An Introduction to the Micro-United Nations in Lakewood

Posted on November 12, 2011 by

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Lakewood, CA, site of mass suburban tract housing built in the 1950s after world war II and sold to lots of military and young white couples.

We are around 60 years removed from the time much of Lakewood suburbs were being established.  We are now in the year 2011 in the midst of a time where it is has become commonplace to relay a message to someone around the world within a matter of seconds and when people are struggling to maintain employment and income.

I am one of four unrelated, more or less heterosexual adult males living in a single-family house in Lakewood, CA.  We are not a “family” in that sense.

Four adult males, four different professions, four different racial and ethnic backgrounds, four different networks, four different lives.

There are four bedrooms, and we all shut our doors, and there are a few moments of interaction.

When I tell people about my living situation, I tell them I live in a house with “single men in different stages of life.”

Ibrahim

There’s the 36 year old, 6’2, 225-lb, muscular black guy.   He’s named Ibrahim.

Ibrahim originally came from Michigan, got a double bachelor’s degree in something else and business.  He’s quite enthusiastic about business:  he’s a car salesman at a local dealership and he’s building his own line of work out t-shirts.  One time, he told me that the next big thing in the porn business would center around a man not only inserting his manhood, but also his “jewels” inside the woman’s “casing.”

He talks to me about a lot of things: the irrationality of his basketball teammates, his women, looking at porn at work, the irrationality of customers, and the art of dealmaking.  He tells me when he wins games and/or sells a car.  For all the other events in between when he’s not achieving, he calmly re-enacts impressions of buffoonery: how a 6’6 teammate hesitating at the hoop, the failed intimidation tactics employed by some male customers.  Generally, his reaction is to either completely dissociate or politely rebuff such a customer in a different direction.

Occasionally, he asks me to do something “technological” for him like burn CDs or scan photos.  I now have hours of Chris Porter and Lil Tyga on my little pink netbook.

My room is positioned right in front of a kitchen-in-rebuild-mode, and right next to one of the two bathrooms, so I see and hear him all the time.  Every morning at around 8 or 9AM whether my door’s open or not, I hear him strut slowly to the bathroom, each step fluid yet powerfully emitted and felt thru my shut door.

He’s usually breathing in some morning snot, which makes a loud noise, and makes his daily morning deposit at the cup.

Within 20 minutes out of the bathroom, I begin to smell cooking oil.  Then, a rhythmic tapping.  Eggs.

In the evening, chicken.

Ibrahim spends a lot of time on self-maintenance.  There’s always little hairs on the toilet.  One time he told me about a method of how to heal a wound fast, using some combination of cocoa butterand some other household ingredient.  He told me that he wanted to “maintain the skin he was born with.”  I told him that my scars were like badges of courage, “natural” tattoos.

Eddie

There’s a 51 year old white guy who works at LAX.  His name is Eddie.

I rarely if ever see him, much less interact with him. I could count the number of times on one hand that I’ve seen him in the 3 months I’ve lived here.  I don’t think even the amount of words I’ve uttered to him amounts to the number of fingers I have on both hands.

When I have seen him, I’ve always been caught off guard and tried to belt out a “hey” to see if it might lead to any conversation.

No real luck yet.

If I never see him, I’m always hearing him.  At the toilet, pissing.  Creeping the hallway similar to Ibrahim with the snot-inhaling and everything, though on a 5’8 somewhat built medium frame.  His grunts are longer and more tired-sounding than Ibrahims.

I have no idea of his interests, his history, his personality, though I think I did hear CNN playing in his bedroom.  Left to nothing more than trace moments of seeing him and merely hearing him, I imagine that he’s anywhere from the shiest man in the world to a sociopath simply waiting for a moment to creep up from behind me while I’m washing dishes and stab me on my shoulder blades.

My landlord, Gilbert, told me that Eddie had suffered a heart attack months before I came on board. He supposed that it was because of the unhealthy eating habits.   Eddie is the only one who never uses the kitchen.

The only times I’ve heard and seen him:  when he’s talked with my landlord.  The first time I heard him talk, he sounded like an ex-girlfriend’s father: friendly, knowledgeable, articulate.  But he was talking about something I could only figuratively shake my head at:  his luck with women.  As in to say, there isn’t much.

The second time I heard him talk, he again sounded like that friendly father.  This time, he was playing with Gilbert’s dog, Lucy.

