JACK LIFFEY
MYSTERY SERIES
created by john shannon

 

Copyright © John Shannon, 2010

ONE

 

The Raging Homeless

 

     "I'll be your Archie Goodwin," Maeve offered. 

     Jack Liffey's brow furrowed, and it was clear he didn't know what she was talking about. 

     "Nero Wolfe's right hand man.  Ironside had a legman, too.  But I've only seen a few old reruns.  Mark something.  Okay, I'll be your Doctor Watson, you fuddy-duddy."

     He got it.  He rattled the arms of his wheelchair angrily, a tiny charade of a tantrum, one of the few ways he had of expressing annoyance, or expressing much of anything.

     She gave him the zucchini and ginger curry sandwich she'd been withholding and stuck out her tongue.  "You're in my power, decrepit dad-o-mine.  Better get used to it.   I can play Ornette Coleman real loud.  I'll dance in seven veils.  I'm trying to make life a little more interesting for you.  Get you a job to do."  There, she'd said it.  "Give your mind a task to fasten on like a leech."

     He'd been unable to use his legs or his voice for more than a month now, since he and Maeve had been trapped under an immense slumping hillside of mud and debris, having taken desperate refuge in a bathtub when they glanced out the window and saw the brown wall coming.  The mudslide had ripped open the walls of the house and pressed a brute thumb down on his spine, disturbing something within there.  He had lain atop her, trying to protect her, as he always did, for 45 minutes.  It had been no fun for her either, as most of that time he'd been unconscious because of a claustrophobic panic that she knew he'd been carrying around like a secret charm since falling down a well as a child.  The doctors had since prodded him and spinal tapped and X-rayed and CT-scanned him no end, spoken in a mumbo jumbo of T9 and L6, but always ended up shrugging and saying that his problems were probably only psychological.

     That invariably set Maeve off, "Is that what they told Hemingway when he was desperate for help?  Why only psychological?  The mind can be everything!"  Doctors were pretty useless. 

     Her dad was scribbling furiously on his yellow pad now.

     NO TO NERO WOLFE.  HATE ORCHIDS.  AGREE WITH GEN. STERNWOOD.  TOO MUCH LIKE FLESH OF MEN.

     "Well, I like orchids," Maeve insisted.  "They're weird and beautiful."

     They'd watched a DVD of The Big Sleep together the week before--just wonderful!--so she knew his referents, knew about the old general out in his hothouse who was trying to hire Philip Marlowe.  Unfortunately, she hadn't been speaking theoretically, but her father remained purposely obtuse to all her hints about helping him get back on track as an investigator.  His old friend Mike Lewis had called just that morning with a possible job for him--not knowing how badly off he was.  It didn't look like she was going to get away with nudging him into it, and her program wasn't all altruism.  She had her mind set on playing Dr. Watson.  Maeve was in her last semester of high school and still unsure of a college or even a major, and a break from all that annoying future-anxiety--and a few other personal problems--would have been delightful.

     Her father took a bite and nodded a reluctant appreciation of the odd sandwich.  She refused to make him anything even vaguely reminiscent of animal.  He opened his mouth to say something--old habits die hard--and emitted a kind of tortured squawk.

 

     GINGER ALE.  He tapped his finger on the words on the second pad he kept in his saddlebag which contained whole pages of alphabetized requisites: 

 

BATHROOM

HOW ARE YOU

SWEATER

BED

HUNGRY

TAKE LOCO AWAY

BAD IDEA

KILL THE TV

THIRSTY

BRING LOCO

KILL THE RADIO

TO BACK YARD

BRING MY BOOK

KLEENEX

TO BED

COFFEE

MAKE CALL FOR ME

WAKE ME IN _______

COLDER

MAKE HOTTER

WHATS ON TV TONIGHT

DOCTOR!

NEED CHECKBOOK

WHEN

GET MAIL

NEED MY MEDS

WHERE'S GLORIA

GINGER ALE

NEW PENCIL

WHERE'S MAEVE

GOOD IDEA

NEED READING GLASSES

WHO CALLED

HATE THAT MUSIC

PUT TV ON

WHO VISITED

 

     If his mute condition kept up, they'd have to get him one of those talking machines like that physicist guy, she thought.  Are-we-a-lone-in-the-un-i-verse? she mimicked the affectless robot voice in her head. 

