The Last Days of Los Angeles # 14
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The Last Days of Los Angeles # 14

The story of how we all died in Skid Row (3 of 3)

 Luis Rivas
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 Luis Rivas
The Last Days of Los Angeles # 14
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Luis Rivas lives in Los Angeles, California. He was a telemarketer, construction worker, flower delivery driver, fast food cashier, sales clerk,...read more non-profit canvasser, adult store and strip club manager and package handler/zip code sorter. His work has appeared in the following publications, some of which he contributes to regularly: Zygote in My Coffee, Unlikely Stories, My Favorite Bullet, The Hold, Cherry Bleeds, Corium, Rural Messenger Press, Thieves Jargon, Origami Condom, Outsider Writers, Full of Crow, Counter Punch, Gloom Cupboard, where his is Poetry Editor and Red Fez, where he is author of the Last Days of Los Angeles column. He dropped out of Los Angeles Valley College where he was studying journalism to work full-time at a porn shop. Then he got fired. Now he has gone back to school, continuing his studies in journalism and Chicana/o Studies at California State University of Northridge and Los Angeles City College. He is currently building up his own literary website, peaceisillegal.com and plans on publishing a book on his youth. Once upon a time, he grew a beard. (There is evidence on the Internet.)
The Last Days of Los Angeles # 14
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WILLY THE MAINTENANCE GUY
WE WERE LEFT AGITATED, TRAUMATIZED, BOTHERED TO OUR INDIVIDUAL CORES. We called the police and when two showed up two hours later (relatively good for our neighborhood), they only took down Danny and my statement since we were the only ones that saw anything. They asked if anyone else had keys to the apartment. We said no. They asked if we were sure. We thought about it. Michelle said someone else had had a key.
“Willy! The maintenance guy has a key!” “Do you have a phone number to reach him?” asked one of the officers. “Where does Willy live?” “I’m not sure but he’s always around the building,” Michelle said. “He has a shack in the back where the alley is.”
The officers asked us to lead them to Willy’s shack. We knew he wasn’t going to be home. I didn’t think Willy was the culprit, the one that savagely killed our dog Loki. It made no sense. Willy’s only been in the apartment a handful of times, and each time it was just to check the strange smell coming from Juan’s room. What would be the purpose of sneaking into our apartment to kill our dog? Was Willy a closeted Satanist? Sacrificing his tenant’s pets at the witching hour? If so, how and when did he leave? Besides, what Danny and I saw was a much thinner and taller figure. Willy was short and stout.
Michelle led the way to the alley. The officers walked beside her and Danny. Omar and I walked several feet behind. When we got to the shack it was the way we had expected it to be: locked and empty. The officers knocked several times loudly on the sheet metal makeshift door, each knock causing the neighborhood dogs to bark. They told us that they would call first thing in the morning.
They gave Michelle, who somehow and naturally became the point-to-person of the visit, a card and said to call if any new information came up. They said that they will be in touch, with Willy and with us.
We sat around the kitchen table that normally served as a house meeting place for serious meetings, needed confrontations and occasional house dinners.
It was around 6 a.m. The sun was coming up from behind the flower shops with storefronts that hours later would be decorated with beautiful gigantic flower arrangements, each shop and arrangement competing with the next one for customers and their attention.
And beyond the flower shops south on San Pedro Street the morning sun was rising above all the discreet and ancient Los Angeles factories (some buildings, such as ours, more than a 100 years old) that hide garment sweat shops either in the basement or on the top floors. Though this underground industry has had significant reforms, its existence still flourishes with a steady-flow of an undocumented immigrant workforce that is predominantly women, where hourly wages are suspended and substituted for a pay-by-piece system where wage is based on each article of clothing created—an amazing invention of hyper-exploitative profit that’s end-result is workers making less than the $64-per-day legal minimum wage California full-time standard.

But most people don’t think about that—don’t think of them—when they see the sun coming up in Los Angeles.
Most people don’t, or refuse to, patronize the idea that that, that they, exist, that the clothes that they (we) wear have been unethically, immorally, criminally (but legally) created for us like rotten gifts that stain our bodies with the blood, sweat and oil that drips from brown foreheads and hands and permanently scarred, permanently working, fingers.
Like most early Skid Row mornings, it was eerily quiet, a strange phenomenon considering that in just a few hours the streets would be busy with traffic jams, honking cars, police, firefighter and ambulance sirens (we were just a few blocks away from the police station and the firefighter station).
