Friday, April 2, 2010

The People of Hollywood, Part 1: Jimmy

In the heart of Hollywood, at the foot of Griffith Park and just east of the Walk of Fame lies a street lined with tall, supple date palms.  Their green and orange bursts of foliage frame a corridor of sky that leads straight to the iconic sign on the hill, self-assuredly declaring itself over my humble neighborhood.  I live in the part of Hollywood that is made up of mostly immigrant families, and has a little bit of grit, unlike the part of Hollywood that is well-manicured and inhabited by affluent families of the entertainment industry.  Most of the residences on my street are, rather than craftsman homes and bungalows, apartment complexes of various sizes.  Mine is a four-plex.  The building across the street probably holds nearly a hundred units.  Complexes down the street look like single-family homes, but are deceiving, with add-ons and additional units in the back.  I’d guess my street is home to a population of over two hundred.  My husband Joseph guesses three hundred.

On the day we moved in, a skinny man in his mid-fifties introduced himself.  His name was Jimmy and he was wearing a Vietnam Veteran’s baseball cap.  I felt endeared to him immediately, as my father is also named Jim and is a Vietnam Vet as well.  Jimmy seemed sweet, if a little skiddish, but then he asked us for money.  When we declined to give, he walked away angrily, and we became wary of our neighborhood.

Later in the afternoon, when we’d unpacked the U-Haul and were hefting furniture around our new apartment, I saw Jimmy standing under our side window.  The window is a little out of the way, at the back of our driveway, in what could only be considered our private property.  I called Joseph over and he looked out the window to the top of Jimmy’s head, banged on the glass, and then walked sternly out the front door.  Jimmy had retreated down the street.  Joseph inspected the corner of our driveway near the window, and took off after Jimmy.  Turns out, Jimmy had finished off a forty, urinated, and left the bottle behind.  Joseph told him he didn’t want to see him on our property again, and gave him the empty bottle back.  Jimmy said, “Yes, sir.”

A few weeks later, we learned from a neighbor that Jimmy was an alcoholic who lived in the assisted living unit several doors down from us.  (We didn’t know it was a low-income assisted living unit when we moved to the area - I'm not sure this information would have been a deterrent to our decision, but it certainly was interesting, when we found out.)  Jimmy continued asking us for money every time we saw him.  Sometimes he'd be sitting on the curb in front of his apartment, and he'd ask as we walked by.  Sometimes we’d pass him as he walked, like he did everyday, to the Pink Elephant liquor store on Western Avenue.  When he walked back from the Pink Elephant, he’d be drinking from a paper bag.  He always seemed sad - deeply, traumatically sad.

Several months ago we realized we hadn’t seen Jimmy for almost an entire year.  He’d just disappeared, and we still don’t know what happened to him.  Our first encounter with him may have briefly sullied my view of Hollywood, but as we became accustomed to his presence, he began to represent the character of our neighborhood: diverse, dynamic, and full of hidden stories.  Now, his absence has added a new quality to the character of Hollywood: fleeting.  I hope he's okay, wherever he may be.