I don't mean to suggest that all foreigners are greedy any more than that all landlords are foreigners. However, this one particular fellow does fit a certain Hollywood archetype. He emigrated to the U.S., learned English, became a private school custodian, married the owner's overweight daughter, bought real estate with the proceeds and now owns several square blocks.
On the plus side, he's not bad to look at. Think Nicky Arnstein at the poker table, but without the white dinner jacket and a little wider through the hips. I picture him summering somewhere in the desert, where he tends to slim down despite sitting around tents eating falafels, drinking apple tea and smoking the houka. Far more alarming than my own cultural insensitivity, my neighbor, the former stripper and lifetime conspiracy theorist, perceives his trips abroad as confirmation of his membership in al-Quaeda. "The terrorists and the Republicans are in it together on every corner of every town," she'll often inform me, pulling the window shades and whispering like a block captain of the Dutch Resistance. "How do you think the Nazis got Poland?"
Personally, I can't picture this particular fellow taking on any political cause he'd be expected to fiscally support. The guy can squeeze a nickel until it screams, which is truly unfortunate given the architectural gems among his personal holdings. The bungalow courtyard where I live, for example, was one of several around town originally built in 1929 as contract housing for studio players. It was later the location for the 1984 Goldie Hawn movie, Swing Shift, set during World War II.
By my arrival in the mid-90s, the Craftsman cottages' wood siding had already been plastered over; the porches encased in concrete and painted an industrial gray. Inside, the signature period archways separating the kitchen and dining areas had been opened up at stark, square angles, while the wood sub-flooring in the dressing and bathrooms was laid with cheap tile. When we needed to replace the flimsy fiberglass shower stall, I lobbied for an authentic clawfoot tub obviously looted years earlier, which can now be re-claimed at the local flea market. "Kohler!" Nicky Arnstein declared, insisting I pay for half. "Kohler is top of the line!" When his Half-Wit Workmen tried to remove the original crown molding, I seized their toolbox and threatened to call the police. Over the years, I installed a crystal chandelier, replaced vintage doorknobs and fixtures, upgraded every last switch plate. I planted a rose garden, a vegetable patch, a koi pond and a bougainvillea trellis.
Making an unsuccessful bid for city council, Nicky helped concoct a failed plan in which Hollywood would have seceded from the City of Los Angeles—thus releasing his obligation to honor its tight rent control ordinance. While virtually every other original tenant has moved up and out, I've managed to go nowhere—while in all these years my rent has only been raised a hundred and thirty-five bucks. It shouldn't have been much of a surprise, really, when Nicky served me with eviction papers intended to beat the system, claiming that he and his family will share occupany of this tiny dwelling among themselves.
Though the bungalows have been zoned as rentals for seventy-five years, I'm faced with the immutable truth that though this one is my home, it's also his property. What a mistake to give my heart to a place that was never mine to begin with. I suppose it's like falling in love with someone who either can't or won't commit, or simply doesn't quite know how. I wish I could find some humor in the irony that, absent the lights, costumes and show-stopping musical numbers, that's just how I'd sum up what happened to Fanny Brice.