A story about starting out
When I was 21, I left home. I had been there long enough, all my high schools friends had left like birds to migrate somewhere while I stayed in a town that rolled itself up at 8 pm, reluctantly groaned awake by noon and had no use for young people with something burning inside of them they could not quite explain.
Published on LatinoLA: June 14, 2004
I had also been poisoned by writers. Many of them entered my veins through the countless hours I spent at the library. Hemingway and Fitzgerald might as well be labeled as drugs for the ideas it puts in young men. Another word for it might be desire.
Going home never seemed like a good idea, no Beaver Cleaver welcome wagon waiting for me there. The Library was home, Teacher and life support. Sometimes while I was deep in a book someone would talk or drop something and I would be startled awake surrounded by mediocrity in every corner, the limited opportunities, the low expectations and the boredom I felt then. I literally wanted out of my skin. I found a way.
I began to write, reams and reams, some good, mostly bad and almost all of it a little too influenced by my literary heroes. I decided I was a pair of dice and rolled my life away from my family, my town because that?s what writers do, they leave and they keep going until they find something worth writing about, a town, a woman, a war, something.
I decided on being a writer in Los Angeles, surely there were not enough of them there, right? I had about seven hundred bucks; saved from various mind numbing jobs I worked in the last two years (Sorry if I screwed up your burger order along the way)
I walked around downtown Los Angeles under an overheated sun looking for some kind of action at a cheap price and then I found it.
The Preston might have been a nice place in its day but that day was a long, long time ago. It was basically a flophouse in a seedy part of town where pimps, hookers, homeless and people who seemed to have directly rolled out of a MASH Unit limped around conducting below street level business. It was a place where men who carried impermanent shadows and no paperwork mingled with women who caught some very hard breaks. Now when I see this it hurts my heart but back then I felt like an explorer who had found gold. Mama doesn?t let your babies grow up to be writers.
The manager was a pale cherubic woman in her early 30?s. Her eyes were among the saddest I had ever seen, a half crescent leaning towards something forgotten but I would come to see many sad faces in that place in the nearly year I spent there. Her name was Linda, she had a sweet voice and curly red hair, and patches of a great Irish complexion still remained that had not yet been ruined by her runaway alcoholism.
I filled out a slim application. She seemed to like me and handed me the keys and took me to see the room
It was a hot tiny studio, a pale yellow room, hotplate, miniature sink, Murphy bed, and had no shower. That was communal. Don?t ask. The whole thing was not much bigger then a janitors closet but all I could see was me writing the next great novel.
?It ain?t much but it?s cheap, what?s your name again?? she said ?Carlos? I told her and I said I would take it. ?Carlos, the shower is a little noisy at first? she said.
I walked over to the long water pipe and turned it on. A rumbling not heard since the titanic hit an iceberg began to commence. I throttled the pipe with both hands for no particular reason and looked over to see Linda laughing.
?Oh, God that expression on your face was priceless!?
?It?s my pre-stroke face, I?m glad you like it? I quipped.
Eventually the violent death throttle stopped but not before a huge rat ran out of a nearby hole. He looked as if he was carrying a football.
?Jesus H Christ! That thing is pregnant with humans!? I yelled.
?Don?t worry, that?s getting sealed up tomorrow, I promise. Just don?t put cheese on your toes and you should be fine?
"I am going to die here, aren?t I? I asked
?If you do that?s going to be another 50 bucks, up front please,? she laughed again. She was always laughing and when she was not she was like some strange flower that was supposed to live with very little light.
?Why don?t you settle in the Taj Mahal here and tomorrow I will introduce you to everybody in the lobby, I think they will like you. I like you. What do you do??
?Wow, a writer. I bet your hungry.?
Yeah, the two seem to go together?
?Later on I will bring you some homemade Chili, I made to much and my man Randy won?t be home for hours, he?s co-manager with me but mostly he just shares a bottle with me, were sort of married or something?
?Oh, thanks. That would be nice?
?Are you sure, you want to be here? Don?t you have a girl you can stay with??
?No I?m kind of a loner, I guess?
?You are in the right place?
?Is it always this hot in here??
?Aw, that?s just the Devils ass on the roof? she joked.
So here am in this relic with it?s mismatched furniture. 1940?s flower print wallpaper that never stopped peeling from some long ago fever. From other room?s angry voices and loud radios played forgettable music. This was a place of waiting. It waited for the wrecking ball or for some kind of eulogy read by a priest with shaky hands.
I moved my few belongings into my room and was nearly pounded into the floor by the Murphy bed, which sprung itself loose. Who had slept on here all those years ago? What sick ghosts roamed the dull apricot light of the hallways here, wheezing away a poormans lullaby.
I survived my first night at the Preston. My rodent friend had not nibbled my feet while slept so I was good to go. I woke up at four in the morning, that odd time of day when the sky is undecided. I looked out my window and had only the view of another decrepit apartment building. A single sick yellow light illuminated an old man in a white tank top who moved as if underwater. How long had he been here? And how long for me?
I did not have much time to think before I heard an odd sound outside my door. It was heavy breathing, not quite human, more like a bear. Then I heard a loud cough filled with sickness followed by aloud pair of footsteps that descended the stairs in the lobby and into the street. The sound belonged to a formidable human or some sub-species of human.
I opened up by duffle bag and pulled out my old typewriter, it like most of my clothes, thrift store purchase. I wrote and wrote about what I saw, what dreams I had, I made up characters that might have lived here. I inhaled the old dust and tobacco scent that never left the walls and carpet and I called it Independence Day.
End of Part One
Mark Sotelo is a Writer/Associate Editor with LatinoLA.com. He was written feature articles and interviews with Gregory Nava, Paul Rodriguez and Los Lobos. Like every other guy in town he is working on a screenplay.