This Writer’s Life: The American Hotel, Part III

Life at The American Hotel

Living in The American Hotel was a bit like living in a fucked-up dorm for down-and-out writers, artists, junkies, and has-beens. Most of us became friends and our living room was either the cafe downstairs, the hallways, or the punk rock bar in the basement.

You could often find us gathered on the floor in the halls, outside our apartments, smoking cigarette’s and singing along to someone’s guitar. My new boyfriend would lead up the impromptu jam sessions singing songs, such as the Eagles “Peaceful Easy Feeling” or Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright.” We would all sing along and smoke and drink with our backs against the walls until the crazy janitor would stumble by with his mop and bucket and tell us to go to bed.

“Whores!!” he would shout in his Mad Hatter way. “Don’t you have homes?”

I guess he didn’t quite get it.

Life at The American Hotel truly boils down to the people who lived there. Today I’m going to briefly introduce you to Stuart, Melissa, and Cafe Girl, who worked downstairs and lived on the second floor.

CAFE GIRL

Each morning, I swung by the cafe downstairs for a coffee from Cafe Girl. Her huge, inky black eyes were almost always darkly ringed with smudged black eyeliner and smears of last night’s lipstick stained her lips.

“I haven’t slept yet,” she would say with an innocent smile.

She had gobs of thick, black curly hair — probably the biggest thing about her tiny person. When invited somewhere she’d say, “I’m down for it, man.”

Sometimes when I came in, she would take her break and confide the details of her rambunctious sex life. Most of it began when John and Joe — corn-fed, wholesome lads from Iowa who worked as bike messengers in downtown L.A.— moved in on the first floor.

Cafe Girl — a hipster Chicana who danced at street fairs wearing exotic costumes and bells on her ankles — fell hard for blonde, farm boy John.

I was privy to unwanted tidbits about their sexual escapades. Then it got even more interesting when Cafe Girl’s friend, K, a six-foot-tall black girl who would kick your ass as soon as look at you, invited herself into the mix.

At first it was fine, Cafe Girl didn’t mind sharing her man, but soon it ended up that K and John were often having fun without her. Feelings were hurt and friendships destroyed. But Cafe Girl, with her indomitable spirit bounced back and found a new guy to crush on.

STUART

Stuart, a lean black man with crazy dreads and a huge guffawing, infectious laugh, filled his tiny cubicle room with guitars, amplifiers and woofers. When he wasn’t bartending at Al’s Bar downstairs, he was trying to blow the doors off our rooms with the same droning, single guitar riff over and over. And over.

In self-defense, Dennis, down the hall, would sometimes try to combat the noise with his own guitar and amps, but nobody could compete with Stuart’s ear-shattering, mind-pounding guitar riff. One night, Stuart locked himself in his room and began his usual tirade. But this time it went on longer than ever before.

Pretty soon, nearly every resident at The American Hotel was outside his doorway, scowling and bitching. Even the ex-cover model Noelle came out of her room to complain. Across the street, at the artist lofts, one man leaned out his window with a megaphone shouting over and over “Shut the fuck up!!”

We pounded on the door, but Stuart was oblivious.

But it got better. Enter Melissa.

MELISSA

Melissa, a pushing-40-something who worked at Club Fuck, doing God only knows what, made her appearance of the decade; her Academy Award-worthy debut, if you will. Her best performance ever.

But first, let me give you a tiny snapshot of Melissa, the bondage queen. I had heard tell, but never saw, that she was extremely motherly, taking care of residents who were sick and passing out medicine and hot tea. All I knew was she kept a human-size cage in her tiny room. When men showered and then returned to their rooms with towels wrapped around their waists, she would pose in her doorway and leer at them.

Despite this, I liked to think of her as the motherly nymph: when she wasn’t trying to fuck you, she was trying to mother you. You had to admire her in some ways.

She often gave her own shows. Once, Greg, a sound guy from the bar downstairs came into the cafe theatrically retching and gagging saying, “Ohhh, I’m gonna puke. I just saw Melissa in the hall.”

Apparently Melissa had only a small towel wrapped around her and seeing Greg, decided it was time to bed over in front of him. It didn’t go over well.

Well, today Melissa had a full audience. Almost all the residents of The American Hotel were gathered on the fourth floor trying to get Stuart to shut the hell up.