     But her dad still had use of his hands so he could write.  She kissed the top of his head.  Maeve loved her father to death and would have given up her own future and stood by his side translating for him forever if he'd've allowed it, but she knew he wouldn't.

     When he nodded off in the wheelchair after lunch, she went into the living room of Gloria's house, out of his hearing, and called Mike Lewis back at his home in Northern San Diego County. 

     "Mike, this is Maeve Liffey.  You know, my dad got hurt pretty bad in the PV landslide.  He has to sleep a lot these days, and he just went off into noddy-ville.  But he asked me to call you back and get some details about the job."

     "I'm sorry, Maeve, I didn't know he was so bad.  My own Prager-Sjöman's is getting worse, too, I hate to say.  I had to give up teaching."

     She made a horrified face that he, of course, couldn't see.  Her father had never told her about this, but Mike Lewis made it sound like she should have known.  And if she was to be her dad's Dr. Watson, she should know everything.  

     "I'm sorry, Mr. Lewis.  Dad told me, of course, but I've been in a null zone for a while.  What is it you want him to do?"

     "I know he's a damn good child-finder.  Even if he's on half speed, I'd trust him ahead of just about anyone up there.  My son Conor has run off, and I think he's in L.A.  I usually trust Conor's judgment, pretty much, but he's still only 16 and there's too many ways a boy can get hurt at that age.  I'd like Jack to make contact if he can, have him call."

     She knew those dangers only too well.  She herself had fallen madly in love/lust with a gangbanger a year earlier and got herself beaten to a pulp joining his Latino gang, and then got herself pregnant and for quite a while had felt that she was truly lost in an alien world and would never get back.

     "Dad would want me to get whatever background you can give him," she said.

     "Okay.  Conor's quite an idealist, in all the senses.  A Platonist--and the ordinary political meaning, too."

     She'd have to look up Platonist, she thought.  Best to pretend she had a grasp on it right now.  She wished he would give her something practical.

     "He was in a rock group, like all kids his age, but it was based on pretty erroneous affinities.  The other kids were rebellious and defiant but really just suburban assholes who didn't want to learn anything.  He was a lot smarter and more curious."

     "What was it called?  It might help."

     "You do take after Jack.  The Raging Homeless."  She could hear him laugh softly.  "As if there were any homeless within 50 miles of here.  As if the completely demoralized go on rages.  He named it, probably acting out some version of the politics he's heard all his life, from me and Sinéad and Soledad."  He sighed audibly.  "I think what might have upset him this time was my condition--I know it's tough to watch a parent decline--plus a nasty argument I had one night with Soledad.  Then he had some kind of dustup at high school.  I couldn't get it out of him.  Jack can check on that.  Fallbrook High."

     "What makes you think he came to L.A.?"

     "Other than L.A. being the great magnet for everything loose in the USA?  The music business, I suppose.  As far as I know, he has no friends there."         

      "Anything else my dad should know?  Is he gay, is he an anarchist, has he broken up with a girl, does he drive a chopped '58 Chevy with a supercharger?"

     "You must have interesting friends, Maeve.  Conor is not gay, as far as we know, he loves soccer but he was too short and slow to be much good at it, I think his girlfriends were all still casual, and he drove our old Prius when he could borrow it.  Let me think.  The concept of not harming the weak and innocent is so powerful to him that he says he can't read Dickens.  It hurts him physically.  For a while in junior high he called himself Commie Boy and founded a collective whose only other members were a couple of disturbed twins.  Their parents sent them away to a military school and phoned us in a rage that Soledad and I were an evil influence.  His band is the only thing that's endured."

     "Was their music any good?"

     "Not really.  It was a garage band run on the old punk-rock ethos that you really shouldn't be proficient.  They did pay to cut a couple of CDs and sold them on the web."