LIVING TOGETHER
Although it would bring me great joy to exaggerate our brief time together as uniformly great and peaceful as young radical activists living communally, our entire duration without conflict or antagonisms, sadly, that would be a lie. We have had several occasions where egos, personalities, petty things and crucial things, have caused great chasm-divisions throughout the house. Omar and Michelle would fight over each other not listening properly to one another, of being rude and harboring reactionary ideas and politics. Danny would cut off Michelle in mid-speech; in turn, Michelle would cut-off everyone else with complete disregard for the speaker—even after confronting her on this bad habit, it was unresolved, irresolvable since her mind worked faster than her mouth and there was a huge disconnect between her thinking, the filtering membrane that controls thoughts into vocalizations, and her speech. Furthermore, since Michelle’s serious insomnia, her sleep-deprivation psychosis had reached disturbing heights. She often mumbled around the house, her eyes basically closed, talking to herself and giggling at inaudible jokes. In her mind, she had to cut people off otherwise the thoughts would just shrink up and die in her mind; she had to let them out immediately in order for them to live. Arguments would break out over who left the dirty dishes in the sink, who hasn’t done their weekly chores, who hasn’t taken out Loki (which we were all guilty of except for Juan and occasionally Michelle when she was at home and coherent). It was a vicious cycle of inconsideration, and we were all guilty.
Juan and I began disagreeing politically; I began drifting with my Marxist tendencies away from Marxism-Leninism (a mainstay of our house and nationally and internationally of the communist movement). But I found more solace in the anti-authoritarian Marxism trend such as Rosa Luxemburg’s Council Communism tendency or the pseudo-anarchist Libertarian Marxism tradition that sought to reclaim Marxism as essentially anti-statist and critical of vanguardism (Leninism). We would argue, drunkenly most of the times, often almost to the point of blows.
“How in the fuck do you think a revolution can be won by decentralizing revolutionary power?” Juan would shout. “You think the bourgeoisie is just going to lie down and let you have your ‘revolutionary autonomy?’”   “How in the fuck do you think the masses are going to react when we impose on them a political party that is supposed to govern over them? That just springs up occasionally in whichever movement these Marxists analyze as being ripe for infiltration and teaching them correctly of how they’re oppressed and how we as communist have the golden goddamn ticket? That relationship, that distance between party and people, shouldn’t exist!” I would say. “You think the unions, if left alone, will fight for socialism in this country?” Juan would say. “Where in history, where in the world, has trade unionism ever achieved anything short of social democracy? You act as if our interests are separate from the working class. You don’t need me to quote Marx. You know that. We are them, they are us. Lenin also said that the working class left on its own is not enough for revolutionary change; it needs a vanguard; it needs our leadership.” “If the working class can’t operate under a strong anti-capitalist class consciousness, it won’t be able to preserve any sort of revolutionary change. It’s what Marx, Che and Gramsci spoke about—workers, humanity, we have to change through this process otherwise our revolution would be just a changing of the guard,” I would say. “If to be a communist means to be deeply, wholly invested in the work that human beings are not free and must be,” I would say. “Then our task is to work alongside all un-free people, provide viable substitutions to the way society and the world operates, have discussions, have disagreements, but build with everyone participating in his and her own liberation. Anything short of that, I think, is failure. Maybe not state-seizure failure, but deep human, and therefore communist, failure.” “You fucking hippie,” he would say. “What? Fuck you man.” I hated hippies. “No, you’re not a hippie, sorry.” “Good.” “You’re worst. You’re a fucking anarchist.”
I feared that our little experiment in communist living was failing, and failing fast now with the trauma of our murdered dog and a killer on the loose.
After that night, every day that followed was strange, muted, interrupted with a disgusting and origin-less feeling of deep depression, of deep lost and aimlessness. We all avoided eye contact. We no longer argued, let alone talked with each other—save for the first of the month when Michelle would text us all a courtesy reminder that rent or some utility bills were due, ending each text message with an awkwardly formal “Thank you, Sincerely Michelle.” We left our share of rent and bills in a pink flower purse above the fridge. The unpleasantness of this new reality was almost enough for us to forget the god-awful and now-persistent smell emitting from Juan’s room, which had now begun to spread to every corner of the house. It was as if each room began emitting the smell. The headaches and nightmares continued but we no longer shared these with each other. Instead our collective suffering became an individual private matter.