While we watched, Melissa stormed out of her apartment at the opposite end of the hall with her flaming orange hair flying behind her and stomped down the hall wearing a tank top and g-string underwear with her abundant backside displayed in all its glory. And in case we missed anything, all was revealed when she stopped at Stuart’s door, lifted her leg high and proceeded to viciously kick the door.

To our surprise, Stuart opened it.

Melissa said something to him, such as “I’m going to kick the living shit out of you if you don’t shut the hell up.”

His response was something to the effect of “Shut your c—t!” before he slammed the door in her face. He then played for about another hour before he finally, mercifully gave up.

Oh, so many people to write about. I haven’t talked about some of my most favorite neighbors yet … dear reader, please stay tuned for more.

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Author Photos: Opinions Wanted Please!

 

Hello! I’m trying to decide on an author photo. My good friend, Mark, and I went out in a storm this week and stood in the drizzle to catch some cool shots, including this first one with a rainbow. Although from a photographers point of view, Mark rocked every shot, in most of them I had dorky looks on my face. These few turned out the best.

If you like one over another, please take a sec to comment and let me know. (I know most people already weighed in on FB, but would still like to know if one stands out. The first two shots seem to be the ones people liked most.) Husband vetoed the ones I am leaning on the stone for whatever reason. I was trying to find the line between looking mysterious like a mystery writer but not looking mean and crabby. I’m not sure I found it.

 

 

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Writer Interviews: Marla Madison

Doesn’t Marla Madison have the coolest name? And possibly the coolest author photo ever? I first met her by doing a manuscript exchange through the Sisters in Crime organization. I really liked her novel, especially the unique concept of a killer targeting abused women. Marla is a machine. She is one of the hardest working, ambitious writers I know and an inspiration to everyone who knows her. Here is Marla in her own words:

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

This answer is easy—I don’t have one. I do spend time every day writing, editing, or blogging, and tend to my online marketing every day for at least an hour. I don’t have a writing area with a lot of privacy, so I tend to write whenever there is “quiet” time.

2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

I don’t think I really get writer’s block, but I hit periods when I feel my creativity is spent. When that happens, I work on other things, like editing chapters or making notes for the next project. Walking is my most inspiring activity, and I’m learning to use a digital recorder when I walk so I don’t lose those great ideas that come to me when I’m walking.

3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

In my opinion it is absolutely necessary for a new writer to spend time reading author’s he’d like to emulate, those that write in the same genre.

I think the best book on my shelf for writing advice is Don’t Murder Your Mystery, by Chris Roerden. Great book for anyone writing in the suspense/mystery genres.

4. Who do you read for fun?

My reading is rather limited. I love suspense, so that’s about all I read.
I have many favorites. Not in order of importance, Jonathan Kellerman, Brian Freeman, Lisa Gardner, Tami Hoag, Jeffrey Deaver, Tess Gerritson, Chelsea Cain, Harlan Coben, Michael Connely, James Patterson.

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us
about it.

Since I’m a very avid reader and have been since I first learned to read, I’ve always wanted to write my own novel. I didn’t get into it though (except in my head) until I retired and had enough free time to pursue it.
I probably wouldn’t have gotten beyond chapter three without the help of my writer’s critique group. We meet every two weeks and exchange anywhere from 1,500 to 3,500 words of our writing. For a beginning writer, a critique group is an invaluable aid. I know there are other opinions about them, but I needed the motivation it gave me, along with the friendships that came with it. I’d encourage new writers to find one in their area.

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Read, join a critique group, and write every day. If you’re writing a novel, beta readers and manuscript exchanges with other authors are wonderfully helpful tools to make editing easier.

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

Not sure they are skills, but one needs to be humble, patient, and willing to work hard. No one comes out of the box a polished writer. Developing style, creativity, and smooth, consistent writing takes a lot of work and practice like any other skill.

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?

There are so many! Anyone who’s read my blog knows I constantly struggle with weight-control and have to make a constant effort not to overindulge in my favorite (mostly junk) foods; popcorn, pizza, and potato chips. The deadly P’s.
I drink Diet-Rite cola because it has no calories and no aspartame. Favorite alcoholic drink is a Margarita.

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

A favorite old move was “The Goodbye Girl,” with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason. Hilariously funny love story.