     "Would you send a picture of Conor to my e-mail?  Dad still won't get a computer of his own."  Even now, she thought, when it could be his lifeline, but she didn't want Mike to know any of that.  "You know what a Luddite he is.  And e-mail the names and phone numbers of some of Conor's friends."

     "Will do.  I've got your address."   

     "Can I tell dad how you're doing, healthwise?"

     She heard Gloria's car in the driveway and knew she had to make this quick.

     "We're hoping it's stabilized, but to put it simply, my autoimmune system is eating me up.  I had to give up teaching because I can barely walk.  I suppose it's just the American experience--the long slow decline in expectations.  Tell Jack I miss him and to call me when he can."

     "Thanks, Mr. Lewis.  I've got to go now."

     "And tell Jack we love Conor a lot and want him home."

     "I sure will." 

 

*

 

     Notes for a New Music

 

--Day zero

 

     One shouldn't make a fetish of caring for its own sake, but maybe for the sake of the world.  Is there anything more powerful in the world than the loneliness of a simple soul who cares?  (Whoa!--I'm getting sentimental.)  I will probably never lose a girl as important to me as Tessie, but we didn't belong together, and I know it. 

     I wonder if I've already written the best songs I'll ever write.  Dad warned me not to feel that way, that the future would always open up like a mountain vista, but he's trying so hard to hide the slow collapse of his health.  The grace--the grace that man has.  He is a man that I will never equal.  Are sons always less than their fathers?

     This is not the first day of the rest of my life.  Today was just a bus trip, all numbnuts, burgers and suburbs, and an empty chat with a sad seatmate who got off at Oceanside to join the Marines.  (I didn't say what I felt: Fuck that!)  Maybe tomorrow will be the first day of the rest my life.  I think I can pick whenever tomorrow starts.

     I've been in a coma for years, all through school, something so horribly common in America.  I guess I've chosen trouble now.  Disruption.  Instead of continuity.  I'm sorry, mom and dad, but I had to make a run for it.  You two are all about language and words and your obsession with reason, and you'll never understand that all those things get in the way of meaning for me.

      

 

*

 

     Jack Liffey was trying to work out how to send a message to the legs that he could see down there, enclosed in chinos that were a bit wrinkled, with black postal walkers on his feet, resting like stones on the foot-flaps of the wheelchair.  In body sensation, most of the time he was a floating torso, though with a little buzz in his butt and even his feet now and then when he ran the chair over a rough surface.  It was the strangest sensation he'd ever had, being so obviously connected to the outlying provinces of his body but the messages from out there were so weak and ineffectual.  Provinces of the body in revolt.  What was that poem?  Auden.  In Memory of W. B. Yeats.

     He ran his wheelchair carefully down the makeshift plywood ramp to the back lawn where Loco was sunning in the weak winter light.  His rump felt the unevenness of the crabgrass as a vibration, faintly.  Loco hadn't really adjusted either.  Somehow the dog knew it all, and the beast tended to treat his immobile legs as alien objects, sometimes even barking frantically at them, as if to protect his master from them.  Jack Liffey encouraged it with gesture, figuring the dog's wide open outrage might just help somehow, loosen his own expression of . . . what?  A kind of bewildered resentment that seemed to hold him caged in his muteness, baffling and without physical cause.  Or so he'd been told. 

     The paraplegia--that was different, somehow.  A more straightforward kind of shirking that his body had taken on, in the face of the panic of claustrophobia.  Being literally buried alive, entombed.  Even now he had chills thinking of it.  Some part of his psyche was probably still cowering in a deep inner cave, down inside himself where he had crushed and hidden away all the other things in his life that he'd fucked up.  

     "It's in your mind," the docs said.  "Work on it."  But he'd be damned if he'd go back to the shrink of a few years ago who'd kept wanting him to "take ownership" of a collapsed lung and the intermittent weeping that had been described as his "breakdown."  Enough.  He'd already passed the saturation point of thinking about his rebellious body.  I fought the mutiny, he thought, and the mutiny won.