A few weeks passed when we received a call from the police. They had brought in Willy for questioning but he had a strong alibi and therefore was completely in the clear. Most of us didn’t really think it was Willy anyway.
But truthfully and privately, we all thought it was one of us. Someone in the house must have killed the dog. It made the most sense. No doors were opened. The dark, tall thin figure just vanished—and probably walked back into his or her room. We all fit the description for the most part. Michelle and Omar were the shortest, but even then they are well above five feet tall.
THE SUSPECTS
I would see Omar walking around, the obvious prime suspect, his hatred for Loki the simple motive. I would study his face and his movements, looking for any semblance of guilt or emotional clues. With the exception of his daily ritual of cursing, yelling and kicking the dog out of the way after coming home from work, Loki following him around the apartment like a dumb beast that doesn’t know it’s hated, Omar never snapped. But he often spoke of mood swings and his persistent near-unmanageable depression, which he was medicating himself with beer and St. John’s Wort on a consistent basis. I could imagine Omar snapping from pent-up anger for the dog. Sleepwalking would probably be the most reasonable explanation. Perhaps his hatred was so severe that it couldn’t rest in his subconscious; it needed to come out, to materialize. I understood this.  
Like most people who are not satisfied with their contemporary surroundings and level of involvement in life, Omar sought refuge in a radical activism that called on the subjugation and eventual annihilation of the accepted way of life and replace it with one that is based on love, critical and limitless compassion, solidarity, openness, peace, equality and freedom—a natural state of being for all people that cannot come to fruition under current socio-economic structure and its conditions, namely capitalism. Truth be told, many radical activists are drawn to activism for various reasons, some out of a personal trauma or catalyst that shaped their politics. Some are drawn to activism from no direct personal stories but rather from an appeal by someone to engage in this, at times, life-or-death struggle. And still others are drawn to activism by a strange guilt, that their entire lives have been lived in such a way that requires them to act better, to act out of a sense of dutiful penance. I understood all of this too.      
Juan was a communist for that very reason; something he seldom talks about, something he seldom admits as if it were a secret or confession. He had raised Loki since he was a puppy. He and the dog had gone through tough times. He had gone through personal bouts with severe depression, deep self-loathing, acute alcoholism and an array of conflict that comes naturally to young men of color that are forced to identify themselves  immediately in different institutions, such as school and work, and circles, such as friends and family. And all the while, with Loki at his side, the embodiment of much-needed loyalty, of much-needed acceptance and a fountain of bottomless compassion and forgiveness. But when Juan became a communist he took to heart the cold revolutionary realization that our movement’s dead heroes have made, namely Huey P. Newton, Sergi Nechayev, V. I. Lenin, Che, Ulrike Meinhof and many more, that as a committed revolutionary, one was doomed. Therefore, he interpreted this to mean that he didn’t have time or the luxury for selfish companionship, be it a romantic partner or a dog. Juan often spoke of giving up Loki, which none of us really, truly, protested. I mean, we cared about the dog but we felt since Juan brought him in, it would ultimately be up to him if he were to choose to give him up. Michelle was the only one that complained and protested the suggestion of giving up Loki. Eventually, it was agreed upon that the dog would stay, just as long as we each promised to help out more with walking him and picking up after him. But deep down Juan wanted Loki gone. He wanted all things that he dubbed as not being revolutionary to be gone from his life; to him, they were distractions on the road. This, too, I understood.    
Michelle was the most successful and therefore busiest person in the household. No one in the house knew exactly what she did because of how she would describe her job as part-social-worker, part-nutritionist, part-urban-gardener-and-family-and-homeless-youth-and-undocumented-immigrant-advocate. And then on her time off she would volunteer to watch after an elderly comrade on the weekend that was nearing the end of her life. Her work was based around helping poor families in urban areas (mainly South Central) eat properly and find them further help through available resources. And when she wasn’t working or volunteering her time, she would run several days of the week and hike in the evenings and on weekend mornings with Loki.
