigel No Mates is my imaginary friend who turns up whenever I find myself on the intersection of Money and Happiness, wondering which way to turn.
Nigel: That place was ridiculously expensive! Let’s spend a few hundred less a month and get a studio like you had before. Sure you had to park six blocks away, and yes, you had to stop out the back, put on the hazard lights and run up and down the stairs with grocery bags before the parking patrol arrived. But I’m sure this time we can find a place that won’t have three drug dealers on your floor.
Without slowing down, I open Nigel’s door, push him out and watch him roll face first into the gutter. I think I heard a little cracking sound. Then I call back the Landlady – I’ll take it.
She tells me that she knew I was going to. This place always rents to the first person that looks at it and has for the 20 years she’s owned it.
And it attracts writers; three others have lived here and gone on to bigger and better things. I take it all as a great sign. And lift the floorboards looking for any stashed unproduced classics.
But I had been there for a few months and not really met any of the people on my street.
Then one day on my way to the corner shop, I bump into a big bodybuilder guy walking his aging Pug and it turns out he lives just three doors up.
I do the math: cute small dog + beach house with red door (very Elizabeth Arden) + architectural facial hair + super-duper friendly = gay.
But then I failed math at high school so I may have this equation all wrong: Big Man + dog that makes him look even bigger + door painted same color as blood + biker facial hair + could lay me out with one punch = not gay.
Then that night, I’m out at The Eagle, a dodgy gay bar that I frequent (the bar’s name is thoroughly lame by the way, but we’ll get on to that later). I’m ordering a beer when suddenly I feel a huge paw on my shoulder. I turn.
And there are the neighbors; the guy I met and his partner, equally big and tattooed, delighted to see me at their favorite haunt. They can’t believe I’m gay, they had no idea. Oh, I tell them, I had you sussed straight away.
Back on my street again, The House Next Door is probably my favorite spot on the whole of the stretch.
There is this Latino family there of ever-expanding size. I have no idea how many people live in this house. I stopped counting.
A little explanation of the area’s history. Twenty years ago, Venice was the hood. And everything between 7th and Lincoln still pretty much is. But it has gone the way of so many suburbs in LA. The artists move in for the cheap rent, a couple of cafés open, the gays follow, some nice locally run shops and a grocery store appear, the arty straight couples come, followed by up and coming producer couples who couldn’t afford Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, designer clothing emporiums take over liquor stores, homeware shoppes (that’s 2 p’s and 1 e) appear, big sexy bars open, $25 a main course restaurants come swiftly on their heels, a Whole Foods grocery materializes followed up by prams pushed by pushy head to toe Nike clad mothers on their way to yoga via the Urth Café.
Then last and definitely least, the parking officers.
So this house next door is a relic of a bygone era. A keeping-it-real island in a sea of condo developments. Every other house in the street is pushing a million; this was probably bought for 20 thousand way back. And they are keeping the prices down.
It’s basically a long shack with a front yard that has a turned over wheelchair, a rusting exercise bike, a rowboat (yes, a rowboat), broken plastic flamingoes and swans, rusted and chipped lawn furniture, half a shade umbrella and a car that looks like it’s been being fixed up from when they moved in.
Oh, and a German Shepard who pops up over their front gate like a rabid Jack-in-the-box trying to eat all passers-by. I can hear the barking and screams from my window.
Naturally, every property flipper in the street loathes them. But I dig these guys; they were Venice before Venice had its own magazine.
And of course, there are kids. I know this because I almost run over three of them one day. It’s school break and the kids have nothing to do, so the 10 year old girl and the 8 year old boy decide to push the 8 month old baby around in the pram, not strapped in, in the middle of the street, all three screaming.
This game is apparently so good that they forget that the road has cars on it. I’m turning into my driveway and brake for the kids, who all scream with fright when they see me.
Girl: Sorry mister!
Me: That’s OK.
Girl: You live here don’t you?
Girl: I saw you moving in.
Me: Yeah, I think I saw you guys around too. Anyway, you might want to strap in the baby and stay off the road.
Girl: Yeah, ok.
They run off screaming, no one strapped in and no adult in sight. Anyway…
A week later, I’m trying to write at my desk when I hear the kids next door again. Today’s game involves four of them standing in the front area; one plays three notes on a broken Fischer-Price xylophone, then all four of them scream as loud as they can.
I think, Ok, they are kids and this will get boring real soon. Twenty minutes later, it hasn’t. So, I go out the front of my apartment and become the loco gringo (translation: crazy cracker).
The kids all turn and look at me like rabbits caught in headlights.
Me: Can you keep it down!!!??? I’m trying to work in here, can’t you play a game that doesn’t involve screaming?!
The same girl I nearly ran over the week before then looks me straight in the eye with her best wide-eyed fuck-you-mister look.
Girl: No hablo Ingles (translation: I don’t speak English. For you.)
I am so shocked by this little bare-faced lie, I want to slap her. Apparently gringos all look the same.
Me: Oh really? I’m the guy that nearly ran you down last week. Remember me, we had a little chat in Ingles on the street?
She knows she just got busted but she just looks at me and giggles. The little bitch, I think I really like her.