HARBOR CITY — The robot, reduced to little more than a metal skeleton with eyes, plowed through the inferno in pursuit of the woman it had come through time to destroy.
They had seen it all before, probably half a dozen times or more, and they knew the woman would escape. But that didn't matter. The eight teen-agers stared intently as the movie, "The Terminator," flashed on the television screen from a videocassette recorder in the cramped office on Frampton Avenue.
Sam Enriquez, 14, clutched a worn paperback book, "Space Station 7th Grade," as he shared a sinking couch with his younger brother, Jose, and another boy crunched between them.
When the movie flicked off, Sam opened the book and started reading. "I need to read it for a book report at school," the eighth-grader explained. "John gave it to me."
Home Away From Home
John Northmore is supervisor of the Harbor City Teen Post, a federally funded nonprofit agency that serves as a home away from home for dozens of youths in the area. Northmore helps them with their homework after school, lets them watch TV and use the telephone, counsels them when they run into problems at home or school, and takes them on trips and outings throughout the Los Angeles area on weekends.
"I am giving the kids something to do that keeps them off the streets and out of trouble," said Northmore, who has headed the Teen Post, one of seven in Los Angeles, since 1965. "You just can't tell kids not to hang out with gangs without giving them something to take the gang's place."
But the Teen Post is in trouble. The group has been evicted twice in the past five years, and it may soon be forced out of the tiny office it has used for about a year. Northmore has been searching for a permanent home--one that will be large enough to house a pool table, some weights and other recreational facilities--but nobody seems to want the group as a tenant.
The problem apparently is the teen-agers themselves.
'Made a Bad Taste'
"They are absolutely crappy people. Just hideous," said one former landlord who asked not to be identified. "There was rotten food all over the place, broken furniture, and the kids spit and urinated on the floor. . . . They have made such a bad taste in the mouths of landlords in Harbor City, that I don't know of anyone that will lease to them."
V. J. Vannucci, the group's current landlord who spent $400 last week to have graffiti sandblasted from the side of his building, said the Teen Post is more like a "nursery for young adults" than a constructive learning environment for teen-agers. In addition to graffiti, the building's rest rooms have been damaged, the shrubbery trampled and interior walls marred since the Teen Post moved in, he said.
"It has not been a good relationship," Vannucci said. "We haven't resolved what I am going to do, but it doesn't look favorable. . . . I felt a certain moral obligation, but it is fast being diminished by the damage they are doing."
Northmore said the graffiti was not done by Harbor City youths but by rival gangs from Wilmington. He said the Teen Post has tried to be a good tenant but the agency could not afford to pay for repairs.
Vannucci said he agreed to rent to Northmore with the understanding that the office would be used for counseling and administrative work--not as a hangout for kids. But Northmore said he finds it difficult to turns kids away who come to the office to do homework, watch television or "simply stay out of trouble."
Few Teen Facilities
"He is concerned about the number of youngsters coming and going, but it is hard to tell the kids that they can't come in," Northmore said. "The kids are packed in here like sardines. There is a lack of space in Harbor City for kids to get off the street and do something."
Sam and the other boys had come to the Teen Post one day last week to watch television, get some of the books that Northmore picks up from the local libraries when they have surpluses, and get help with their homework.
Some of the teen-agers belong to the local Harbor City gang, and some don't, but they said the Teen Post is neutral ground where all of them come to relax or get some work done. Most of them live at the nearby Normont Terrace housing project, come from poor families and don't have the money to take advantage of city recreational programs and other activities that charge fees, Northmore said.
"Coming here keeps you out of jail," said Freddy Soto, 16, who said he has belonged to the Teen Post for five years. "I get help here. If I have problems at home, I can talk about them."
Northmore acknowledges that the boys and girls he deals with are often the roughest element in the community. But, he argues, the community has an obligation to provide services for them. In an effort to publicize his group's plight, Northmore has begun writing letters to elected officials, community leaders and service groups, local churches and Los Angeles city officials.