In spite of her professional and personal success, her mental stability had worried everyone in the house even before we had moved in, but since living with her we all collectively saw how delusional she had become. We had had several interventions in which we sat her down and talked about our concerns with her dangerously small amount of sleep. But she would laugh it off, saying we were making a big deal out of nothing. When she does sleep, it is normally two-to-four hours a night. But most nights she stays awake. We would bring up the times that we have caught her talking to herself. But she is unaware that her mumbling is not just cute aloofness but symptoms that mirror an onset of schizophrenia or some form of psychosis. And lastly we talked about her occasionally, yet increasing with frequency, incoherent speech and disconnected thoughts. What was happening in her mind, she couldn’t objectively realize, let alone criticize. She was becoming more and more disconnected from reality. This, too, I understood.
Danny, although my last suspect, was a suspect nonetheless. He’s always happy and stoned. He was just a cheery, mellow, soft-spoken guy that enjoyed the little things of life like pot brownies, strong medical Kush, radical literature, working out, 70s rock, bike-riding and sincerely helping marginalized people. But there have been times where he has snapped. We would be at a bar. The music would be loud. The place would be crowded. We’d be drinking and having a relatively good time and out of nowhere something would happen to Danny. He’d stop smiling, his eyes becoming serious, and just announce randomly, “FUCK THIS SHIT,” and scan the bar, grab the biggest guy in the place, kick over his barstool and just begin pounding his face with his fist repeatedly without end, over and over, unable to get tired, security guards unable to pull him off the unsuspecting victim, his face being battered into pink-and-red mush. We would be screaming, “DANNY, DANNY, STOP, OH FUCK, WHAT THE FUCK, DANNY!” But it was as if he didn’t hear us or anything else. Security guards were never able to subdue him. Danny would stop and leave the bar on his own accord. And we would follow behind him, confused and scared and at a safe distance. The next morning Danny wouldn’t remember any of it and humbly apologize, claiming he didn’t know what happened. This only happened two or three times but each time we paid closer attention to the following morning news hoping there wasn’t a segment about a madman on the loose on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles beating up random patrons of local bars.
There exists an unquantifiable rage that dwells inside every person. We are all born with it. Some of us deny it and fight it yet feed it regularly with conflict, with self-destruction, with self-denial, repression, internalized hate, political and philosophical convictions on the emptiness of life. Some of us make peace with it, having made the decision early on that we are powerless in the face of such an awesome compulsion, and allow that inner rage to come out whenever it wants, allowing ourselves to be consumed by it like a driving life force. Some of us, the most unfortunate, don’t know it’s there, and are its victims. This is Danny. And for this reason, Danny is the most dangerous person in our apartment.
THE LAST SUPPER
Michelle’s sleepless psychosis was getting worse and to combat it she began drinking heavily, usually starting in the early morning before driving to work, polishing off a bottle of wine. Months had now gone by. We still weren’t talking to each other, and I being a person that always avoided confrontation, was getting really frustrated with the whole situation.
I weighed out the different options:
1.      I could call a house meeting, sit everyone down for a house dinner and tell some jokes, tell some of my high school punk rock stories that they enjoyed hearing about. We’d talk about the need to get along and keep communication open. We’d all laugh and a merry time would be had by all. 2.      I could sit with each housemate separately, discuss my concerns, hear them out and plan something out based on each person’s individual situation and feelings. 3.      I could go down to the shelter and pick up another dog, a small German Sheppard puppy. But would that be too soon? If I bought it, Juan wouldn’t think of it as his own personal political obstacle.
I ultimately decided on the first option. We all gathered around the kitchen table. Everyone was there: Michelle, Juan, Danny and Omar. I had cooked up simple meatloaf and pasta. Although Danny and I didn’t eat meat, I figured we could just have some of the pasta. I served everyone their plate, poured out some cabernet sauvignon, the house’s favorite. Despite these efforts, they all remained quiet, avoiding eye contact. And their silence frustrated me to no end. I had to staple Juan’s head to the back of the broom which I in turn taped to the back of his seat to keep his head level with everyone else’s. The near-fatal blow from the hammer to his face which I had hit him with was with so much force that it had ripped off a part of his jaw. As he laid there dying, choking on his own blood and tongue,  Juan admitted, though difficult to understand, that he had been the one that killed Loki, but that he hadn’t remembered much, just the rush of delusion and rage. The origin of the foul stench in his room was a gas leak, which had caused him to go insane. It had been poisoning us all, but him first. I told him that I forgave him and that Loki probably did too. But now for some reason his body was rotting at a higher accelerated rate than everyone else’s.
