THE AMERICAN HOTEL
In the photo above, to the far left is the building that housed the artist’s lofts. In the shadow, you can see the front of The American Hotel. Those squares are all windows, each one leading to a studio apartment. Imagine, if you will, faces poking out of each one and you will be prepared to read the following:
If you are of a certain age, you might remember this game show where celebrities perched in little boxes that soared to the ceiling and yelled down to one another.
From Hewitt Street, the residents of The American Hotel looked like contestants on The Hollywood Squares. If anything was happening or if you needed to get in touch with another resident, you would lean your head out your window and shout until the other person stuck his or her head out the window and responded:
“Hey, Carol? Want to grab some lunch?”
Carol would stick her head out her second-floor window, craning her neck to see me in my fourth-floor one: “Yeah, man, I’m down for that.”
And because The American Hotel had no lobby, just a locked door from the street leading to the stairway, if you had a visitor, they would have to yell to you from the street.
My boyfriend would come over and yell my name and I would toss my keys down to the street from my fourth-floor window so he could let himself in.
In this post, I mentioned Car Parkers who hung out in our neighborhood. Well, one day, my boyfriend and I made a colossal mistake. We had just driven home from Baja California. I think we had been on the road for 12 hours and were exhausted when we pulled up into my neighborhood. One of the homeless guys ran up to ask us about watching the car and my boyfriend lost his temper, saying something such as, “We live here. When are you going to get that through your heads?”
We dragged our sleepy bodies into my place, grabbing our backpacks, but not cleaning out the car. Apparently, some film from our trip remained in the back seat. When we woke, my window was shattered and the film gone.
For the next two weeks, we went around to all the homeless guys offering money for the return of the film that documented our month-long trip to Baja. No go. We even ventured under the Fourth Street Bridge, a move I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.
Under the bridge, homeless encampments stretched for as far as the eye could see.
We had stumbled upon an entire subculture, a tiny hidden village in the middle of L.A. Men gathered around big trashcans, warming themselves and cooking dinner. When we arrived, silence descended on the camp. Nervously, we asked a few questions about the film and offered our reward. At one point, a kind man took us aside and warned us that we shouldn’t go any farther under the bridge unless we had a gun. That was good enough for me. We left.
When my window was broken and I couldn’t afford to replace it, my boyfriend cleaned out my car, removing anything else that could be taken. He tried to yank the radio out, but it was embedded in the dash. That sucker wasn’t going anywhere, we thought. About a month later, I woke to go to school or work and found a homeless guy curled up in my backseat, snoring and drooling.
At first, I was nice.
“Hey, buddy, time to get up. I’ve got to get going.”
He groggily sat up and blurry-eyed, asked me: Can we make a deal? Can I sleep in your car to guard it?”
He slowly started to pull himself out of the car as I waited, impatiently.
“Um,” he said, as we were halfway out. “Do you have any change?”
A few blocks later, at the gas station, I saw an LAPD car. I asked a cop how I could keep the homeless guy out of my car even though my window was broken. The cop said by simply taping a piece of plastic over the window and locking the doors, it would prevent anyone sleeping in my car again. With that simple piece of plastic, getting into my car would now be considered breaking and entering. Easy enough. I never had that problem with my car again. But I did have others.
One night about 3 a.m., I heard police sirens and a commotion on the street below, so, of course, I stuck my head out my window to watch the action. The cops on the street below had two people up against a wall. More police cars were arriving.
I saw Joe, on the first floor, had his head out the window. I yelled down to him, “Joe, what’s going on?”
“I think it’s your car, man.”
Then I noticed the cops kept shining their flashlights on my car, which was parked directly below my window. Huh? I threw on my clothes to go downstairs. I was a bit baffled. There was nothing left in that car to take. So, I thought.
Well, the thieves had cracked open the dashboard on my car to pry out the radio. One of the residents of The American Hotel had heard the loud noise and dialed 911. Like many times in my life, for some reason LAPD was a block away. Busted. They had the thieves up against the wall in cuffs. Astonishing.
The Heroin Room
The American Hotel was the place for the misfits, the loner artist, the down-and-outer who needed a place to stay for cheap. You could pay $250 for a studio apartment. But, at one end of the hall, there was what we considered the penthouse suite, the luxury apartment, the heroin room. This beauty went for $300. But it was jinxed. According to American Hotel lore, the last three residents who lived there had ended up in detox. I only remember one of them. A completely screwed up chic who sold Carol her leather jacket for $50 because she was desperate for a fix. Shortly after, she, too, disappeared into Detox Land. Most of the time the apartment was empty, so during some outrageous thunderstorms, I would often break into it and dance around the empty space with the lightning lighting up the Los Angeles skyline before me.
The Security Guard
Not long after I moved in, someone on my floor warned me about the security guard. His room was in the corner, next to The Heroin Room. All I knew of him was that he wore wire-rimmed glasses, had short grayish hair, and avoided eye contact in the halls.
“Walk past his room when he takes a shower,” Carol told me. “He leaves his door wide open. You’ll see what I mean.”
One day I noticed his door (room #405) was open so I rushed over and then pretended to be casually walking by. At first, it took me a minute to focus on what I saw. His studio apartment was nearly bare, but not quite. A nail on the wall contained a hanger with his security guard uniform. Underneath, a stack of broken-down cardboard boxes comprised his bed. His walls were lined with gallon water jugs. That was it.
Rumor was he had once been homeless and never quite got over it.
The only time I ever heard him speak was the one time I ran into him at the Little Tokyo mall where he worked. I was looking for the bowling alley and decided to ask a security guard. It wasn’t until I saw him up close that I recognized him.
When I recognized him I said, “Hey, I know you. You live in The American Hotel on my floor.”
He smiled and quietly answered, “yes.”
That was the last time I saw him.
Not long after, I came home and the cops outside the front door asked me to let them in. They immediately went up to the fourth floor (not the first time cops had been up there, by the way) and headed to the security guard’s room.
Apparently, earlier in the day he had freaked out and threatened to kill his psychiatrist, who reported him to the cops. I don’t think they found him, but he never again came back to The American Hotel and eventually management packed up his water bottles, cardboard boxes, and uniform.
Dear reader, will you stay tuned for more about my life in The American Hotel?