Gilbert

And last but not least, there’s Gilbert, my landlord with a French name.

Gilbert is a 58-year old balding 2nd generation Mexican-American supervisor for a painting company.  For him, supervisor just means a lot of paint can lifting.

You wouldn’t know that he was a “2nd generation Mexican-American” because he sounded white to me.  I thought he was when I called him that fateful August day to inquire about his room for rent.

Back in the 1990s, Gilbert had been a successful contractor before he found out that his business partner, an old high school classmate was stealing money and resources from their company.  In his heyday, he managed up to 22 workers, and was managing the electrical wiring of multi-million dollar mansions and of a Holiday Inn.  He’d been in the business for 20 years.

He bought the house in which I live in in the 1970s as a printer for the LA Times. If you look at the house today, and the rest of the houses on this block, you’d think this was one of the houses lost in the foreclosure sweeps of the late 2000s.  The crabgrass on the front lawn is unruly.  The paint on both sides of the house is chipping off.  Yes, he was a former contractor, but perhaps that always gave him the out to know that he eventually “could” fix it, if he so wanted.  His unkemptness and way of talking reminded me of one of my best friends in college, a man who didn’t care much about appearances or cleanliness, but was always hyper-functional.

He had a wife, but no kids, though he did adopt/sponsor some Cambodian ones.  They currently live in Hawaii.  He divorced his wife some years ago, and has had a series of girlfriends, though he hasn’t been dating much lately.

At age 49 in the late 1990s, he went back to community college , got his associate’s degree in business management, and went on to college in the early 2000s to earn his B.A. in computer information systems.  He had a series of service jobs starting from Sears to Home Depot, and has had trouble finding employment except as a free-lancing electrician.

The work he does now takes a mental and physical toll on him.

He is about 5’8, 200 lbs.  He used to be hyper-active: an avid Mountain cyclist and hiker, a brown belt in Karate, a tennis instructor, a rafting guide.  Now, his knees can barely hold up for a bike ride.  He has a hernia.  One time, he showed me his eye having exploded because of a sty.

After work if my door is open and I see him, he’s likely to tell me something along these lines, “Had a long work day lifting those buckets.  I’m tired.  Gotta get out of this job, B.”

The job pays him barely above 10 dollars an hour.

He’s had help in paying for the house over the years through his business.  His mother died a few years ago and he’s left a lot of things unmoved in the living room.  He’d just gotten a dog named Lucy right when I moved in, whose just as lonely, and gotten overly aggressive if not playful.

I helped write a resume for Gilbert.  Turns out that he has a bad memory or can’t remember a lot of what he did.  No matter he bought me dinner anyway, twice.  Both times, Asian food, both times, he tipped handsomely despite his modest wages and had courteous friendly, engaged conversations with the servers in a way that I think is absent from people in my generation.

Me

Finally, there’s me.  Name’s Brian.  People nowadays call me just “B”, though I’ve been known as BJ, Brianihan, Logan, Conrado. I’m a 27-year old Filipino-American graduate student in a social sciences program at Cal State Long Beach.

It was now or never.  That’s why I jumped into grad school in 2010.  That’s why I moved out temporarily from my parents’ house in the San Fernando Valley 3 months ago. Leap-making I suppose.

I spend a lot of my time in room, in front of this computer, thinking, scheming, thinking, occasionally stopping to make primitive sandwiches, or rice and omlettes to eat, talking online or on the telefono with a friend or two, biking to and from school and work.  The thoughts are usually about what work needs to get done to finish my program, the politics of getting that work done, my gazillion interests and how I “eventually” want to work on a project, and most importantly, how I’m actually going to generate any income for myself and a family someday.  I think a lot about what possible way I can generate money, but also living a life that I “really” want to live.

I am in a liminal position in society.  It seems like a permanent liminality.  “Liminal”, meaning, “middle.”  As in people don’t quite know how to categorize me.  I’m young, young-looking, kind of a professional but not really.  I study a “soft” discipline that is broad and perceived to lack much employability but people in my program have shown to succeed with the degree.  I wonder everyday if I should just stop and do something like computer networking, or aim to go to medical school.  I struggle with that and the idea of just living my life doing what I want to do even if it doesn’t lead to stable income.

I live by the day, seizing opportunities when and if I can, always attempting to maximize my days by constantly learning and/or producing “something” new.

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