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Renting Los Angeles

His life was a series of moves. Then came his years with Mr. Hernandez.

January 21, 2007|Stephen J. Gertz | Stephen J. Gertz is an antiquarian book dealer and pop-culture historian who has contributed to books by Feral House and The Disinformation Company and to L.A. Review and online magazines.

I recently moved out of a place I temporarily rented. It was just a rest stop, a place to recover from a reality OD: lost marriage, lost career, lost home, lost balance, lost confidence, lost spirit. I lived there for 17 years.

In Los Angeles, where the lost seek to find or be found, frequent moving is a survival sport--the average tenancy for renters is five years, so staying in one spot for a 17-year stretch must be some kind of record. At least it is for me. In chronological order, it beats the 15 years in the brick row house I grew up in in New York City; the two years in the 3BR lower duplex on Eastborne in Westwood that my mother, my sister and I moved into when we migrated to L.A. in 1967; a year in the small 2BR 4-plex on Pandora Avenue near Beverly Glen after my sister moved away, where screenwriter Robert Towne rented the bachelor as an office and Warren Beatty would occasionally drop by, from a distance offering a tentative wave and hello as if, just in case, he knew me (the guy's blind as a bat even with glasses); the one-room dump above a small store on Washington Boulevard near La Cienega after I left home, where the landlord "re-porcelained" the bathtub with a coat of white paint that would peel off in the water and leave chips all over my body when I emerged; the flop joint I shared with two friends on Purdue in West L.A., site of my only LSD trip but no amount could hallucinate the place into a palace; the two-bedroom I shared on Clark up the street from the Whisky on the Sunset Strip, where the call girl in the apartment next door, alas, thought I was sweet and hands-off adopted me; the two-bedroom lower duplex on Holt Avenue south of Pico I shared, after passing the landlady's qualifying question, "Milkhik or fleyshik?," understanding kosher even if I didn't practice it; the big two-story 2BR Spanish Revival on Orange Street near Wilshire that my then-GF and I rented but she sayonara'ed the day before the move so I lived there myself, hemorrhaging the rent; the small, dark one-bedroom on Beverly Glen between Olympic and Pico owned by Fritz Feld, the character actor from '30s-'40s Hollywood who made a career playing eccentrics who punctuated sentences with a succinct slap of hand to mouth that created a pop! exclamation point and who was married to Virginia Christine, Mrs. Olson of the Folger's Coffee commercials; the dilapidated 1BR bantam bungalow on Bay Street in Santa Monica that the landlord had subdivided to rent the cubbyhole bedroom separately but that, fortunately, no one was fool enough to move into; the upper duplex on the 23rd Street strand in Venice that I shared with a female friend who owned nine cats that hated me and the feeling was mutual; the 10 years in the place in Mar Vista that my wife and I lived in, one in a cluster of seven cozy, rustic cottages atop the highest hill in the neighborhood, with a view from our second-story bedroom of the ocean to the west and to the east the Hollywood sign; the six months in a one-bedroom in lower Beachwood Canyon in the immediate aftermath of our split.

I was evicted from that last apartment. I desperately challenged the landlord in court, and what fun it was to take the witness stand and be compelled to admit that, although a grown man of 38, I was destitute with no prospects, anguished words undiluted by tears that I could not hold in despite a herculean effort to maintain my composure. My whole, failed life congealed in that very public, naked moment. Nineteen eighty-eight was not a good year.

And so, feeling flat out of potential with my future behind me, I found a garage apartment in back of a house near Palms and Sawtelle, returning to Mar Vista just a few blocks from where my ex and I had lived but a light year distant from when the marriage was working, work was working and I was content.

The place was tiny. Yes, you could swing a cat in it but only a kitten, the runt of the litter. Small kitchen and bathroom, and a 9-by-12 knotty-pine paneled bedroom/living room that by the time I shelved books floor to ceiling on all walls and planted a desk, bed and television had three feet of floor space and no room for company, not that I was doing any entertaining. It was a comforting, monastic cell, a wood-frame compression bandage with a roof. If I needed to breathe, there was a petite patio with a fiberglass awning outside my door that opened onto a well-tended garden with flowerbeds and fruit trees that I shared with the landlord.

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