When I first moved to Los Angeles, my father opened up a coffee house on Hollywood Blvd by Las Palmas. Right next to a decrepit movie theater, a few store fronts down from Two Guys From Italy (the best pizza EVER), and a 5 minute walk to the Hollywood Library where I spent many a day staring at movie posters and avoiding creepy old men. My dad let me and my brother wander around Hollywood at that age, unsupervised, but always said “Do not walk past Vine!” For many years after I thought of Vine St. as some hedonistic wonderland and would try to convince my brother to walk a little further down (“Nat, Ivar is so boring!), but he’s a chump and would just start crying. Anyways, I always found it funny that I was banned from walking past some street when my coworker was a heroin addict with his ex-wives tattooed on his neck. My other coworker was some old guy in some hardcore motorcycle gang who was known as Biker Jerry (B.J. for short) who would exchange espresso and food for . . . well, blow jobs. It would take me many years to understand why all his sleezy motorcycle friends giggled when I said his name. I still see him occasionally on his motorcycle, still parked outside of Two Guys From Italy, but I doubt he recognizes me now. And, considering he would always tell me what a “pretty little smart girl I [was]” I don’t think I’d want him to.
My dad meant well with his restaurant. Having started the successful Joni’s Coffee Roasters in Marina Del Rey before I was born, he figured he’d make a big splash on craptacular Hollywood Blvd. His restaurant soon became a haven for drug deals (“I didn’t know you could buy drugs with food stamps!” I wrote in my journal), homeless guys named Moses, and . . . prostitutes.
Oh, the wonderful prostitutes. Women my dad would take home and attempt to rescue (and then kick out when they denied his requests for marriage). I don’t even remember all the times I came home in 6th or 7th grade to my dad saying, “Haley, this is your new roommate.” My new roommate being some hot mess right off the streets. There was such a parade of them at one point in my life that I have only managed to remember a few that I captured in my journals at the time. Reading the entries is somewhat amusing as I talk about it like it was all so normal. Doesn’t every 12 year old girl share her room with a prostitute? I had no friends at the time and thus had nothing to compare my situation to. It was me, Edgar Allen Poe, Francesca Lia Block, and some Hollywood whores.
The ones I do remember made quite an impact on me immediately. There was Nancy, the young, fucked up female obsessed with the Smiths and Nirvana who told me stories of her grandfather getting her drunk at the age of 5. Mmmmkay. She was a stripper before “working the streets,” but liked working at my dad’s restaurant a lot more. “Haley, just know, that there are men out there who will want to hurt you because they know they can.” Thanks for the heads up Nancy! lol. She was funny and full of spunk and really couldn’t be much older than 25. My dad asked her to marry him. She declined and went back to the streets. I occasionally saw her when I was sitting outside the restaurant. Nancy would run up, give me a hug, a wink, and wander off with some punk rock dude. The last time I saw her she said, “I worry about you.” “Why?” “I know who you live with.”
I will call her “Anne,” because I think that’s what her name was, but I don’t really remember. Anne was most likely a dominatrix of some sort who had this great idea of starting a shoe shining business . . .a topless shoe shining business. My dad would just laugh at her and say “I think they’d rather you be shining something else!” She was a big woman. Well, in comparison to me, I guess. I remember her as some gargantuan, curvaceous figure with blond hair and a penchant for pleather outfits. She worked and lived with me for two week before being caught with BJ in the basement. “Haley. Just remember that you have power. Women have power.” “But, I don’t want power.” “What do you want?” “I just want to be loved for who I am,” I answered in all my pre-teen naivete. “Ha! I give you until you’re 21. Love is weak. Not to mention, you live with your dad so good luck with that.”
It seemed that everyone knew something about my dad that I had not yet learned.