     He listened to the silence of his legs, their absolute heavy stillness.  It had a different quality than other silences.  An aggressive hush, like a belligerent drunk in a bar preparing to bludgeon someone.  He swore that his legs had become smug with their new power to immobilize him.  Just one nerve impulse, legs, and I will get you back.  I swear to god, when I do, I'll hurt you for this.

     They laughed at him.  We give the ultimatums here, they let him know.  When you've separated all that rage from your soul, you may begin to live your life again. 

     He wondered if he was going mad.  Imagining voices talking at him from his own body, for Chrissake. 

     Loco half-rose and glared at the immobile legs.  Jack Liffey was maybe thirty feet away from the half-coyote who'd been his pet for ten years now, and the dog approached cautiously across the lawn, a bit sideways and gnarring softly.    

     Good boy, he thought.  Bite those motherfuckers and let's see who feels it!  Too bad Loco couldn't read: Jack Liffey couldn't give the order out loud.

     Find a way to surrender to your weakness, his legs told him.  It'll be your renewal and your survival.  Stop your pointless raging. 

     His mind was awash in inane counsel, and he felt the need to punch someone.   

     Obviously you're not really ready for the struggle, the voice said.

     The dog yelped once and ran off, as if cuffed. 

     I'm in charge here, Jack Liffey thought.  Whatever you say, I'm still in love with living.  I will talk again and I will walk again.

     It seemed that his legs heard and laughed at him, as if he'd made a grand joke.    

 

*

 

     Gloria beckoned her out onto the front porch with one urgent flap of her hand.  Out of her dad's hearing, presumably.  Maeve didn't see her very often in her formal navy blue on-duty skirt-dress, the bulge of her pistol not so well concealed at her hip.  She looked a lot more formidable this way, like she could take down a couple of nasty muggers without breaking a sweat, tell them their rights, bang their heads together and cuff them to a parking meter.

     "Hi, Glor.  You look pretty rough and tough like that."

     "I am tough, kid.  You'll never know.  Any change?"

     She meant in Jack, of course.  They'd been checking in regularly for some time.

     "He forgot and tried to talk a while ago."  Maeve shook her head.  She knew she shouldn't say it, but she couldn't help herself.  "He sounded like Daffy Duck."

     Gloria put a hand on her shoulder and looked hard into her face.  "Don't try to be some macha girl if it's hurting you."

     She nodded a kind of thanks.  "I'm used to dad like this now, just like you are, but I do want him to get better."

     "He will.  I feel it.  Jack's not a quitter.  I only wish I knew what he needs." 

     Maeve decided she must have been crazy to go on, but you have to trust sometimes.  "What if we gave him some simple job?  Not directly, but if he was just the overseer.  Get his mind back in the saddle, so to speak."

     Gloria's broad brown Indio face took on all the expressive suspicion any human face could possibly display.  "You're not going Nancy Drew on us?  Not again?"

     "Of course not.  It's just an idea."

     The frown did not let up for the longest time, and Maeve wasn't sure she could wait it out.  That was one of the tricks cops learned, she knew.

     "If he needs cases, let's get him some Ross Macdonalds to read, there's lots of them," Gloria said.  "I read them all in one bad patch in my life.  The guy's a nice diversion until you realize it's all the same story--the sins of the parents descending on the children."

     "Is that my fate?" Maeve asked.  "Something Oedipal?"

     "Honey, you're already as Oedipal as it gets.  Except I think they call it something else for girls."

     "You're right.  I idolize dad.  And I'm soo dying to hear his voice again."

     "Me, too, believe me.  But not enough to let you put yourself in danger.  How are you doing out there in the cold world these days?"

     Maeve guessed that was probably some kind of code for her recent and still unassimilated lesbian affair, or even the pregnancy and abortion that preceded it.  "Do you know about Ruthie?"  She watched Gloria's expression, but couldn't read it, of course.  It was just too oppressive, this whole confusion of sorrows that oozed through her life like lava.  The abortion, yes, but Beto himself, the wicked charmer and how she had flown straight to the flame. 

     "Jack still communicates," Gloria said.  "And he's worried about you." 

