Last week I gave a co-worker a ride home.
‘Pull into this alley here. Now turn into this service alley. Now slow down…stop here. This is it.’
I was looking at a pair of hinges embedded in a wooden fence, next to garbage cans.
‘Yup. This is it. Thanks for the ride.”
“Is there a crazed ex-boyfriend lurking around your life?”
“My landlady won’t let me use the front entrance. She is very adamant about it.”
She reached over the wall, grabbed a string and the wooden slats parted about thirty degrees and she slipped through. The ‘gate’ closed behind her, Bat Cave-like, then looked like an ordinary fence again. There was no street address or unit number to mark where she lived.
A few days later, it got cold.
‘There’s no heat in my place,’ she lamented. Ask the landlady to fix the furnace, we suggested. It’s Christmastime.
‘There’s no furnace.’
No furnace? No wall heater?
‘My apartment is kind of attached to the garage. I don’t think it’s legal. I wanted to buy a space heater and deduct it from my rent, but she won’t let me. Arguing with her about it is like trying to grab water.’
The person of whom I am writing is a) white, b) educated, c) sober, d) works two jobs, like everyone else north of Ventura Blvd. Van Nuys may not be Vladivostok, but a heat-less domicile is her lot this winter and she’s resigned to it. One might consider her at a slight advantage to the other tenant, the one who lives in the garage proper, who also has no heat…plus no insulation. No kitchen, either. $600.
Turning right at the corner, I was back on a street of ordinary mid-century homes in White Van Nuys, otherwise known as Lake Balboa, lined with sweet gums shedding the last of the autumn leaves. Nothing suggested the parallel world of Bob Cratchit-like cells, small, cold and dismal, concealed just beyond the hedge work, from which certain homeowners profited handsomely.
There is a deep sub-culture of illegal units in Los Angeles. Historically it has served the needs of the extended immigrant family: second cousins tucked away in converted Home Depot tool sheds. The City has never taken it on directly because this would mean addressing the larger issue of the vast population of undocumented laborers concealed within its borders, without which the Westside would cease to function. The Problem which has No Name in Polite Society. We can’t enforce laws relating to citizenship so we don’t enforce laws relating to those would exploit the legal disadvantage of the undocumented. Once you carve out a zone of immunity in civil society, it doesn’t stop with Hondurans. We all take a step back in the direction of Dickensian London, toward a Manicheanistic world of the propertied and the un-propertied.
Welcome to Cratchit-ville.