Michelle’s body was green and rotten with her oily hair matted and merging with the decaying green skin on her back. Other than her lips, tongue and eyeballs being eaten off by the rats that now inhabited the apartment, she looked rather pretty with the black summer dressed I had managed to slip her in. You couldn’t even tell that she had bled out from the puncture in the back of her skull. She was the easiest to kill since she was asleep (Ironic, I know, since she never slept and the one time she did was her last time).
Omar’s head had completely fallen off so I had to painstakingly stick it back together with white dental floss, but even then his neck was beginning to turn into some sort of flesh soup and the stitches kept coming undone, so I had to use scotch tape around his neck. Omar had put up a fight but ultimately he was no match for my demons and my hammer.
Half of Danny’s face was missing since I had taken a hammer to it, but I had managed to scotch-tape most of the brains and fatty tissue back into place. Danny was also relatively easy to kill since we shared the same room and I knew his sleep schedule and chose to do him quickly with a steak knife to his back, through his kidneys and then lifting up his neck, chest down and sliced his throat open like a cow at the slaughter (Ironic, I know, since he was vegetarian).  
Willy and the other maintenance people were never able to figure out that the bad smell was a gas leak, and that it came from all the rooms of the house. Our apartment building was built in 1903 and each room evidently had a gas line. The gas pipes were in an unusual place: in the ceiling right next to the light fixtures. Before the Department of Water and Power had systematically made it so that all buildings had working electricity, many buildings relied on gas-powered lamps. Our building, having been built before electricity was widely used in Los Angeles, was a waiting death trap. The gas had leaked for months on end, slowly poisoning all of us. Juan was the first to suffer from the effects of gas poisoning: the headaches, the stomach aches, the delusions, vomiting, nausea. When we all started smelling the foul stench and also suffering from the gas poisoning, it was already too late. I, in my poisoned delusion, decided on murdering everyone in the house for their lack of consideration for one another, starting with Juan--because If you are going to call yourself a communist and not do the goddamn dishes, take out the trash, talk about your feelings, hug me, ask how my fucking day was, ok, you washed your dish, but DID YOU PUT THAT SHIT AWAY, and NO, LENIN WAS WRONG FOR DISBANDING THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, I DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT WAR COMMUNISM; when I realized we were all communist failures that’s when I decided to take a hammer or steak knife to each roommate.
So now at the table with no one talking to one another, with no one even having the common courtesy to make eye contact and share how their day was, the pasta and meatloaf going cold, I realized too that the gas leak had been working its way into my blood cells and brain. There was no turning back. Lenin was dead and so were all my roommates. The USSR had fallen as a result of internal counterrevolutionary prolonged campaigns, coupled with outside imperialist efforts; the Soviet Union’s very existence was seen as a threat to the established global balance of power for the capitalist and imperialist super forces; and they never once asked how I was doing, why I would sit alone in the dark not reading, not listening to music, not eating, not doing anything; they, my roommates, never once practiced what they preached; the dog was an obstacle; it had to be done; Lenin once asked What is to be Done? Well, Lenin, Juan killed his dog; it was basically done because of you; that’s not what I meant by devoting one’s self to the revolution—you’re merely justifying psychopathic behavior for the sake of validating your interpretation of how to be a revolutionary, comrade; the rats were running up and down Michelle’s legs, going inside her dress and playing with pieces of her organs that oozed out her sides; my eyes didn’t feel like eyes, what do eyes normally feel like, asked Lenin; good question, let me answer it in the following, but as I began to formulate a Marxist analysis of the functionality of the body I threw up blood all over the cold pasta. I looked down at my plate. The blood mixed in perfectly with the marinara sauce.
Every time I blinked my eyelids took longer to open up after each blink; Lenin’s voice got louder and clearer like an apocalyptic angel blowing its trumpet; my heartbeat slowed down, each beat spaced out farther from the previous one; Juan excused himself to use the restroom but didn’t realize he was dead; Michelle got up to work but didn’t realize she was dead; Danny got up to put a record on but also didn’t realize he was dead; and Omar, knowing exactly that he was dead, did not get up; and we all sat around, all of us failed human beings, trying to be whole together, to be communal, but somehow, politically and spiritually, degenerated into this—into deadness and rats and roaches, into inventions of our own poisoned ideology and mind, into figments of our own broken-hearted delusion.

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