How the hell was I gonna find a place that required no down payment and no first month's/last month rent for $400 in four days?! In LA no less! Oddly though, the first thought that went through my mind was, "Whew! At least I don't have to pay my aunt for this month!"
So for those last four days, craigslist was my best friend. I also began looking up prices for storage units as I needed a place to store my seven boxes since sleeping in my car and showering at 24hour fitness was still the number one option on my list. Shitty thing was, I couldn't really drive around to check out these places in person because I figured that would just waste gas and, let's face it, I needed every dollar I could spare for what was in store for me.
Honestly, the idea of sleeping in my car didn't bother me a bit. The way I saw it was that if that's what I had to do to stay in LA and make things work, then that's what I had to do. My uncle had made it clear that "it wasn't because of the money and it wasn't because they had no room" (there were four of us living in a four bedroom house: my aunt and uncle in one room, my cousin in another, me in the third, and no one in the fourth) and if the reason for kicking me out was not being able to watch TV in that backroom and it was "tearing the family apart", then I figured I didn't want be there anyway.
Friday came with a quickness. I wasn't able to find any work so the $430+ dollars that I had in my account was set in stone. I remember kinda chuckling when my aunt asked me if I needed help moving. I still didn't know what to do or say. I hadn't decided what my next step was and I was being bombarded with questions like, "So where's your new place?" and "Do you need us to help you move?"
Four days...that's all I was given and I was still lost. I needed to buy myself more time. So that Friday afternoon I told my aunt that I had found an apartment but they were fixing the plumbing so it won't be ready until February. She believed me and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as I bought myself about another two weeks.
Craigslist...Look for work...Send out my resume...
That pretty much was my schedule for those last couple of weeks. The response: nothing, nothing, and nothing. I couldn't even book any background work which would've given me at least another couple hundred dollars to work with and would've helped exponentially. I remember thinking, "WTF is going on?! I'm a recent grad with Microsoft on my resume!!"
January seemed to go by faster than those four days and on January 30th, I was in the same predicament as I had been two weeks prior: no place, no money, same questions. That night I sat at the dining room table, looking at my cousin's laptop (my computer was still up in Seattle), sorting through craigslist, desperately searching for ANYTHING and wondering what was I gonna do about checking emails and finding work when I move since I didn't have a computer. And that's when I found it...
"Live in a house with other musicians, actors, and filmmakers!" the heading had said. Intriguing. I clicked on it and with each line I read, my smile grew. "Live amongst other creative minds! Great networking opportunity! $500 a month, NO deposit, NO credit check! Fully furnished, cable and internet included! Community computer! Swimming pool, pool table!" AND it was 15 minutes north of Hollywood?! What?! That's impossible! There had to be a catch! There were pictures of the house and they all looked incredible. Then towards the bottom of the page I noticed that it said that the sleeping situation was dorm style, meaning, you shared rooms with someone else. "That's all?!," I thought. Fuck it, I lived in the dorms for a whole year! And it was either that or sleep in my car. It was a no brainer! I called the contact number and set up an appointment for the following day with every intention to move in despite whatever "catch" there might be.
The following morning I got up early, threw all my clothes and whatever boxes that I could in my car and headed out to see the house. I told my aunt that I was "off to my new apartment", that I didn't need help moving and that I'd be back within the following days to pick up the rest of my stuff. The house was about an hour away and during that hour, I kept thinking about how the whole deal seemed too good to be true. I admit that I was a bit worried that I already had it in mind to move in without even seeing the place. What if it wasn't what I expected? What if it was a scam and didn't really exist? What if there was some crazy catch that wasn't included in the posting? What if serial killers owned the house? What if it was a porn house? After all, it WAS in the valley.
All these things were going through my mind, along with what I would do if I decided NOT to move in. I couldn't go back to my aunt's place, could I? And say what? "Oh, they're still not done with the plumbing. Can I stay another month?" So needless to say, a lot was riding on this one visit.
