Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Resistance is Futile: an LA Story

It happened again. My feeling - not completely unlike that which Jay Chandrasekhar's character Barry experiences in the movie Beerfest. Cobwebs, disbelief, utter contempt?

It happened like this.
Yesterday was a sweltering day here in the suburbs of Orange County. Damn the sweat though because I was busy coordinating a deal for a typewriter I didn't really want or need. Is that a productive use of limited time? Damn be logic.
These people lived in Los Angeles. Inglewood. Near the cities Compton and Watts. That there should have been enough to stop anyone figuratively dead in their tracks, the real threat of being literally killed way too excessive for some forgotten typewriter.
Still my typelust defied danger. I spoke to these likely hoodlums - yes I provided my cell phone since they weren't too great with email communication. They seemed too nice on the phone but the street quality in their speech belied their soft spoken voices. You cannot escape the hood once it is a part of you. No doubt they were luring me into a trap - to get me there and then steal my wallet, my car, and end my life.
I worked out the deal and to my naive amazement they even seemed pleased with their $25 sale - unquestionably all profit since they probably robbed it along with the rest of some poor old lady's possessions. And this sum was probably just enough for them to score the crack that was the main culprit for Whitney Houston's demise.

Let's worry about my impending demise!

So what do I do? I employ the company of my younger brother, who is visiting for the week from New York. This is a good move, you must be thinking, my brother must be a lifelong practitioner of some lethal martial arts and not only that, he packs some serious heat, right? He's a computer programmer. Yes, in my desperation and growing concern, I somehow manage to involve my brother so that tonight's 10 o'clock news headline is

"Brothers murdered in LA while in pursuit of typewriter."

He doesn't care. He's loyal. While he was in high school, he once pushed back a 6'7 Shawn Kemp clone for dunking on me. Protective, perhaps to a fault. Gotta love and appreciate blood.

We then make arrangements to drop off my beautiful 7 month old at my parents' place so my mom can watch him. W is too young to be around gang members. And he has his whole life ahead of him. I kiss him on the forehead and the cheek and in my head, promise to make a safe return, though it felt somewhat hollow and empty because I've already made too many mistakes. Let's count them?

1 - Inglewood (nuff said)
2 - deal too good to be true: $25??? And they seemed downright giddy and impatient about it.
3 - meeting at their house. Oh, I didn't mention this yet? Yeah so instead of insisting on meeting in a well-lit, public place in an open area, I agree to go to their house
4 - backhouse - they said they might be in the backhouse and not the normal house. Do you know what happens at backhouses?
5 - I am driving my BMW: now that's just completely stupid and inviting bad things
6 - I don't have a gun
7 - I've brought my beloved younger brother and he doesn't have a gun
8 - it is a Tuesday midday: who isn't at work besides consultant new dads and visiting brothers from new york? Easy: gang members who rob and kill idiots

Which I clearly am.

But off we were there anyway, armed with nothing but GPS. The cars on the freeway change and after a while, we are suddenly surrounded by mostly nothing except cars that are probably registered as "totalled" and should be salvaged for metal: cars that could be small boats going at their top speed of 40mph, former cop cars with the fading paint job, beat-down rusted imports from the 80s albeit with nice rims, the occasional heavily-tinted buick, and requisite el caminos that I am sure are responsible for LA's smog issues.

As we near our destination and doom, I call and they say they're in the back house. Of course. They say to just walk in to the back but be careful of the dog. Of course.

The street is lined the cars we saw on the freeway. So this is where they park. Shit. All grass on the street is yellowed dead, dry and brittle as the bones from an animal carcass. Power lines swoop low on both sides like nooses; the wood beams are like the last scene of all those crucifixes in Spartacus. There are no children playing even though it's summer break. It's so quiet. Fuck!

We find a spot eerily convenient right in front of the house. Still no sounds. We don't speak either lest we wake the rest of the monsters. We survey the yard, our deathbed: full of forgotten junk. Doll heads and broken mirrors. A rusted tricycle and a plastic pool with bullet holes - there were children here once. A McDonald's bag: at least they eat fast food - that's one thing we have in common. As we go through the gate to the back, we see it.

It's not some rabies-inflicted, man-eating pit bull on the loose, but a tiny chihuahua on a leash.
And they aren't gang members, or at least not any more, but tax-paying hardworking Angelenos, and white-washed at that. "Gosh it sure is hot. I hope you found the place easy and hope you're having a swell day so far. Would you like some lemonade?"

I wanted to hug them but instead opted to profusely shake their hands in absolute joy.

