Our House of Pies

Elarryo used to make pumpkin pies for new folks that moved into our four-apartment section of our building. Not anymore. All that has changed and although that probably says more about us than about the neighbors, I’m not sure it’s all that wrong, overall. We have had neighbor musical chairs here on Hoover Street...and today I got a revelation about our new neighbors across the hall that has me a bit piqued.

The year started out with change. Our great neighbor across the hall in apt. 3, Emilie P., moved out. She gave away furniture to us and to the Martinez family on the other side of the building. I inherited a Le Creuset teakettle and a wrought iron kitchen shelf, courtesy of her needing to dump everything since she was heading back abroad, to either Haiti or to West Africa. She had all these incredibly interesting Francophile type books in her apartment and lots of eclectic knick-knacks, including a Morroccan tea service set.

She had a housewarming when Toussaint was about 3 months old. I remember how unusual it was that someone in our building was having a party and inviting everyone, even our resident old lady downstairs in apt. 2, Lydia. Emilie glowed with happiness and seemed so alive that night. I could imagine her enjoying the easy companionship that springs up when you are abroad, friendships with other expats and friendships with native people that embrace you with hearts open. Angelenos are not generally those kind of people.

Granted, we would have loved Emilie even if she had not thrown the housewarming, simply because she replaced our psychotic neighbor from the nether regions of hell, Claudia A. Claudia was always angry, gave the UPS guy the finger and called him a monkey, had a vacuuming fetish, and stomped up the stairs and slammed her door every single day. We cheered when Claudia's tattoo-artist man moved out and dumped her not long after she had had their baby. We cried tears of joy and thanked God profusely when Crazy Claudia moved out. Elarryo was so glad, he had Emilie's pie ready about two hours after she moved in.

During the housewarming, Elarryo noticed Emilie didn't own a TV. I noticed she served copious amounts of wine, hummus, and expensive cheeses. We smiled while overhearing other guests that didn't live in the building debating the merits of various soymilk brands. Afterwards, there was one detail that stuck out in both our minds: her man. Yes, there was a man who you could tell was hers. They stood a bit too closely together. Eyes twinkled and held just a bit too long. She would put her arm on his and her fingers seemed to stroke the sleeve of his shirt. He was picking invisible lint out of her hair.

Elarryo and I both remarked on how strikingly handsome he was and how she just radiated when she stood next to him. This guy looked like some kind of 6'3"multi-ethnic fantasy. Yes, better than Vin Diesel. It was hard not to stare at him and I remember feeling grateful that I had a three month old and a three year old to keep track of, making it impossible for me to stare. This man had the self-assured stance of someone who is used to seeing smiles and looks of appreciation non-stop. He was fine to the point that our jaded minds were wondering what the heck he was doing with Emilie's international non-profit, vegan hippie self...sad, but true thoughts... and there was the warning thought that amazing looks like that spell trouble if they aren't grounded in something, especially in L.A.

Emilie lost her radiance in the few months before her departure. Without asking, Elarryo and I knew that things had not worked out with her man. The pain of it had clearly sucked the joy from her very being and it gave her a sadness and lack of confidence that was difficult to observe. I couldn't help but think that he probably cheated with some Jessica Alba look-alike or maybe with Justin Timberlake's vixen from his "Cry Me A River" video. On the other hand, even worse, maybe he just stopped returning Emilie’s calls and began making excuses as to why he couldn't spend time with her. (I tend to believe it's easier to be dumped because your man wants someone else instead of your man just deciding he doesn't want you and would rather be alone.)

As I helped her carry boxes and paper shopping bags full of shoes and books down to her car parked in the lot behind our building, we got to talking. She commented that she was leaving L.A. because there was nothing left here for her. She acknowledged that things didn't work out with the guy but I didn't probe beyond that. She was on the verge of tears and it brought back the endless days when I felt that same heartbreak. Maybe it was or wasn't love on his part but the tears glimmering in her eyes were genuine. She gave Elarryo and me a copy of an incredibly depressing poem about L.A. as a parting gift. It certainly wasn't a love letter to the city and every time I looked at it, I thought of her broken heart. It began collecting dust on top of the refrigerator. I threw it away a couple months after she moved.

Thirty seconds after Emilie's departure, our greedy landlords, Jesse and Teresa arrived to gut rehab her apartment. In went granite countertops, brand new light fixtures and appliances...all of which certainly add to the non-rent control price. They worked day and night to get that place into top renting dollar shape. About a month later, new neighbors moved in...a guy who seemed rather friendly and his girlfriend who was much less so. Elarryo did not make his pie. I don't even recall their names. Even though they lived across the hall, we barely saw them except for the time that I ran into the guy and he told me that he and the girlfriend had just gotten engaged. We'll return to them in a moment.