So I pull up to the meeting place and it looked nothing like the picture. Greeeat. RED FLAG. I call the guy I'm meeting on his cell phone and he comes out the house (I forgot his name already so I'll just call him Bob). Bob seemed like a nice, harmless guy. A white guy in shorts and a t-shirt, probably in his mid fifties, a bit overweight, and tatted up the arms. He came off as that guy who was probably cool and got a lot of girls in high school, but as he got older he never really grew up or changed the way he interacted with women making him now that creepy old guy who acts and talks to girls like he's still 20. He told me that the house in the posting was down the street and he'd take me to it.
"Whew, thank goodness. This isn't the place," I thought.
He explained that this house we were meeting at was the exact same deal as the house in the posting and invited me to check this one out before we head over to the other one. "Sure, why not", I told him.
As we walked through the house he said that he had this house and the one I came to look at. He rented them both out to people trying to make it in the entertainment industry for $500 a bed and I couldn't help but think of how brilliant that was: low rent for the struggling artist but with the $500 he gets a head, it really adds up for him (especially with more than one person per room). "This guy must be making bank!" I thought.
So we get to the actual house and it's a lot bigger than the first. He took me through the front door which, like the first house, had a key-less entry. "Everyone get's their own code," he said as he punched in some numbers on the numeric keypad. We went in and it was a lot nicer than the first. It looked a lot more modern and was definitely a house that cost over a million, but in LA, that isn't saying much. He took me down the hallway and showed me three rooms: two of the rooms had two bunk-beds in them and the third was a bit bigger so it had three. He pointed to one of the rooms with two bunk-beds and said, "This is the girls' room and is off limits to the guys." "Only four girls?", I asked. He looked back at me and nodded slightly, "Yeah. I don't have a limit for guys, but I've found that if I have any more than four girls there's a lot of drama." I laughed, "Makes sense."
Everything seemed in order. There were two and half bathrooms and we were all given a number that corresponded with some cabinets, closets, and some shelves in the fridge (there were four fridges throughout the house) so that we could put our stuff. We passed by a fourth room with a huge king sized bed and a TV. Turned out that Bob lived in the house too. I didn't think anything of it, but in retrospect that should've been another RED FLAG.
We then walked by the room with the pool table where a couple of people were racking up a game, then through the living room where some people were sitting on a huge, white, L-shaped couch watching a movie on a 50inch plasma, through the kitchen and out to the back yard that housed a swimming pool, an enormous trampoline, a tool shed and a number of orange and lemon trees.
"Sold, sold, sold, and sold," I said to myself.
The age range in the house seemed pretty broad: from low 20s to late 50s. When we got outside there were a bunch of guys drinking and smoking out. I thought back to the posting on craigslist, "Come live with other aspiring artists my ass." RED FLAG.
He then took me to the "room" to show me the beds that were for rent. It was structurally connected to the house but it was weird because the only way to access it was to go out the back door, around the corner and into another side door. I realized that this "room" that he was renting out was actually more of a converted garage posing as a "room".
In this "room" there were 7 bunk-beds lined up nicely against the wall on a cold concrete floor. "This isn't a room," I thought. "This is an orphanage!" RED FLAG. "I just acquired this house so we're still setting things up," he explained before I could say anything. "I'm putting wood flooring to cover up the concrete and we're installing air conditioners." Suuuure.
The whole thing wasn't ideal and the red flags definitely made me hesitate, but I knew I wasn't gonna get anything better for that cheap. As we went back outside, I pointed at the tool shed and asked, "I've got some boxes. Would I be able to put them in that tool shed?"
"No," he replied. "I've got two more bunk beds setup in there." I looked at him waiting for the "Siiiiiiike!" but then I realized he was serious. Maaaaaaan....RED FLAG.
Fuck it. "So can I just give you a check for $500 and start moving my stuff in now?", I began to ask. He interrupted me, "I only take cash. Didn't I mention that earlier?" No, sir, you did not. RED FRICKEN FLAG! Damnit!
