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SOUTHBAY / COVER STORY : Worst of the Worst : 'Third World' Is a Magnet for the Castoffs of Society

November 10, 1994|SUSAN WOODWARD

To many who congregate in East Wilmington's so-called Third World, the area is home. Inside or behind the mounds of debris that are eyesores to some, others seek refuge.

Wayne, who is in his 40s, has bedroom walls made of tarpaulins and an old blanket. His bed is the frame of a small papasan chair cushioned with a dirty sleeping bag. A stiff pair of Levis hangs over the fence that serves as his clothesline.

A radio, an umbrella and a kerosene lamp sit on a wall of tires. None of them work.

A lounge chair faces his "view"--oil refineries spilling plumes into the yellowed atmosphere, the railway and a patch of black-eyed Susans thriving among 8-foot-high piles of tires.

Seven years ago, Wayne and his wife divorced. He never got over it, he says, and could no longer function "outside." He simply gave up and traded his life for this view.

"When I lost my family, I lost my will to live," he said.

*

Pam is a nomad in her world, sleeping wherever is safest, waking to scrounge through the trash for clothing to wear and scrap metal to sell.

Her favorite find is discarded makeup, but she hasn't found any in a while. "That's why I look like this," she said, as if makeup could distract from the tattered look of her hair or completely cover the sores on her face.

She said she likes the Third World, is even happy there. "Why clean it up? It's a junkyard. People have to have somewhere to go."

*

A 29-year-old prostitute who calls herself J.D. says she gets her rock cocaine regularly from an elderly, married mariner in exchange for her services.

"I don't do it because I like it," she said, crying. "He pays me."

J.D. said she was surrounded by drug users when she was growing up. Recently, she was arrested for drug possession and is apprehensive about a future court appearance.

Like many of the women in the Third World, J.D. has a dark history of sexual abuse that follows as closely as her shadow. But one day, she said, she's going to make it big.

"You watch. I'll have a Porsche by the time I'm 30, or at least be paying one off."

*

"Moms" has been a familiar face in the area since 1982. Usually she would go to the Third World to drag out a friend or relative, but on her last visit, Moms, herself a crack user, decided to stay there.

She said she doesn't mind living there. One of the business owners near Foote Avenue has given her a job "working security, 24-seven." She picks up scraps lying around the premises and keeps an eye out for would-be thieves. In exchange, she gets $20 a day, food and a broken-down trailer in which to live. "I like working. I'm my own boss and I like that," Moms said.

Her father owns a Long Beach cafe and wants her to come home. But Moms, 42, said she has always been a bit of a rebel, and she is fiercely independent.

"I will go back, but it will be on my terms," she said, her constant smile growing wider. "Believe it or not, you do earn respect down here."

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