Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Last Flophouse in Paradise or was it Tulsa

Here I go again! In my times in college in the 90's I had a friend that lived
in a downtown apartment. Roach infested, a smoke house, people fighting,
till the point the manager walked down the hallway honking a air horn yelling,
"Can't we all get along!" (She did not want the police to be called again.)

The porno playing away in the friends apartment the whole time that was going on.
Sort of fitting atmosphere for college friends looking at porno!
For those that don't know, the porno is on but guys talk about other things.
Like about the Discovery website, Quantum Theory, History etc.
Guys don't look at it the whole time! I guess just the funny parts of the porno
if at all. Call it a 90's kind of thing!

"I was never really into porn. But anybody born after 1990 grew up with
pornography, whether they want to or not."

Other than that place was where I spent my new years in 1993 I think.
Me and my friend was walking downtown Tulsa at the time it was new years
and we had no money to go to a hotel party or any of the high dollar sorts!
We where talking about how life was different in the 80's in downtown Tulsa
vs the times at the time. When he sees one of his ex students.
(My friend at the time worked as a English tutor, later a ESL instructor at a
Korean Hagwon.) His ex student had beer and was having a small party
with some of his friends at the Towerview Apartments! So we went with him.
At his party there was a meth lab in the fridge where the beer was. 
Yes we got some beers, just go carefully around the meth. Hay, free beer is free beer!

If you don't know what that place was, lets just say that in the 90's when
I worked in a Hotel they had a banquet for the local housing authority / landlords
etc. And as I was working there a coworker was talking to another worker asking 
about a place that is affordable. I heard him and quickly told him about
Towerview Apartments being funny! You would of thought I just farted, 
everyone in the banquet heard me tell him that!

Also at the Towerview, I have to note the place had no AC. And in the Oklahoma
summers it's hell. Me and my friend drove by it once leaving college and we saw a 
dog on the top floor hanging out the window like it was thinking about committing
suicide, jumping out the window. We stopped for a time to watch it but noting happened,
my friend was overly curious to see if the dog will jump or not, he wanted me to stop.
It's that bad at the place!

Also bad, but funny... sort of when I found out!
I dated this girl once in college and it didn't work out. She lived in a bad place
downtown also and after I dated her with many knowing I did, she told our group
in college, about the time she had sex with a guy that lived down the hall from her.
He had sex with her then he would stop then run back to his apartment, then run back 
to hers and so on. Each time this thing was getting bigger and bigger she said. 
(He was using a pump.)
Well he took off again then he never came back she said. I don't remember what she 
said but we, all knew, he popped! We all figured he was dead for a while in his 
apartment. The girl had some bad issues!

