Now I have stayed

Jules Renard said.
"Tact, is knowing how far you can go without going too far".

I Have Stayed Too Long
Wherein Olive wears out his welcome, seeks affordable housing, communes with the locals, and gets back on the rollercoaster…

Jules Renard once wrote, “Tact is knowing how far you can go without going too far.” It was Christmas in LA and with it the natural blues, or rather the unnatural blues for nothing is natural in LA. I had stayed with my friends for too long. They had just got married and it was time for me to move on. I don’t get it, they just got married and they wanted to be alone, without me, how strange. Anyway, I decided to go in search of a motel that I could afford, that is something around $20 a night, which, I found out, basically doesn’t exist in Los Angeles, or if it does, it’s not a motel. It’s something but it’s not a motel. Fortunately, all I needed was a bed, preferably inside the room, with a door that actually locks with a key. Maybe some hot water. I don’t ask for much.

I headed east on Sunset Boulevard and as I drove I noticed the motel signs going by - $69.99, too much, $49.99, still heading east, $39.99, looking better, $29.99, now we’re approaching my neighborhood, $24.99. I figured this was as good as I was going to find so I stopped at the beautiful $24.99 motel. I figured I could camp there for the night and look for something better the next day (by better, of course, I mean cheaper). From the outside, which was definitely the best view of this motel, it looked right out of a 1950s American movie. Inside, however, after saying hello to several ladies of the evening, avoiding eye contact with their business managers, and stumbling over a few sleeping bums, the fumes from which were a pleasant mixture of stale alcohol, cigarettes, urine and general body odor, the view was quite different.

As I stood at the door deciding if I should go in, I wondered if the cleaning lady had been there – ever. The carpet was a curious brown color and appeared to have been installed sometime during the Eisenhower administration, perhaps by Ike himself because it clearly had not been a professional job. From the look of the carpet (I think it may have moved slightly) and by the smell, I was certain that it had never been violated by any sort of cleaning product. They should have posted a sign, “Be sure and keep your shoes on at all times, even in the shower.” I’m not sure what the original color of the carpet was because the assortment of stains had grown together to become one homogenous mass of brackish brown. Fortunately, almost all of the stains were dry by now.

The sign outside advertising TVs in every room was obviously written by an optimist. Mine was from the 1970s, but if I hadn’t known better I might’ve guessed the 1870s. It was brown fake wood grain (brown seemed to be the default color scheme) and an old wire coat hanger was sticking out of the top where no doubt the manufacturer had meant for there to be an antenna, and attached to it was a wire that turned out to lead nowhere. I don’t normally watch very much TV anyway and in this room I watched even less. The one channel that I could get had enough less static than the others that you could almost make out human shapes on the screen. On the other hand, they could have been spider monkeys for all I could tell.

I went in to look at the bathroom – like I somehow thought it would be different from the bedroom. The color theme was consistent with brown and beige tiles in the shower, most of them still attached to the wall. As I stood wondering how I was going to take a shower without touching the floor something crawled out from behind one of the loose tiles, considered the room for a moment and then crawled back in. I don’t blame you, I thought. Oh well, I’ll worry about it when my shower time comes on Saturday. I insist on taking a shower every other Saturday whether I need one or not. I’m just kidding. I didn’t even know if I’d be alive the next Saturday.

The room may have been dismal but it was my room and I could actually unpack and disperse the contents of my life all over the room if I chose to, which of course I didn’t dare. Nevertheless, after crashing with friends for what seemed like forever, I finally had a place of my own, at least for a few nights. I felt like it was a new beginning, a beginning of a new adventure, but also a sense of settlement, a roof over my head (the roof was fine, it was the floor that worried me).

I was getting a stiff neck from holding the antenna/coat hanger so I turned off the television. I noticed for the first time that I had grown accustomed to the quiet of West Hollywood for the past year and now I was hearing a virtual symphony of noises – from the hookers, or rather their clientele going in and out, cars with their engines running and radios on full blast all night long. It was kind of refreshing in a way to hear and see life happening all around me, right in front of me at the speed of darkness and as loud as a birth. It was, despite my sorry surroundings, pure joy and happiness, so when I couldn’t sleep I went outside to chat with the vatos. I am French but I also speak Spanish and it had always been my passport to downtown LA with all the Latinos. After all, we have a similar culture, we are a Latin people, and we understood each other. When we don’t, we drink together and then we do. If we still don’t, we have a fist fight and then have a drink together. There is always a solution.