So I jumped into my car and headed over to the Ralph's/Wellsfargo that I passed a few blocks up. Knowing that I only had a little over $430 in my account, I drove in silence, hoping that the ATM would let me take out the full $500 to cover the rent. I got to the bank, parked my car, and slowly walked up to the ATM. Standing in front of it for about a good minute, I stared at the screen, preparing myself for what I was about to put myself through. "I'm buying myself time," I tried to convince myself. "I'm buying myself opportunity."
Fuck it. I put my debit card in the machine, typed in the amount and closed my eyes. I blew a sigh of relief and reopened my eyes as I heard $500 cash pop out the machine. Then I thought, "Damn. I didn't expect for it to go through. I should've asked for a little more so I can at least buy some groceries to last the month."
When I got back to my car, I searched the glove compartment, under the seats, in the cracks of the cushions and everywhere in between. I was able to find about a dollar and some change and so I took that, went back into Ralph's and bought my groceries for the month: a loaf of bread.
When I got back to the house, I gave the cash to Bob and began unloading my car. "This is it," I thought. "This is the month that will either make or break me: February 2009." I had bought myself a month and in a couple of days, my overdraft fees will be charged, putting me at almost negative $100 in my account which will remain that way until I find another income. I had no steady job and The Office didn't need any extra help. I also had to skip payment towards my calling service so I wasn't getting any background work either.
No job. No money. Student loans quickly piling up. The clock was now ticking and I had ONE month to find SOME type of income in the city with the highest unemployment rate in the nation during the peak of the nation's worst recession since the great depression. "Yeah," I thought. "No pressure."
The first couple of days at the house, I spent a lot of time thinking of my next move and looking for jobs online. I sent my resume out to everyone I could and applied to everything under the sun. From retail to temp work, from Google to a McDonald's cashier. If it paid (and was legal), I applied for it. I remember being more confused then frustrated. I had a degree so why was it so hard to get a job? Why wasn't Barnes & Noble, Jack In the Box, McDonald's, or Panda Express calling me back?! Give me something! Luckily, I moved into the house pretty early so I was able to spend lots of time on the community computer before other people got in.
About a week or so into February, the house was 3/4 full. I had so far been doing a good job of stretching the loaf of bread I bought by eating a piece a day and drinking lots of water. I can't even tell you how many times I had sleep for dinner. I had a thin cloth that I put on my bed as a mattress cover, used a bunch of crumpled t-shirts as a pillow and slept under some jackets as a blanket.
I still hadn't heard back from any jobs and thought that, out of all the months I bought, why did I have to buy the shortest one; as if I had a choice. The weird thing was, I don't remember ever being worried or stressed. I was always thinking of my next move and felt I didn't have time to feel any anxiety. The way I saw it was that I could either sit around and blame my uncle for kicking me out or I could make moves. My situation was happening whether I liked it or not, so putting all my energy into digging myself out this hole made more sense than spending it on complaining and feeling sorry for myself.
As the days gone by, I learned more about the house and how shady things really were. Little did I know how shady things would get and how crazy my situation would escalate during that February of 2009 living in the "Shady house".
In the middle of my second week there, I laid there in the dark on the bottom bunk, head on my shirts, warmth from my jackets, stomach growling, and closed my eyes and thought that if this is what I have to go through to achieve my goals, then so be it. I'm willing to do anything and everything I can to make a better life for my family and retire my mother. A part of me even thought, "This is it. This is the point to where people seriously start selling drugs and turn to a life of crime in order to make ends meat." Then out of the darkness, I hear the voice of my bunk -mate, a forty something year old man who just moved into the house earlier that evening with nothing more than a backpack and a few items of clothing. "Man," he whispered, "this is worse than being back in prison."
"Shit," I thought. "This is gonna be an interesting month."
...To be continued...
Part 1: Where's the Love?
Part 2: Moving Day
Part 3: The Shady House
Part 4: False Salvation
Part 5: Four Star Hotel
Part 6: Do Unto Others
Part 7: So Close, Yet So Far
Part 8: Dent of Hope