Anyway that is my alertness of flophouses! Keep in mind at the time I was a 
Psychology major so the 90's in action was the reality pointing toward growth,
as I looked around. Things can only get better after seeing that stuff!

~~~~~The Last Flophouse in Paradise
Go far enough west in this country and you find the place where God cannot exist. 
When your VW runs out of gas or when you step off the Greyhound dirty and sleepless
or when your feet hit the tarmac looking for a new Hollywood life, this place will be 
there waiting for you.

Maybe back east your dad beat the hell out of you or your girlfriend ran off with the 

quarterback or maybe you’ve got stars in your eyes like every other joker looking to 
break into the business. Whatever reason you come to California, there it will be, this 
place with no God waiting for you.

It even has a name. The Duffy Street Apartments in Venice Beach. 

It’s where the wayward go, the misfits and degenerates and pathologically lonely. 
It’s got holes in the walls and dried blood in the carpet. A parking lot full of broken 
glass and bearded men huddling around trash cans full of fire. 
It’s a white brick building two blocks from the boardwalk with smashed windows 
covered over with blue plastic sheets and duct tape. 
It’s tucked into one weird corner of town between a Google office building 
that looks like huge binoculars and a CVS with a 20 foot tall dancing half 
clown/half ballerina above its door. Money is all around Duffy Street, but none of it 
grows there. It’s a black hole where no light can live.


But you ask, “How can this be? Venice Beach is the land of pretty people now.” 

And that’s the flame that kills the moth. Duffy is a flophouse that advertises sunny beach 
apartments online for super cheap. But when you get there you realize the sunny 
apartments are taken and the only places left are 300 square foot rooms with no kitchens 
and shared hall bathrooms. The old bait and switch.

The first floor is full of surfers from Australia or South Africa, there for the waves. 

They work under the table in weed dispensaries or washing dishes and on the weekends 
they scour the boardwalk for “California pussy,” as they say. 
They have knotted dreadlocks and smoke multi-chamber bongs and blast 
Bob Marley bootlegs. These kids are harmless but will have their stereos stolen forever. 
They spend a few months with the truly vicious characters in Duffy and they pack their 
bags for Echo Park or Manhattan Beach.

Your room is on the second floor and looks out over the alley behind the building. 

Each night you see fights and car thefts and homeless people shooting up and sharing 
bottles of gin. You hear the bums sing their bum songs. Just random melodies with no 
words or sometimes a fragment of “Hey Jude” or “Tambourine Man.” 
These are the leftover hippies, battered wives and Vietnam Vets. 
All the people our country forgot about congregate there.


A married couple in the apartment building on the opposite side of the alley do a little 

Streetcar Named Desire routine once a week. She throws all his clothes out the window 
when he comes home late and yells down at him that she never wants to see him again. 
And he screams her name (it might was well be Stella) and after hours of screaming 
someone calls the cops. She takes him back and then you hear them fucking all night. 
The bums cheering them on.

Your room is blank. Just an air mattress. You’ve got your books stacked up and your old 

computer and a turned over brown box for a table where you roll joints and eat food. 
No AC, so you hang your head out the window and hope for a breeze that never comes.

You don’t make friends with your neighbors but you know about their lives because the 

walls are paper thin. Next door Jack has a new girl every night. Jack likes coke and 
hip-hop, he’s from the valley. His window is so close to yours you could almost reach 
into it. One night you poke your head out hoping for some relief from the heat and 
there’s a naked blonde being rammed from behind by Jack. “I didn’t believe you!” 
she screams to him. “I didn’t believe you!”

Across the hall is a bodybuilder named Don and his lover Maggie, who could be twice 

his age. She’s always on him about cleaning the apartment but there’s nothing in there 
but a futon. 

And down the hall is Harvey who always leaves his door open. 
Harvey’s a hoarder with tropical birds. You’ve never seen him leave his apartment or 
change out of his burgundy bathrobe. If he talks to you it’s always in the form of some 
maddening warning: “Don’t let them promise you anything. They’ll steal your soul. 
They’ll kill a million babes in the blink of an eye!”

The most gruesome place of all in Duffy is the shared bathroom down the hall. 

A small blue tiled room with a shower, sink and toilet that smells of death. 
You might find the toilet overflowing or puke everywhere or drops of random blood 
in the morning. Late in the summer you catch a serious staph infection on your ass that 
balloons to a baseball sized pimple. A doctor at an urgent care in Marina Del Rey has to 
lance it open. You scream blasphemous things against God but no God is there to 
hear you. Just this doctor who asks if you have a girlfriend that might be able to change 
the dressings on your wound and when you say no, he says he’ll have to do it for you 
three times a week. “This could be life threatening,” he says. He asks you personal things 
and gives you free visits and you think maybe this doctor is hitting on you, but realize he’s 
only Canadian.


Then one night you’re laid up in your unholy apartment, resting, unable to sleep at 3am, 

listening to the bums singing in the alley. Nursing your ass and you hear Don and Harvey 
yelling at each other.

“I don’t give a fuck,” says Don to Harvey.

“I don’t give a fuck,” says Harvey to Don.

“Fuck you,” says Don.

“Fuck you,” says Harvey.

It goes on like this for a while and you hear Maggie screaming and you hear other 

people in the hall now but you don’t dare even crack your door for fear of getting 
caught up in it. You have to pee but it’s too risky to try to make it to the bathroom 
and back so you just go in an empty beer bottle. Screaming is nothing new here. 
Madness and fear are the normal state of affairs.

Then it happens. Don gets a baseball bat. “Put the goddamn bat down,” screams Maggie. 

And you hear bodies slam. You’ve long since stopped calling the cops. 
They always show up sooner or later and sure enough you hear the sirens coming. 
The commotion moves downstairs and you take one of the high octane narcotic pain pills 
the nice Canadian gave you and fall asleep and dream of home back east.

The next morning, there’s blood all over the hallway and in the bathroom and down 

the stairs.

“What happened,” you ask Jack, who’s standing shirtless in his doorway with his arm 

around a redhead in a bikini.

“Some guy stabbed Harvey,” he says as if he’s telling you it’s raining outside.

“Is he okay?”

“It was some of Don’s boys that did it,” Jack says not answering your question. 

“Harvey didn’t like them and he tried to kick them out.”

“But he’s okay, right,” you ask and notice for the first time Harvey’s door is closed.

Jacks shrugs. “All I know is he’s gone. They took him away.”


Harvey’s door is never open again. One morning you find a note under your door from 

someone. Handwritten and photo copied that says, “No more fighting up here. 
Call the cops if you see something. Nobody let in the guys named Chronic, 
Diablo and Jeff.”

Soon you’ll leave and find a cheap place with some roommates or maybe you’ll give up 

and head back east and suffer the winters again. But you’ll leave Duffy in your rear view 
and try and forget it, but it won’t ever leave you. You’ll think sometimes there was a God 
at Duffy after all. He was just a horrible, apathetic God.

And maybe our greatests artists and thinkers die in places like these before they 

have a chance. And someone throws all their music and poetry and cures for cancer away. 
And they scrub their rooms and find a new sucker to live at Duffy. 
A new fragile heart ready to break, a new dreamer that will soon destroy himself as 
sure as the tides run high to low.

But it’s so beautiful here, we’ll all say. The endless blue sky and sun. 

And when you put your head out the window at night sometimes you can hear the ocean. 
Though of course it could be the sound of traffic on the interstate. 
But you don’t care. Either way it’s beautiful and dangerous.

All names of people and places in this story have been changed to 
protect the guilty.