I don’t really have a favorite book, but there are two books I’ve read more than once, The First Deadly Sin, by Lawrence Sanders, and The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons. The first is a great suspense read with an unforgettable cast of characters and unique villain. The other is categorized in the horror genre, but what I loved about it was that the unknown force causing the horror was never spelled out or described. To me, that makes horror truly frightening.

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

I’m in the process of editing my second suspense novel. It is not an extension of the first one, although a couple characters from the first play cameo roles.

Marla Madison is a retired Federal Mediator, now working as an Arbitrator for the state of Iowa and the Federal Mediation Service. She’s Not There is her debut suspense novel. Marla is working on a second in her home on Prairie Lake in Northwestern Wisconsin where she lives with her significant other, Terry, a beloved shelter-dog, Skygge, and Poncho, an opinionated feline from the same shelter.
Favorite pastimes are reading, playing bridge, golf, walking and watching The Young and the Restless.
Contact her at: [email protected], http://marlamadison.blogspot.com, She’s Not There, available on Amazon.

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Books & Flicks

 

What I’m reading this week: I’m loving The Devil’s Redhead. I’m completely caught up in the world that David Corbett has created. He is the MASTER of character development. I find myself despising a character and wanting him dead and then a few pages I am feeling sorry for him. I don’t know how Corbett does it. Magic. Talent. Mad skills.

 

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This Writer’s Life: The American Hotel, Part II

The blue awning to the left was the entryway to The American Hotel. My room was on the top floor, probably just above that turquoise-bluish car. There was no “Blooms” but shortly after I moved in, that space became a nameless coffeeshop, which all the residents treated like our living room/kitchen. The entrance to Al’s Bar was just left of the blue awning. – editor’s note.

THE AMERICAN HOTEL

“I know someone who just moved in. Yuck. What a s*&t hole! The tenants are not artistic. They are people who have to stay there because they have no money. The halls smell of pee and smoke. The vibe is totally depressing.”

— Missy (a reader who saw my first post on The American Hotel and left this comment)

In 1991, I paid $250 a month to rent a room at The American Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, an area also known as Skid Row, located right between Little Tokyo and East L.A. If you pulled onto my street at the time, you would be greeted by fantastic graffiti art on all the old brick walls: beautiful Victorian ballroom murals; crazy, larger-than-life cartoon characters; even a tribute to Magic Johnson. It was the result of some city or arts grant to spruce up the warehouse district and give graffiti artists a canvas for their talents.

My neighborhood definitely needed a facelift. At one time, the American Hotel housed traveling movie stars, musicians, and artists performing Hollywood. But it had transformed into a hovel for down-and-out artists, writers, junkies, hookers, and has-been starlets.

I called it home. The small space, shared bathrooms, and homeless people didn’t bother me.

In fact, I knew many of the homeless people in my neighborhood by name. And while I didn’t usually have money to give, I often shared food and cigarettes, and once, a blanket from my bed.

For the most part, I got along great with the homeless people, except for that one time. But that’s another story for a different day.

What is worth noting is that the homeless guys ran a racket in our hood. You see, the basement of The American Hotel housed Al’s bar, a punk-rock bar where bands, such as Sandy Duncan’s Eye, played. Side story: On my first date with my husband I took him down to the bar to see my friend’s band. I walked up to say hi and the lead singer leaned down and gave me a kiss right on the lips. Twenty-one years later, my husband still gripes about this, but it honestly took me by surprise, too. (I’m still friends with the lead singer.)

If you were a visitor to the neighborhood, you’d usually fall for the homeless guys and their scam: When you parked, between one and five homeless guys would bum rush your car, offering to watch your car for a dollar or two while you were inside the club.

Of course, to an outsider, our neighborhood looked scary  and most people saw the offer for what it really was. A threat: fork over a dollar or two or risk having your car broken into.

The residents, of course, were onto the ruse. After only a few days, I was fed up with telling the homeless guys I lived there and that I wasn’t going to pay them jack shit. After a few months, they finally caught on. One day, I pulled up and saw a homeless guy begin the mad dash to my car. This time, another homeless guy grabbed his shoulder, saying, “No, man, she lives here, remember?” Finally.

