Blue Feathers in Grandma’s Basement
Drummed out of Los Angeles by the rising tide of gentrification, I watch palm trees fade into oblivion in my rearview mirror.
Drummed out of Los Angeles by the rising tide of gentrification, I watch palm trees fade into oblivion in my rearview mirror. Descend upon my extended family in Reno with my grey cat, fancy clothes, and stash of prescribed psychiatric medication. My life in transition begins. Hiding out in my near 100-year-old grandma’s basement for three months.
Three months. In three months my house will be ready. Three months of making my abuela meat and two veg every night. Watching Reno local TV with her until she drifts off to sleep in her chair.
Three months living in the converted basement with a pool table and Spanish Conquistador paintings. A bathroom and kitchenette with art deco tile laid by my dead Italian grandfather. I set up my coffee pot. Cat litter box. Witches broom. Yoga mat. Install wi-fi in an awkward circus with Charter Spectrum.
I hang my blue feather-edged bathrobe on a gold rack of inexplicable purpose in my new room. That beloved feather-edged bathrobe I ordered from Yandy.com. Inspired by Jessica Lange’s delusions of fame in American Horror Story: Freakshow.
I lounged nude incessantly in that lingerie in 90 degree Los Angeles. Smeared only in coconut oil and Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium. Dripping feathers on the hardwood floors of my Hollywood apartment.
When I moved out of that apartment, the orange-flowered couch I abandoned had inches of blue feathers deep between the cushions. I found feathers on the dark wood stair between opposite apartment doors. I saw a single blue feather on the step outside as movers removed my last boxes.
I tweeted into the oblivion of a more innocent night: “#Hollywood living is lounging in my blue feather-edged bathrobe watching cockroaches play on the kitchen ceiling.” I thought no one was listening but the seething anonymous Internet that bore witness to me always. That tweet was forwarded by my neighbors to my landlord. My Hollywood apartment neighbors were reading my Twitter. Forwarding tweets to my landlord. I never had a chance.
Did I get evicted because my neighbors didn’t like my bathrobe? Were they jealous that I had so many Twitter followers? I’ll never know. In the end I think it was all about money.
Was I drummed out of Hollywood for becoming too famous for it? Because I had the same cockroach problem my neighbors did but was too scared to complain? I’m a disabled widow on SSDI. I was in no position to complain. I knew my place. Until I lost that niche too.
So much has been taken from me already. What more will be taken?
Did my neighbors think I drank too deeply of the Hollywood Kool-Aid? Needed to be rudely awakened? I was. I drank that Hollywood Kool-Aid down deep to my soul. It tasted like coconut water. Like the blue feathers in that couch, Hollywood will never be vomited out of me. I don’t throw up daily now that I’m sober.
The landlord’s lawyer’s pre-eviction letter said the cockroach problem that I was aware of, but did not notify him of, was grounds for eviction if I didn’t leave voluntarily within 30 days. Another term of my pre-eviction was that my apartment was in boxes. Yes. My father who supported me was diagnosed with lung cancer so I had already packed to move to Nevada. Everything was indeed in boxes since September when cancer forced that decision.
I Googled the lawyer’s email suffix of “123evict.com.” Found the letter I got was stock strategy to get rid of rent controlled tenants. There is no such thing as a lifer rent controlled tenant in rapidly gentrifying Los Angeles. My landlord had compelling financial reasons to evict me. Thus I saw it coming from so far away I was ready to spring into action and move two weeks upon receipt of the letter.
I am familiar with the concept of the sacrificial lamb. Meek. Disabled. Alone. Terrified. Overexposed on the Internet yet reclusive in meat life. I am an easy target. I was led to the slaughter of dislocation as a sacrificial lamb. To appease my Twitter-fan neighbors that my landlord was doing something about his building’s cockroach problem. I went obediently to my exile.
In evicting the “problem tenant” the neighbors were appeased. Until they found a new scapegoat from the apartment building email list. My neighbors must have Googled me. I listen to Teyana Taylor’s “Google me” again and again as I pack. I made a creative career of being Google poison. There are consequences to every action.
I sought fame upon graduation from CalArts. Created an Internet presence. Website. Social media. Published, as writers do. Disaster befell me. Was I evicted over rent control? Or my transgressive work? Cockroaches? I’ll never know. This is not the first nor last time my work offended people.
I accept my fate because I must. With each confessional essay, nasty novel, and obscene oil painting, I dig deeper my hole of infamy. It’s all I have left anymore. My mark on the Internet is all I have now that I’m homeless.
I didn’t email my landlord about his building’s cockroach problem because of my fears over the mint he must be making on the Airbnb unit across the hall. By the time I left Hollywood I was killing cockroaches with my bare hands. My fingers smeared their corpses on the walls.
A lonely night in my grandma’s 30-degree basement I drape the feather-edged bathrobe around me. Step over cat vomit stains on the ruddy carpet. Wrap myself in a pill-printed Beloved Shirts blanket I ordered online. Internet shopping to reassure myself that I have not lost all touch with my former Valley of the Dolls life.
Valley of the Dolls is the body text beneath my writing. The film ends with Anne Welles moving back to her family’s beautiful old home in a small New England town to live alone with her memories. Ascending to the ancestral home. She leaves her beseeching lover behind her. Walks alone in the snow feeling free. Dionne Warwick sings, “This is where I’ll start again,” as the credits roll.
I too left the lover who wanted to marry me behind in Los Angeles. I too seek to ascend to my ancestral home. I too want to live alone with my memories. As Valley of the Dolls ends my new life begins.
My great-aunt and uncle built my future home in 1954. A squat brick one-story two-bedroom on a plot of land with fruit trees in an old neighborhood in Reno. I name it my House of the Rising Sun. My dream house where the sun rises on my future. My grandparents raised my father and uncle there. Two generations of widows lived out their old age between those walls. I the third widow “going down to live my days in the House of the Rising Sun.”
I drive past my House of the Rising Sun on the way back from Save Mart. Dream staring at it out the windows of my Honda Civic. I don’t park and linger as I so want to. It’s Nevada: The Wild West. I don’t know if the current tenants have guns. Would resent or fear a Schizoaffective property-stalker. I wish the current tenants no harm. I only want my family’s house back in due time to live in until I die.
My lust for brick and cherry trees will be sated in three months when their lease runs out. I wait peacefully in this basement as my cat stares at me with deep green eyes.
I am but many who fled California in droves forced by market forces beyond our control. The storage unit where I store all my worldly possessions is staffed by two San Jose transplants. The California cancer spread faster than I thought. Reno is Sierra sanctuary.
I tweet, “I don’t take inevitable gentrification personally,” as I know my landlord or neighbors may be eyeing my Twitter for slander. My landlord made a business decision and so did I. I didn’t take this eviction personally. It was a mercy eviction given what cockroach-ridden hellhole my apartment became. I felt no bad blood towards my former apartment building. No hexes or curses were performed by this good witch. Only nostalgic pangs in making the move I always knew was inevitable to Reno.
I wrap my blue feather-edged bathrobe around me in my grandma’s basement. Celibate. Sober. Alone. Declawed. In transition. Writing on the Internet my sole outlet and identity. Please don’t cut my wi-fi like Julian Assange! I resist erasing myself off the Internet as it is all I have left to show for myself.
Pathetic Hollywood exile glamour. Aware of how much worse it could be. I seek a forever home like a dog at the pound.
Originally published at http://nmreview.nmhu.edu.