2777 Francis Street
Through a double dead-bolted screen door with thick bars, I saw a woman in a black miniskirt vigorously vacuuming the living room rug. Her long red hair swung behind her as she moved. Beneath a fringe of thick red bangs, she wore dark sunglasses. A cigarette hung from one corner of her mouth. She didn’t hear my knock over the sound of the vacuum.
Every house on the block had thick bars on the windows and doors. Black spray paint littered low brick walls, marking gang territory with illegible sprawling letters and numbers. After a few minutes, the woman finally noticed and let me in.
The small living room had an upright piano against one wall. A giant glass fishbowl on top of it held postcards. On the opposite wall, hung an art piece I later found out her famous father had made. It was the silhouette of a shapely woman made from spray painted silver cigarette butts.
As she showed me around, the woman never removed her dark glasses. I had stepped into another world. Off the living room, we entered a bedroom door. Bookshelves covered each wall from floor to ceiling.
“This is our nonfiction library.” I began to get excited. That could only mean that there was also a fiction library. The room next door was filled with hundreds of books, some ratty paperbacks, others pristine hard covers. By that point, I was writing out a check.
I moved in that weekend. It was an easy move. All I had were a few things that I had stored at a friend’s apartment and a few items I had stored in my car. The items in my car were a few less than I started with in Seal Beach after someone broke into my car the week before.
In the two-story house at 2777 Francis Street, my large upstairs bedroom engulfed my few belongings. I put my navy blue foot locker in a tiny closet that looked like a dollhouse. On one wall, I set up my radio, stacking CDs beside it on the floor. I propped a few of my religious-themed red candles with saints and the Virgin Mary on the window sills.
I placed my roll-up futon bed in the middle of the floor. Right near where my head would lie, against the floor on one wall, I lined up all my books — Anais Nin, Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Isak Dineson, Baudelaire, Tom Wolfe, Umberto Eco, Truman Capote, Hermann Hess, Ayn Rand, S.E. Hinton — so they would be the first things my eyes saw upon awakening.
The day I moved in, I had a date that night. My new roommates were not home. I took a shower to get ready and then made the mistake of running out to my car to get something without bringing my house keys. I had wet hair, no makeup, and bare feet. I returned to the front porch only to find the door locked. It apparently automatically locked when you closed it. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I walked around to my second story window and looked up. Against the house, strung from side to side, between the first and second stories was a cable TV wire bundled in thick rubber. Using the first floor window as my first step, I used the cable as my second and then gripped my window with my fingernails.
I had to balance at the same time I popped out the screen, but I was determined not to be locked out of my new digs in the sketchy, gangbanger neighborhood with wet hair and bare feet after dark. I kept looking at the house beside ours, hoping they weren’t calling the cops. Finally, I pulled my body up into my window, scraping my chest along the way. Where there is a will there is a way.
A few houses down and across the street was what I soon referred to as the Gangbanger house. At all hours of the day and night there were guys sitting out on the porch. I realized this the first weekend I lived there when I walked past on my way to the market to buy some smokes.
They would shout things at me in Spanish that I didn’t understand.
They stayed on the porch, so I wasn’t too worried about it.
Then I figured it out – I lived in their hood. They were going to do something to me, even though I was a white girl with black hair living with a white girl with blonde hair and a white girl with red hair. We were cool cause we lived in the hood.
Not so for Bibbe’s nephew Skoli who was Mexican-American. One day, he cruised over on his scooter to visit us in his dapper pressed shirt and shorts and vans. With his short hair and earring, he couldn’t’ possibly be considered threatening, but a group of Mara Salvatore gangmembers immediately surrounded him.
“Who you with?”
Finally, probably because they realized he was about the farthest thing from a gangmember you could imagine, they walked away.
Meanwhile, one night I came home and couldn’t find a parking spot close to our house so I did what we always did, headed to a coffee shop for a few hours. I went to the Pick Me Up and hung out with Nick Curtis, the son of Tony Curtis.* After an hour, I was tired so I tried to head home. I circled the block. There were no close spots I could fit in.
Just when I was about to head back to The Pick Me Up, a car pulled out right in front of my house, leaving room for two cars to fit. I immediately pulled in and was about to open the door to get out when a van pulled into the spot right behind me. Shit.
I froze, not sure what to do. The engine was off, but I didn’t take the keys out of the ignition. Men jumped out of each door of the van. I remembered what my roommates had told me about not making eye contact, so I stared straight out the front windshield as they headed my way. They “split” the car, a common habit of gangmembers so they don’t both get shot if someone has a gun. One guy walked past my passenger door. The other, on my side, slowed down and very slowly ran his finger across my window right at my eye level as he passed. I didn’t flinch or look his way, but he got his point across. As soon as they passed, I turned the key in my ignition and headed back to the coffee shop.
… to be continued …
*Sadly, he died not long after.