Then, there was Diana – the ex 18th Street gang member in her mid-30’s who would regale me with tales of gang bangs, drive by shootings, and “one for [her] homies.” “They’re still your homies . . . even though they, like, raped you?” “It’s a complicated thing, you know.” Uhhhkay, lady. To me, she was the most tragic. She lacked the balls the previous women had. Her boyfriend was in jail (and yep, she had a teardrop tattoo!). She had two daughters aged 15 and 17 – I went to Universal Studios with them once. That was a trip. They liked me though. “You’re pretty smart for a 12 year old. How do you have time to read so much?” “I, uh, don’t have any friends or a life,” I would answer back. The 15 year old tried to convince me to let her do my eyebrows and make me over, but my dad was totally against that (“My daughter will not look like a tramp!”) She had a cholo boyfriend and was obsessed with TuPac. She hated my dad. Her kids lived with their father above a restaurant in Echo Park. Their father had a new baby and I had a very strong feeling that the girls were mistreated by the step mom. Diana had some problems with alcohol in the past and you could tell being around them that the emotional wounds had yet to be healed. Despite all this, Diana had a very good heart and was very high spirited. Occasionally, she stumbled in my room drunk and whispered funny stories about Echo Park in the 1980’s, but the stories always took a dark turn and she often passed out crying. I would get out of my bed and give her a hug, but that would only make her cry more. “Mija, I feel very sorry for you. You don’t have a mother. Even with all my problems, my kids still had a mother.” I would shrug and say, “C’est la vie.” “You’re too young to be so settled. Oh, wait until you’re a teenager. Your father doesn’t know who he is a raising!”
The rest of the women aren’t worth remembering to me – they were weak, pathetic, sad, desperate. Like the 28-year- old who took me to get stoned with her and some guy she met at a beeper store. We wandered around the streets of Van Nuys in the middle of the night and watched Colin’s Sleezy Friends on public access t.v. She did agree to marry my dad, but decided that she had a few wild oats that still needed to be sown and tried to hook him up with her mom.
But, there was Lisa – the Australian export who lived with me the longest. I called her my “nanny” and she had some serious issues. In her late 30’s, she often stumbled in my room drunk and crying. I have to admit – I latched onto her the most. She was the last in the line of “rescues” and probably deserves her own entry. I think she succumbed to addiction as well. When I was 16 years old, I received a phone call from her: “Haley! It’s Lisa!” “Lisa! Oh my god! How are you?!” “It sure is raining, isn’t it?” “No . . . not really!” “Bye Haley!” Click. Weirdest non conversation of my life. After that, my dad’s misogyny shot off the charts and he ended up just using prostitutes for what they set out for. Despite the fact he had me shacked up with all the women above, he really thought that I was totally naive and wouldn’t figure out that the cracked out 19 year old in his bedroom was being paid to be there!
All in all, I realized growing up that I did not want to be them. I genuinely loved and cared for some of them. They were kind to me at a time when no one else was. They bought me books and horchata, but I never wanted to be like that. So desperate and so sad. Despite their calling, you could tell they were always just looking for love, but being unable to love themselves . . . it never happened. They were more or less the Cabiria’s of my life – though some were more desperate than the others. I felt extremely sad when they disappeared. They thought they had power, but it came from someone else. I learned pretty young that that kind of power is not real. I saw “Anne” on the streets when I was 17 and going to the library. She didn’t recognize me at first. All the women and my coworkers had joked that I would end up growing up into some subculture (“There is no way that girl is going to be normal!” “I hope she turns super goth – that would be hilarious!” “I think Haley is going to be pretty punk rock.”).
“Hey, it’s me – Haley! From the coffee house?”
“I knew it!” she said. “I knew you were going to be rocking the knee high doc martins!”
“Really? Ha ha ha. Yeah, they take forever to lace. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m good. Making it by. Look at you! You sure grew up! How about that shoe shining business.”
“Some things don’t change, eh?”
“How are you, Haley? You know I always remembered you. I think we all remember you.”
“Really? That’s weird. I’m good. You know – still working and going to school. Looking forward to moving out.”
“So, you’re a party girl now, huh?”
“Not really. I mean, sometimes, but not really.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Not right now.”
“Good girl. Remember – power!”
“Yeah, whatever! ha ha ha.” We hugged each other and I crossed the street and started walking down Ivar.
“Hey, Haley! One more thing. Is your dad dead yet?”
“That’s a fucking shame. Find me when he is, yeah?”
“Not insane – just powerful. Topless shoe shining – let me know when you’re interested!”