koreatown blues

by theuglyearring

I live on Hobart Blvd in a studio apartment with hardwood floors, a gas stove and big windows. Overgrown palm fronds hide the view of the dusty, dilapidated courtyard, which my apartment overlooks. I live with two cats and a boyfriend named Jimmy who comes and goes. When I moved into the complex in March of 2004, part of the attraction was the sound of the crickets at night and the view from the rooftop. I could see everything especially on a clear night–the moon, the big dipper, downtown, fireworks on the Fourth of July.My previous apartment was located right off Sunset Blvd. in the heart of Hollywood. It stood like a pirate ship with its wood plank walkways, shadowed balconies and pointed rooftop columns. Pseudo-actors, dreamy eyed starlets, aging neurotics and corporate cokeheads shared this abode. The walls were thin, and the floors were carpeted. In the summer, there was an ant problem; on a daily basis, elevators reeked of McDonalds, booze, vomit and trash; and during the weekend, 30-somethings returned from the bars belligerent and loud. I shared the one-bedroom apartment with two past Arizona acquaintances each at separate times. Both were slobs and would eventually show their true nature–one turned to the crack and the other to the bottle. After two years of contending with the Saturday night sirens from Sunset Blvd. and the obnoxious neighbors who were armed with a lot of false talk, I moved out and headed east.

The Wendover apartment complex was built in 1924. Six-stories high and made of brick, the complex houses a subtle touch of art deco, a clean interior and cheap rent. A mix of people, mainly Hispanic families, live in these quarters, and the aroma of home-cooking, ethnic food, lingers in the hallways. When I moved in, I ran into a tenant who was reading a book on socialism. In the laundry room, I met an architect with a Sonic Youth t-shirt folding his sheets from Ikea. Elementary school aged children raced down the halls to catch their morning bus. My neighbors expecting their first child welcomed us in the hallway with homemade tacos, cake and beer while they celebrated the arrival of their little boy.

And from the kitchen, one could hear a young boy practicing “Puff the Magic Dragon” on his flute while a woman on the first floor sang Frankie Valli songs to her karaoke machine. At dusk, the bustle of dinner time–pots and pans, lovers arguing in musical profanity and car alarms made their way with the setting sun. At night, a symphony of crickets could be heard, and there was silence in Los Angeles. It was too good to be true. And in a brief matter of time, those, like the ones I had left behind in Hollywood, followed my trail. The boy with his flute moved out, and a sad girl replaced him with her wicked monkey laugh that echoed among the courtyard walls. The scenesters with their studded belts, the boozers, the lonely/single guys with their loud televisions appeared in a matter of months and wrecked havoc in the quiet courtyard. What felt like a snippet of paradise had now become extinct.

It continues to change–my neighborhood, which I wanted to love and call home. The men lounging on the steps of a neighboring complex with their beer and pointed cowboy boots work later into the night. The kids who once played catch or raced bicycles on the sidewalk now hang on neighboring street corners with their Dickies, shaved heads and tough, under-sexed eyes. Police helicopters shine their light into the courtyard and communicate with the culprit from a loud speaker. And, Christina, the owner of a neighborhood fruit stand truck who once greeted us with kindness and friendly discounts, teaching Jimmy Spanish as we purchased oranges and avocados, has turned cold and suspicious since she was fined for selling cigarettes imported from Mexico.Just last Monday, Jimmy and I were finishing dinner when we heard six gunshots a block away. Twenty minutes later the police arrived, and yellow tape roped the area of James M. Wood and Harvard Blvd. We watched from the rooftop as the crowd gathered around the crime scene. We went down and spoke to an officer who said it was gang related and a kid, perhaps one who used to bully me off the sidewalk, had been shot.

In Koreatown, I am learning life moves fast. Faces and moods shift quickly. Just take a step outside and one can experience this hodge podge of life that goes unnoticed. One minute, the neighborhood rings of birthday celebration, a boy playing his flute and his mother singing. The next, Koreatown Blues–the sad moaning of a girl surrendering her body for acceptance or a drunkard confessing years of hidden unhappiness.

It’s easy to get caught up in their lives, their voices, their mysteries. So easy, in fact, that one may stop noticing the cricket’s song and the full moon reflecting off the courtyard walls.