By CJ Gronner
Everyone knows I love Venice, and always will. I’ve just become a little dismayed at the direction things seem to be heading these days, and feel like it should be discussed, pondered and helped.
I recently had to move out of the rent-controlled apartment I’d lived in since the late 90’s. I had a nightmare of a situation for years with an overly entitled landlord who liked to let himself into my place whenever he liked and do whatever he felt like, which I don’t even like to think about. I had witnesses/neighbors tell me about seeing him go in and stay for an hour or so. I’d have friends stay over with just the guest key that works in the doorknob come back and be locked out because both locks were locked – meaning he’d been in there again. I make my bed each day like a military person, and I’d come home to see a sitting mark he hadn’t even bothered to smooth out, right next to my pile of laundry.
My brother once awoke from a nap to find him coming out of my bedroom, and when startled upon seeing my brother, made up some thing about checking smoke detectors. The last time I know of it happening for sure, I was at home at my desk writing and heard keys in the doorknob, but I’d dead-bolted it so he couldn’t get in. Scary! I confronted him and he made up something about needing to look at the plumbing. Yeah. Right. We all know this is illegal. I stayed because it was old school cheap rent. Rents for tiny little bachelors were now more than I paid for a two bedroom, and when I confronted him about it, he lowered my rent even further. Uh, guilty.
It’s a long, ugly story that finally wound up in civil court for our rent dispute (He should be in criminal court, of course, but we never got that video proof the police, the Housing Board, tenant lawyers, et al wanted. My word against his. His spendy lawyer versus me representing myself, plus I’m so over it and never want to deal with the guy again in my lifetime …). It’s really a blessing in a great disguise. I put up with that deviant situation for WAAAAAY too long, all because Venice has gotten so expensive over the years, and writing is a very financially up and down life choice, so I played it “safe”. Which turned out to be very unsafe, by the very person I was paying for years to live in a safe place. Yep.
So I got out. I’m extra blessed to have some fantastic Venice friends who invited me to stay at their place while they were away, while I looked for a new place. NOT easy, considering how much Venice has changed since I last house-hunted, and truthfully, how greedy people have become. Total shit holes are going for $3,000 a month! Good luck with that. Anyway, Moving Day came and I had to put over a decade’s worth of stuff into storage (after I’d already put most of the stuff out on the curb and watched it disappear immediately. This was fun. I’d do little themes – a straw hat, a hula-hoop and a ukulele. Art supplies and paper. A cowboy hat and boots. On and on and all gone in 60 seconds. Signs of the times, I suppose. I only saw one of the people who actually took the stuff, but he seemed jazzed.).
I’d heard all about the raids/sweeps on the homeless living on that stretch of 3rd and Rose that has become a bit of a West Side Skid Row, where the police come through and throw all of peoples’ worldly possessions in the trash if they’re not watching them themselves. It was a cold and rainy day and I had a whole bunch of freshly laundered blankets, towels, old jackets and stuff that could go to Goodwill, or straight to the people that really need them. So, upon leaving the storage building at 4th and Rose with my two dear friends who were helping me move, I got out on 3rd and went up to the nearest guy sitting on the sidewalk, explained I knew about the raids, and asked if he wanted to take whatever he wanted and share the rest with people on the block. He was stoked, I felt better, everybody wins.
Until driving away about a block later, we see police lights flash behind us to pull over. Great. As if I hadn’t already been having the longest day possible, and was nowhere near done. My friends are Aussies and were driving a borrowed pickup, so the “license and registration” request was already out of the norm. I was in the backseat of the cab, and we were all asked for our licenses. One cop was on the driver’s side, the other on the passenger. The passenger side one was a little dickhead who I’ll forever regret not noting his name, but I was upset and forgot to. Here’s why.
“The reason I pulled you over was you were just seen leaving a high narcotic trafficking zone. What business did you have there?”
“Oh, we’re helping my mate move.”
“Uh huh. Have you met her before today? What’s her name?”
I mean the guy was implying I was a crack whore right to my face!! I know I was in sweats and no makeup with pigtails, but I don’t think I fit the casting, even so. I was getting SEETHING mad, and then –
“We have undercover agents working in the area, who saw you in an exchange with a man on the street.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about the sweeps on the homeless here, and I’m moving, so I gave them a bunch of blankets and stuff. It’s cold and raining.”
“What did you get in exchange?”
Uh, a warm heart. Is this guy kidding me?! Then his smarmy little mouth I wanted to slap comes up with this outrageous deal –
“Ma’am, are you out on parole? On probation?”
“No, Sir.” (That took everything I had to not just unleash the fury I had building, but I didn’t need it to get worse, as I still had a whole household to move and very limited time)
“Have you been taking narcotics today? Been drinking? The reason I’m asking is why are your eyes so dilated?”
Hmmm … I don’t know, maybe because I’m exhausted, have been crying, have had no sleep, am having one of the most stressful times of my life. Oh, and shooting heroin real quick while I’m moving heavy items. WHAT?!?! I was PISSED. So he took our licenses back to the cop car and did whatever they do, while my friends urged me to remain calm. After a bunch of minutes, they came back and returned our licenses, asked some more b.s. questions about where did I live, where was I moving to, and suggested we avoid the area in the future. I couldn’t even look at the guy. If I ever see him off-duty, it’s on. Getting accused of being a crack whore for giving away clean blankets to the homeless?! I’ve really heard it all now.
This is what concerns me … If people are going to get in trouble for trying to help the homeless, then they won’t. They’ll stop trying. And then what becomes of us as a society? It’s already happening, obviously, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Venice began as a bohemian place for artists and writers and musicians and creative people that moved here because the rents were cheap and there was a true spirit of fun, camaraderie, and the art of living that set it apart from anywhere else. We cannot let that die. I’m pretty sure no one WANTS to be homeless. It always helps to try on someone else’s shoes before you judge – or bust – them. Landlords don’t HAVE to jack up rents just because they can. That disgusting “Silicon Beach” nickname being tossed around/Google moving in doesn’t have to squelch out the whimsical flame that has always burned here. Every store and restaurant doesn’t have to be fancy and insanely overpriced – those are choices. Choices based on greed.
There is a reason the Occupy Movement began across the country and the entire world, and all of the above illustrates why perfectly. The greed of some cannot be sustained. There will be an implosion. The ones who have always had each other’s backs will be the ones who continue to, and the ones who turned their backs will regret it in the end. That’s why I wasn’t too bothered ultimately about my creepy landlord deal, because after all is said and done, I still get to be me, and he has to fester in his dirty skin and mind. People who help others get to feel good, and the ones who don’t, well … I don’t really know, ‘cause that’s never been me, but I can’t imagine it’s at all rewarding at the end of it all to have a fat bank account with an empty heart.
I always go back to my favorite Einstein quote, as it’s really all that matters … “Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” Amen. Let us hope that Venice can remember not only its humanity, but its origins, and remain true to who we should and can be.
Love, Your Venice Crack Whore – with a heart of gold.