     "He's worried about me?  Give me a break.  I can walk and talk like a normal person, and I'm perfectly tuned to my own channels, thank you.  I'm in the real world, Gloria.  It's just taking me a little time to adjust to a few things, maybe a few mistakes."  Fumbling my way through an eventful life, to say the least.

     "Okay--come to me if you need to, hon, any time.  I mean it." 

     Thunder crashed and rumbled suddenly across East L.A., and they both looked up at the vermillion sky, darkening with rainclouds.  A month earlier, it had been the first hard rains after years of drought that had touched off the dread mudslides that had hit her and her dad.  And had touched off this interval of tragic strangeness. 

     Generally they said L.A. had a true Mediterranean climate and the big rains came in winter from an onshore flow of moist air, trapped over the basin by an inversion.  In that particular dread downpour, however, the mudslide had been touched off by a crazy man with dynamite who was in jail now.

     "C'mon, Gloria, have a beer and offer me one.  You look beat."

     "Thanks, I am."

     For just an instant, the weak three-quarters moon shone through a rent in the clouds, exotic, brushing their immediate world with silver.  The glide on the porch and the tall lilac bushes in the yard stood out like photo-negatives.  The old-fashioned domed street lamps on the block seemed to dim in the moonlight and then blazed up again as the dark cloud healed.

     "Is it really supposed to rain?" Gloria asked.

     "Global warming," Maeve said.  "It'll either rain forever or never rain again."

 

*

 

     "Anything along the spectrum from a nice view of city lights to exposed brick walls to the promised return of Jesus will sell these lofts fast."

     "Can I quote you?" she asked, holding out the little digital recorder. 

     "Sure," Eddie Wolverton said.  The westward view out the tall steel-rimmed industrial windows of the top-floor loft was really terrific.  All of L.A.'s downtown with the centerpiece being the Library Tower (now renamed for it third change--the U.S. Bank Tower) rising above them at 73 stories and 1017 feet, the tallest building west of the Mississippi.  Downtown lights were picking out the underside of the low dark cloudbank to give it an eerie lumpy purple to chocolate glow.  Wolverton had been a partner in rebuilding several of the retro deco buildings he could see out there.  The Blue Pacific.  The old Wilton Department Store.  The only real problem with this building was its location about two blocks too far east, which meant winos on the sidewalk. 

     The architect-builder-preservationist Eddie Wolverton was leading a gorgeous young woman from the magazine L.A. Loft Living around a $3.6 million loft on top of the First Finance Building on South Main.  He knew he had nothing to lose from a little Jesus irreverence, if it was witty enough.  Very few loft buyers listened to Pat Robertson or any other Christian.

     "What about that piss smell just outside, and the homeless camping on your doorstep?" 

     She was trying to ambush him, as writers always did.  "You're exaggerating.  We're just outside the boundaries of Skid Row.  And floors three through five are guarded parking so nobody's going to panhandle you when you park your Maserati."

     She had long silver-blonde peek-a-boo hair, a la Veronica Lake, his father's favorite actress whom he just remembered from old films, and a split-up-the-hip blue dress that invited glances toward the Promised Land, but he was careful not to let that distract him from selling himself.

     "You may be just across the street from The Nickel, but that's all," she said.  "What do you say to the criticism that by buying and converting these old banks and hotels, you make it impossible for the homeless organizations to set up any more SROs?"

     SROs were single-room-occupancy hotels--what others called flophouses.  Eddie Wolverton was a Kennedy Democrat and self-righteous about what he was doing.  He insisted that anybody he partnered with support mixed use in his buildings, with shops and affordable apartments downstairs, and he even donated heavily to Sister Mary Rose's HFA organization six block away--the Catholic shelter she called a Home For All. 

     "If you really want sound-bites, this building isn't suited for an SRO, and in the long run, I don't really think the answer to the homeless problem is to warehouse all the schizophrenics and crack-addicts and shell-shocked veterans in tiny filing cabinet rooms downtown so the area becomes unusable for everybody else.  Homelessness is a social problem that belongs to the whole city.  L.A. should be setting up homeless centers all over the suburbs, not attracting every single lost soul into one big cesspool."

