Walking down Winston St. one night, Moses with the limp and the smoker's
cough saved my ass. Started walking next to me and introduced me to this
six-four big motherfucker. Moses leaned over and whispered that the guy
was gonna jack me, and Moses escorted me, we all three walked past
Indian Alley to Main St., where there were cars and lights; toward the
Canadian building where I lived.
Even that wasn't totally safe; a guy got stabbed in the Mexican
restaurant in my building one time. I know 'cause he staggered out down
the block to die; left a trail of blood in front of my door, but Main
St. was better than Winston St. in the dark near Indian Alley; so called
because that's where the Native Americans shoot up, and it turns out the
homeless are just as segregated as the rest of us.
There's people grew up with me in the Valley never been to East LA;
never been to Crenshaw; never been south of the 10 except along the beaches
even if they live their whole lives in LA; in my part of Skid
Row it's all black, all black; the whites live over by the 110 freeway
in the alleys and under the overpasses and behind the lots where I used
to park to work when I didn't live downtown and the blacks have skid row
except for the little part of it the Indians have, and there are lines
you don't cross that I had to learn.
I'm not ghetto; I'm a white boy from Tarzana. I've never felt a target
on my chest like Fifth St.; even in the Guatemalan highlands where I'm
the only one over five feet tall, never felt a target like walking down
Fifth at night past the Frontier hotel. Only did that once; never again;
I've got friends who won't even walk there in daylight. I'll go out of
my way to Sixth because it's safer there, you still have to walk past
the guys who spend all their time in front of the Bluebird Market; but I
got to know them, and some of them looked out for me.
The Bluebird's closed now but when it was open you could walk into a
little cage like 10 by 3 feet wide and you'd point to whatever you
wanted and they'd hand it to you through the bars and survival was
simple; you just gotta mad-dog folks; look'em in the eye like you got no
fear even when the fist of it's twisting your guts into knots; Mike
taught me that.
The first thing he ever said to me was "I guard the cars. Somebody fucks
with your car, what body part you want left on the hood?" This shit is
non-fiction; Mike wrote that line, not me; gutter poet with penetrating
eyes; Mike could speak standard English when he wanted but he hardly
When I first moved downtown I understood like one thing in three that he
said; just smiled and nodded the rest of the time; made noises at
appropriate pauses like being in France (I don't speak French)and the
longer I knew him the more I learned and my speech got colored with his
rhythms unconsciously when we spoke; didn't realize it at first and it
faded afterwards; couldn't do it now if you paid me. I know the words
but the rhythm, the rhythm, the rhythm, that's what's important; like
listening to Swedish and Russian without speaking either: it's the
rhythm that sets them apart. There's a whole rhythm to living downtown,
and for a while I had it down.