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The International Writers Magazine: Life in LA

Roommate Available  1/1/08 (flexible) to Open  Yes Rental type  Apartment Bedrooms  Two, Available  1 Bathrooms - Parking   Doorman   High speed internet   Smoker OK   Pets OK   Elevator Cable   Laundry in bldg Air conditioning   Utilities included   Credit app. reqd   Broker fee none
Everything's coming up crazy
Caitlin McCallum

Arriving in Los Angeles as a starry eyed transplant from the Midwest, I had compiled a list of things to do and see that were quintessential California activities. Most were beach, art and nightlife scene oriented, but I had one pressing issue that needed to be addressed: finding a place to live.
This advertiser has been made aware of and has accepted federal housing laws not to give preference, limitation or discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, family status, sexual orientation, marital status, ancestry or source of income.

Homelessness was an option, but I put aside my affection for free soup and dumpster diving chic for shelter and a roommate or three. After consulting the few present and former Los Angelinians I knew, the website Westside Rentals came out the unanimous victor over Craigslist .The cited reason boiled down to perceived legitimacy and sanity of potential roommates. After charging $60 on my credit card for 3 months worth of web searching, my quest and subsequent adventures began. I found little legitimacy and definite insanity. Here are some highlights:
"Hi I'm calling about the room for rent on Westside Rentals."
A man in Middle Eastern accent: "Yes, I am Hugo. I am manager. What do you want?"
"Oh, I just moved here and am curious about the room for rent with one roommate and a private bathroom." My cheeks are hot, Hugo does not seem terribly friendly.
"You move in at beginning of next month. Right now I have two ladies in apartment, but soon just one lady as roommate was not granted green card and so she no stay in my building. Or in America. (It seems this fact just dawned on Hugo) So I help find replacement."
"Oh. I'm sorry. Well, I'm interested in checking the place out. It's a room and bathroom right?"
I hear Hugo hesitate (RED FLAG #1), "Yes, but I use bathroom sometimes, but only when I stay in living room. (RED FLAG #2)  I bought new shower head. I am manager and need to be there sometimes. It's my couch that I lent to Leyna and Pushpa, the ladies."
Am I being punked? "I'm sorry, but you stay in the living room?"
Maybe Hugo is friendlier than first suspected.
Hugo is growing impatient, "Yes, yes. That's what I say. I am gay. Don't worry (RED FLAG #3). I go out to club at night. Gay clubs. Where I dress up. You know? Like woman. So I get ready at building I manage and where you will live? (RED FLAG #4) I don't want my neighbors seeing me dressed up. You know? Like woman ( RED FLAG #5)."

I want to tell Hugo that I'm pretty confident that his neighbors are aware he is a Looney Tune cross dresser, but instead, like Yankee Doodle, he gives me one last feather to put in my cap.
"I also use kitchen to make sandwiches. I lent refrigerator too. I clean up. I make one for you too."(RED FLAG #6)
I feel high, is this really happening? Isn't it the landlord's job to supply basic appliances? I have an image of Hugo in fishnet stockings with his gut hanging out between his much too tight catholic school girl skirt and mesh tank top, smearing sauce on a gyro and he raises it to his coral lip-sticked mouth only to get onions get caught in his beard.
"So how about you come tonight? I am getting ready there tonight. You can meet Pushpa before she is deported."

I hang up. How could anyone replace Pushpa? The timer on my phone reads 6 min 34 seconds. I have a new perspective on time and realize this roommate searching may not be as easy as first led to believe. I have another option saved on my searches. This listing only offers an email and no phone number. I type up a brief inquiry expressing my interest and expect no response. How could I when the following is at stake, a Spanish style house in Brentwood, complete with movie viewing room and tennis courts with a private wing with balcony and pool for the too good to be believed price of $400 month. To my surprise, I received an email the next day from the lister, a Miss. Melanie Joy. She gave me the address and saying to stop by anytime and someone should be home. I scribbled the street down and dashed out the door. I approached the house and had an eerie feeling, although nothing was out of the ordinary. A few over grown bushes and weeds littered the lawn, but otherwise the property was immaculate.

I rang the doorbell and a woman who had to be in her mid 80's and who came up to my knees answered the door. "Yes. I like you," she grabs my hand and is laughing hysterically saying how pretty I am and is speaking nonsense. I like old people and so I am not bothered by her obvious senility...and I also like that she likes me purely based on my looks. Another person, resembling Cousin It, sat silently watching some reality TV program with crazed brides (are there any sane ones?).
"Hi, I'm looking for Melanie. I'm here to see the house."
Cousin It looks up, "I like weddings. Do you like weddings?"  

Fuck. I glance around for a glass menagerie. This is not a good sign and even after speaking, I'm unable to differentiate this person's gender. Before I can voice my opinion, Melanie Joy appears ( she insists on being called her first and middle name, I soon discover) emerges in all her sweat pant, matted hair angrily pulled into a scrunchie, Tweetey Bird size 3 XXL t-shirt glory. "I'm Melanie Joy. That's my sister Lauren Grace, ignore her. And that's our great aunt Burma. Ignore her too. Let me show you the place."

 As I attempt to conceal my glee over getting gender confirmation of Cousin It, I observe Melanie Joy. An expressionless, blank, fat canvas.  She leads me though the enormous house and precedes to tell me a number of troubling tid bits. Like how her parents died in 2004 and she has a trust fund and that she decorated the house herself and that she has a son but never sees him and her ex-husband lives in San Bernardino and doesn't pay child support because he works for the government and that I seem very young, that she has not eaten dinner, that she had a long day at work, that I have to do a credit check if I want to live here, that she hasn't voted since McGovern was President, but the attorney who handles all the money is screening her calls so it might take a while ( I'm impressed such an insane person can differentiate between screening a call and missing one). The entire time great aunt Burma (why no middle name?) is clutching my hand and ever so slightly drooling.

I slowly backed out and was checking every potential escape route. She has never depended on the kindness of strangers, nor do I think that it an option. I took note of the plethora of pills hanging in the cabinets and haphazardly laying on end tables like paddles in a frat house and immediately texted the multi-syllable prescriptions to my friend Matthew who is going to pharmacy school.   Less than five minutes later I had a response: bi polar, manic depression, dementia, foot fungi and an extremely concerned friend who demanded to speak to me about this potentially lethal cocktail. The rest I blocked out.

As I was shown to the foyer and soon out of the beautiful home that I would never walk though again, Melanie Joy shows me the living room, "Sometimes my step-brother stops by and kind of sets up a fort, but we haven't seen him for about six weeks. Oh, and do you have a steady income? I don't work, so it doesn't bother me so long as you have money. We have a trust fund."

I want to remind Melanie joy that she told me that she had a long day at work, but I don't as I'm afraid she might knife me. I pry Burma's clammy death grip from my hand. "I like you, you stay," she tells me, dabbing the drool with her nightgown.

Not in your wildest dreams: I think as I step into the cool southern California evening air and not in my most frightening nightmares. Soup kitchens are looking brighter by the minute as my stomach growls and I begin dialing Matthew.
"Matt, stop, stop, stop. I am not taking those pills and you are not going to believe what I just saw..."
© Cait McCallum - Jan1st 2008

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