 

*

 

     An aura of wealth and power was indeed an aphrodisiac, Francie Lusk thought, her legs going a little rubbery as she listened to his confident voice.  The woman turned and set her hands on her hips.  "Mr. Wolverton, do you want to fuck me, right here in this empty loft?"  She gathered up her dress to reveal a blue thong panty and a lot of undyed black pubic hair.

     "You're not being very professional, Ms Lusk," he said.  "My soul is weak, like most men, but it doesn't change what I believe."

     She snapped off the recorder ostentatiously.  "Screw what you believe, man.  I'm in heat.  Hurt me a little and call me a slut, and I'll write you up in Loft Living like you've never been written up.  You'll be a humanist hero of the whole housing world."

 

*

    

     Gloria wheeled Jack Liffey toward the bedroom.  "It wasn't a terribly bad day for me, as they go," she explained.  "The Jackson murder investigation is as stalled as ever, and they dumped a new burglary on me that's probably the guy from the Rancho that we call the Black Shadow.  You know, the guy I've been after for weeks.  I think Davis Davis has finally decided I'm good enough to risk being my partner for a while, and he's stopped asking every ten minutes if I'm on the rag.  He's a lot less of a woman-hater than Ante Bratos, that's for sure."

     She pushed open the bedroom door and horsed the wheelchair around in the narrow hallway.  "Elbows."

     He gave her a thumbs-up and she knew he was with her.  But it wasn't enough.  She had to admit to herself that she desperately wanted the old Jack back, she wanted to hear his voice and his jokes.  He could always make her laugh.

     "I'm a little worried about Maeve," Gloria said, as she sealed the door behind them.  "I have a feeling she's going Nancy Drew again.  And, of course, pretending it's all for your sake."

     He waggled a hand in mid-air and made a gargling sound.  This was all so intolerable, she thought.  He'd better recover soon or one day she'd drive him out past Barstow and drop him in the middle of the Mojave.  But, of course, she wouldn't.  Any more than she'd dump him on The Nickel, the way several hospitals had been caught dumping their indigent patients. 

     Before she could begin undressing him, he held up his notebook:

     WHAT'S THIS NANCY DREW!!!

     "Oh, Jack.  Don't press it right now.  Maeve is just trying to help you, I think.  I really don't know anything much, but I'll stay on top of it.  You've got my word."

     He nodded and gave the thumbs-up again.

     "I can give you a blow-job tonight," she said, but it must not have been very convincing, because he just shook his head.  It was never very satisfying because nothing much worked at 100% these days.  And then he pointed at her crotch and gave a questioning smile.  She thought about it and decided, why the hell not?  It would do them both good.

     "Yeah, Jack, I want you to eat me, but only if you really feel like it." 

 

*

         

     The Greyhound station was on Seventh, a fairly new but battered and evil-smelling place with cordoned-off areas meant for nothing recognizably human.  Several men were sleeping slumped forward on plastic chairs or on benches with humps that were meant to make it hard for sleepers.  Conor claimed his backpack off the bus and headed out into the darkly overcast evening.  A lot of obviously poor people were out and about, pushing shopping carts, chatting and laughing, trading cigarettes or selling something more furtive.  Most of the people he saw seemed to be African-Americans.  He found himself drawn toward the bright skyscrapers maybe a mile or more away.  West?  All the other directions looked dark and semi-abandoned.

     All at once as he walked a bell began to clang, and he halted to see a half dozen black men in sweat shirts and assorted jackets, who'd been reclining amongst tents and cardboard shelters, leap to their feet and form up in a precise line blocking the sidewalk, their backs to him.  A wide garage door trundled open mechanically, and a Fire Department ambulance rolled out, winding up its siren.  Conor was astonished to see the rag-tag squad along the sidewalk snap to attention and salute the vehicle.  A fire-truck followed the ambulance out of the station and the salute was repeated. 