We declined the refreshments, our bodies still in survival mode, recycling our sweat for its liquid. I pay the $25 happily even before they show us the machine: a burgundy/maroon Corona Speedline, Sterling model. We hardly look at it and relieved, picked up the typewriter case and left immediately. I missed my son. It's wonderful to be alive!


  1. You're right. This was insane!

    But it makes for a great story and it sounds like a fine typewriter!

    1. Richard -
      all in the name of typewriters, right?
      It is a nice machine too - its dirty with cobwebs and scum but i wiped and washed it with the dishwashing liquid-water mix, some compressed air, and i also sprayed the case with lysol.
      Revealed was a pristine paint job, no dents or scratches. The keys are beautiful too. I still have to clean the typeface. But best is that the platen is soft!

      i dont remember if the corona and sterling decals are supposed to be gold or silver. i wiped it with lysol and the "rust" came off. oh well.

  2. The fact that they had a typewriter shoulda tipped you off. Typewriter people are *good* folks. (:

    1. Ted,
      i suppose then that if there were a typewriter being sold in hell, then we'd follow it into hell. HA!
      You're pretty much right though - most i've met are indeed friendly. One couple were quirky. Another i met were on drugs.

  3. I had an adventure somewhat like this to a seedy area of Philly. There is a post I made somewhere about it. Honestly, I am about the same way you are. There are areas I would NEVER travel to, especially when I am not familiar with them...but, I do for typewriters. Really, though, as Ted said, all of the people I have met selling typewriters have been great.
    Oh, ok, this one time I was picking up an LC Smith & Bros 5 from Jersey. The seller, Yaroslav, and I emailed back and forth. He told me that any time, any day that would work for me would work for him. I responded with "Wow, you are the easiest person I have ever had to deal with on Craig's List. You aren't going to try to murder me, are you?" To which he responded, "No problem. I'll be waiting." Talk about non-reassurance! At any rate, when we got there, the GPS told me I had arrived just as we passed a trailer park. I quickly pulled into the next stop, a liquor store of course, told him where I was and he came right over. Guy wasn't even twenty years old, with his younger brother in the car. Although, it could have been someone else he had lured from Craig's List, taken on a ride to find some new playmates.

    Sorry for the rambling. Great, great story. I was so very drawn in. Congrats on the nice typer, as well.

    1. HAHA - Ken, this probably is on the back of our minds when we meet to pick up a typewriter face to face. It is ideal bc we can inspect it but not so ideal bc we can be murdered. HAHAHA

      great story!

    2. I'd rather risk it and inspect the thing before I buy it. Plus, the physical hunt for a typer is so much more rewarding than clicking on eBay. If a machine is really interesting, there is barely a limit to where I would go. Hell, I drove to Brooklyn the day after my wedding (I live in southern PA) for a Victor. But it was so much fun driving all that way with Leila, knowing there was a prize (hopefully not a bullet hole) at the end of it. I thrive on that kind of stuff.

    3. Ken, you my friend are a pure adventurer. You are Indiana Jones in the flesh!

      Ive actually have been a lurker on your blogg from months past and that was apparent to me even then!

      And you have a very understanding wife, a keeper for sure :)

  4. Nice buildup of suspense, and thankfully a happy ending!

    1. Thank you for reading Cameron! i actually wrote it on my phone inone hand/arm and carrying an 18 lb 7 month old in the other arm.
      Needless to say, my arm and shoulder are a little sore today

  5. I had to laugh but for a different reason. I grew up in South St. Louis and since 1996 have been living in and cleaning up what was once "the most dangerous neighborhood in America" in Tacoma, so I would have felt too much at home in that 'hood. I forget to turn on my street sense sometimes, while yours was writing this amusing story.

    1. see, i am pretty sheltered, growing up in the suburbs my whole life and going to private school. i have no street cred. im so out of place there. my experiences is pretty much limited to what i read and see in books, magazines, the news, & movies.
      Interesting that you are "cleaning up" - are you some sort of civil architect?

    2. I wish. We moved into the area in 96 and in 2007 I learned in the course of my urban studies degree that everything we'd done was consistent with the early stages of gentrification. It was going well until the real estate crash. We've been in the neighborhood watch for about 10 years now, leading the last 4 or so. I want to be an urban planner but the down economy and anti-tax sentiment has them all unemployed now.

  6. Hey there, Mr. Orange County. I was just down at the Orange Circle a couple of weeks ago to browse through the antique stores in search of that magic deal everyone else in the typosphere seem to score. Alas, you probably already scoured those shops and beat me to any such deals. Rats.

    1. you know, i have been meaning to go to all those antique shops there. i havent at all though. did you find anything decent?
      also, next time youre in town, hit me up! ill go typewriter hunting with you!

      btw ive spent many an evening at the orange circle. a good friend of mine lives real close.