It’s interesting that you never see French areas in American cities like you do with the Italians, Chinese, Latinos, and so on. The French are pretty much an independent lot and don’t mix too much. It’s not that the French are racist; they just don’t really like anybody. The French comic, Coluche, once said that the problem with traveling outside of France is that there are way too many foreigners (James insists that’s what everyone says about going to France, that there are too many French people, who knew?). I like to make fun of the French, but really I like to make fun of everybody. It’s a character flaw.

I decided to look for a more comfortable place, and by more comfortable I mean, of course, more affordable, and believe me, anything more affordable than this place will likely be about as comfortable as a trash dumpster. I found a place just after Highland Boulevard going downtown, just before Western, in the hood. Fine with me, I was driving a red 1995 Mustang at the time, almost a ghetto car so I blended in perfectly. The hotel I found was a large brick building that rented rooms depending on your needs, an hour, a week, whatever you wanted. If one’s intention was to rest, an hour might do it, for other things maybe less.

I arrived in the lobby, walked up a few steps and noticed there was big bird cage to my right. Upon closer inspection I realized it was the office, a cage with wire mesh all around it with a small opening at counter height in which to pass through a credit card and passport, or in my case, cash. The bird inside turned out to be a person, a small Indian man who gave me a room on the second floor. He seemed pleased that I actually had a suitcase. Apparently, most of his customers didn’t.

The room was surprisingly cool and clean, at least compared to the others I had seen or stayed in. I guess my standards were getting lower all the time. The bathroom fixtures were ancient with a steady drip from the shower head like the infamous Chinese water torture, but it was relatively clean so I was feeling pretty good about my situation. On the other hand, from the look of the other occupants of the hotel, I made the decision to carry my suitcase with me everywhere I went since it contained everything I owned, which, admittedly wasn’t much but it was all I had. Every time I would leave my room I had to haul the enormous black suitcase. People probably thought I was carrying bodies, but given the nature of the place, no one asked. I don’t know who said, life is like a zoo inside a jungle, but I was there to witness it.

This hotel was noisy too. It was a night place, with all the night people going in and out, mostly in, accompanied by music, shouting, shooting and laughing. I should have been scared but I wasn’t. On the contrary, I felt like I belonged to a small community, granted a fucked up community of poor souls who had just enough money to rent a room in this hotel and to be able to ignore the two most important days in human history, yesterday and tomorrow. But I belonged.

My break finally came. I was talking to my old friend Richard who was living in Berkeley now, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was opening a bar and although they were still undergoing construction, they were almost ready to open. Would I leave LA, he asked, and drive north to Berkeley and work in their bar next door to famed restaurant Chez Panisse? I thought it over for three or four seconds before saying yes. I may have been a bit enthusiastic in saying yes and I’m not sure Richard has recovered his full hearing in that ear yet. Anyway, it looked like life had put another quarter in the Olive fortune machine and I was off for another ride. Life is my ride and my saddle is my imagination. It may look like a free ride, but it’s really more like a rollercoaster that you get to ride over and over again and you don’t get the bill until you are ready to throw up.
 
 

 

Olivier's Story:

A Life with Recipes,
or A Parisian in America

By Olivier Said
Translated into English by James Mellgren

Chapters

The Limo Driver
Racket Lesson
Now I have stayed
Live and Drive
Les Anges
Leaving LA
Coyote Ugly
Drinking in English

The Bottom
Outline




Olivier Said

Live and Drive

I had decided to go downtown and shoot bums and hookers (for all the NRA people out there, I'm talking about a camera). I loved downtown Los Angeles at night when the only people out were the drunks, the homeless, ladies of the evening, lost night-clubbers, Guardian Angels, cops and crazy people like me.

read more...