     Both vehicles passed him and he was astonished to read the words on their doors.  They said Los Angeles City Fire Department Station No. 9, but underneath, each one added: Skid Row.1  Whoa, he thought.  A real place, not a myth, and somebody was actually proud of it.  The ragged squad who had saluted the firemen were just settling back down against their shelters as he approached.

 

1.     This inscription has recently been changed to "Central City East," by roughly the same people who invented the expression "differently abled."

    

     "Do you guys do that every time the firetrucks go out?" Conor asked.

     "Say what?"  A hard-looking man down at the end of the platoon glanced at him, from under one of those shiny black do-rags. 

     "Just off the bus," his neighbor said.   

     "Everybody loves firemen, kid.  They're the true good guys in this world."  This second man looked and acted like their leader, with an unruly grizzled beard.  He wore an old army camo jacket and a green beret with a patch that had diagonal red and yellow stripes.  Conor didn't dare ask if he'd actually been Special Forces.  Normally, people didn't intimidate him, but he knew he was almost comically out of his depth, a suburban boy facing a half dozen older homeless black men down here where things were bound to be a bit raw.

     "Ever since 9-11," Conor agreed.

     "True dat.  Where you from, son?"  It was almost kindly.

     "North San Diego."

     "Sure you shouldn't go on home now?" another man said. "After dark somebody here boil you down for the small change."

     "Rat do a mambo on you ass," Do-rag said.   "What are you, 16 and cherry ass?" 

     "I'm not afraid."

     "Kid, ain't a question of 'fraid.  You're just the fucking new guy for the whole world.  Ain't no TV movies here.  You fell down the hole to the lan' of crack and bad-lucks and psychos."

     For some reason, Conor was determined not to seem to turn tail.  "Can you tell me a good place to spend the night?"

     The man with the beret thought for a moment.  He obviously lived in the blue tent pitched against the fence, standing amongst a jumble of possessions that spilled out of it.  "Fortnum ain't so bad, if you got cash money.  It's up San Julian, that corner there.  Some of us won't be trapped nowhere inside at night.  Too much incoming."

     "A truth-tellin' man."

     "Thank you, sir, for the advice.  What's your name?"

     "Carl.  Carl Roosevelt.  Son, you tell Dusty at the Fortnum that I sent you.  He'll find you something."

     "Then I owe you a favor, Mr. Roosevelt.  My name is Conor Lewis."  He almost let slip the name of his band.  They'd actually distributed two CDs and a lot of downloads, but all of a sudden the name Raging Homeless seemed obscene.

     Roosevelt smiled briefly.  "Nobody don't owe nothin', Conor.  We're a community here, and we're all doing our damn best."  He waved his hand down the row of tents and cardboard shanties.  "Federal do his best, and Cubic, and the General, and even Felix the Cat.  We're proud men, but we all know, no matter how hard you try, you can't shine shit.  This is just The Nickel.  This ain't the way to live if you got a choice, son."

     "I thank you again, sir."

     "Protect yourself out here.  Try the Fortnum."

     The guy at the end of the row with the do-rag, possibly Felix the Cat, said, "Try not to scuff up our street with those nice Chuck Taylor All-Stars, boy.  It was important back in the day."

     Deep in his self-respect, Conor felt it was okay to wander on now, probably to the Fortnum.

 

*

 

Los Angeles County has approximately 73,000 homeless human beings looking for shelter on any given night, far more than any other city in the United States.  That number is twice the population of Beverly Hills. 

 

In L.A. county the price of an average home is over half a million dollars.  That average includes many decrepit collapsing 100-year-old "fixers" in South L.A. and throughout the black and brown community. 

 

The average rental unit in L.A. goes for $1,295 per month, about what the average jornalero--day-laborer--makes in a good month, and there are fewer and fewer good months as the economy declines.

 

A small Westside one-bedroom apartment--"Westside" is a flexible word in L.A., but mostly it means white-occupied and near enough to the ocean to catch a breeze--costs almost double that, or $2,400 per month.  

             

 

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 Copyright © John Shannon 2010. All rights reserved.

Copyright © John Shannon 2015. All rights reserved.