“This place changed my life. For better and worse.  A true legend. We sat with Bukowski’s ex wife the day after he died and everyone from the hotel shut the street down and had a funeral pyre with all the Burgundy wine a belly could hold. I mean rot-gut shit.  The only way Charles would have it. Al’s bar right below the hotel where Beck, The Circle Jerks, Agent Orange, Cypruss Hill, RHCP, Jane’s addiction played for $3.  Drag queens, junkies and lunatics gather in a clever ruse of an artists community.  This place is a slice of Americana at it’s finest.” — Adam J, St. Louis, MO on Yelp.com

Room 412

My room was on the fourth floor, the top one, with roof access 99 percent of the time. (Every once in a while management would fix the lock we broke and it might take a few days before someone broke it again.) From the roof, we had the most spectacular views of downtown Los Angeles surrounding us. But that’s another story when it is time to tell you about the riots.

Back inside, for now. My room was in the middle of the building. There was a bathroom on each end of the hall. My window faced the street and the artist lofts across from us — the place where the people with money lived.

It was like Italian living: they could see us and we could see them, so I quickly hung a black sheet over my window for privacy.

My room was about 200 square feet. One wall was crumbly, dirty red brick. The floors were wood, but plastered with untold layers of grayish, hospital-looking paint, which made it easy to pick off the huge cockroaches that were stupidly far from the smorgasbord of spilled beer in the basement bar.

My room was spartan. I had a black twin futon on the floor near the window. I stacked a few purple milk crates and used them for shelves and storage bins. One crate served as my desk and held my cutting-edge word processor that actually printed out what I wrote. The screen only showed about eight lines of green type at a time, but it was my most prized possession.

After living at The American Hotel for a while, I collected hand-me-downs from tenants moving out, so I ended up with a rolling clothes rack for a closet, a small ghetto blaster, and a hot pad where I boiled rice and pasta for my meals. I also ended up with a dorm-size refrigerator that I used as a small table for a tarnished brass lamp.

Sticking out in all this austerity was a plump, luxurious Victorian chair whose turquoise and faded green damask upholstery stuck out in all its glory. I sure as hell wish I could remember how I ended up with that splendid piece of furniture.

My décor was comprised solely of religious candles with Mexican inscriptions featuring Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and assorted saints. I also might have still had my pen and ink drawing of Robert Smith from The Cure. The only other color in the room came from the paperback books scattered everywhere.

“She’s either really, really cool, or really, really fucked up,” — my new boyfriend’s brother upon visiting me at The American Hotel. (editor’s note: I’m not sure which one was right but 21 years later I’m still with his brother.)

At the time, I worked as a waitress at a Mexican cantina on the border of East L.A., catering to LAPD and gang members, but my shift didn’t start until afternoon, so I would spend the mornings walking around downtown Los Angeles talking to homeless people and trying to get them to tell me their stories. Many said the same thing: they had some chip implanted in their brain sending them signals and that is why the government was after them.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them they were right, the government WAS after them. In fact, the government not only was AFTER them, it had already GOT them, in the form of California governor Ronald Reagan kicking all the mentally ill people out on the streets.

I was just out of college and still infuriatingly idealistic.

The American Hotel fit my dreams of a John Fante-styled writer life. I intended to make the most of it. During the day, I would sit cross-legged on the floor in front of my word processor and write furiously.

At night, I would lie on my futon, writing by candle light in the big artist sketchbook I used as a journal. Usually Billie Holiday or Nirvana would be playing in the background

I spent my time writing stories about the injustice in the world and promised to myself that no matter where I lived or how much money I had, I wouldn’t forget the faces I saw every day on the streets of Skid Row. I wouldn’t forget my neighbors: the has-been starlet, the young gay boy with AIDS, the down-and-out rocker. I also promised that I wouldn’t forget the bus boys and cooks I worked with at the cantina, who came from their job at the breakfast joint straight to the nightshift so they could send every spare penny back to their families in Mexico. Their idea of a good time? Maybe they’d fit in a beer before bed every once in a while.

Every night, I’d sit outside the cantina on my 15-minute break, pulling on a Camel Light as I  gazed at the Los Angeles skyline and dreamt of the day when I would be a real writer.

Oh, if only I had known at the time what I now realize: I already was one.

Better run now, this post has grown much too long for a blog. Dear reader, I hope you will stay tuned and read more about my life in The American Hotel because I still have a host of fascinating characters I’d like to introduce to you.

 

 

 

 

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