In April, Lydia R., our older and extremely bitter-at-life neighbor from apt. 2 downstairs announced that she was going to live with her brother in Colorado and would be moving out at the end of the month. She was the last of the old-timers that had inhabited this building almost entirely when we moved here in '99. The rest had already been picked off by death or poor health then replaced by young, twenty-something hipsters with cash. Her announcement was quite a moment since we'd always had Lydia in our married lives here in L.A.. She had lived in the building for 25-30 years and we marveled at what rent control must have allowed her to pay... I always imagined her paying some dirt-cheap amount like $200 a month for her two-bedroom place. She'd lived in the apartment with her husband and must have raised some of her daughters there. These daughters now lived out in the Corona/Riverside area and never seemed to come around. Pictures of them dominated a wall in her apartment, along with photos of grandkids that she'd only seen a few times even though they lived so close. It seemed a shame that these daughters didn't invite Lydia to live with them, although there's no telling what kind of mother Lydia was and so maybe they had their reasons. Maybe they offered and she refused. I doubt that because she certainly never failed to mention their ungratefulness and lack of respect for her.

Lydia's husband had been dead for years and it was a big shock in '03 when she started going out with this elderly Filipino guy, Carlos. She'd go to the beauty shop and get her hair tinted red, dress up in lovely old-lady party clothes and just preen like a freshman girl going to senior prom with the football team captain. He'd take her to the Moose Lodge in Glendale and out dancing with other couples two or three nights a week.

Like Emilie, Lydia was glowing. Instead of being the lady that complained about everything, Lydia was clearly having a second or third chance at romance. She no longer had time to nit-pick about people not closing the gate to the parking area or doing laundry after 10 pm. There was no mention of her ungrateful daughters. She was too busy out partying. After a few months, we started seeing Carlos around early in the morning. VERY early in the morning. It became all too apparent that Lydia had moved Carlos in and they were living together. I began to wonder if they would actually make it legit and tie the knot.

All that speculation ended when Carlos suddenly had a heart attack and died. Even though they weren't married, Lydia mourned like a widow. And then, a few months after his death, her bitter edge was back, sharper than ever and her loneliness seemed all-encompassing. The trips to the beauty parlor ended and her shoulder length hair simply grew out, gray at the roots and a faded pink on the fringes. The party clothes were replaced with practical sweaters and her all-purpose housecoat. Later, her isolation increased when she lost the right to drive because of failing eyesight.

We began occasionally picking up milk for her. Sometimes it seemed like she waited for us to come down the stairs in the morning so she could pop open her door and chat for a moment. Her obvious hunger for human contact could turn into a fifteen-minute conversation, sometimes longer. It always seemed that the more I was in a hurry, the longer Lydia wanted to talk. Even so, she always had a cookie for Olinga and Toussaint and oohed and ahhed over their growth. Her decision to move out should have been less of a surprise than it was. After Carlos' death, Lydia seemed to have more health problems. It sometimes seemed like she was at the doctor all the time. I thought she went to the doctor because she wanted someone to talk to.

I cried when I gave Lydia that last hug when she moved out. I cried for her because her chance for love and excitement had come to such a tragic end and she was all alone. I cried for me because I sometimes fear that I will become a Lydia in my old age. I cried for Olinga who kept commenting, "I miss Lydia. I miss our old lady."

Once again, the Jesse and Teresa, the landlords, came to get the place ready for the next tenant. I think they slapped a fresh coat of paint up and did a few repairs, but not much else. They even left Lydia's handmade sunflower curtains up in the kitchen. It was odd but we figured they were greedy and wanted to re-rent right away. A week later, some new folks were in Lydia's apartment. We never saw them around much and they weren't too friendly. Elarryo didn't make them a pie.

I wasn't around much during the last two weeks of June. I sold my soul to the devil and worked 120 hours of overtime to produce a successful "regional induction." Elarryo and the kids came last weekend and stayed out at Loyola Marymount, the site of induction. Upon our return home on Sunday the 3rd, Elarryo noticed something was different. The people across the hall in apt. 3 were no longer the engaged couple. That couple was gone and had been replaced by the people who had moved into Lydia's apartment. We have no idea what happened to the engaged couple and had no idea they were moving.

The apartment door was left open a couple of times and I looked through our peep hole to observe belongings being moved in. It's hard to see through our peep hole since it's a bit scratched up. (By the way, we are convinced that the aforementioned Crazy Claudia scratched it up.) Indeed, it was the folks from #2 moving upstairs into #3. It seems odd to move from a two bedroom to a one bedroom but that was clearly the case.

This afternoon, I took Olinga to his first gymnastics class over at L.A.C.C. The instructor is a Black man named Ron. (Or was it Ted? I didn't quite catch his name.) Anyway, he seems effective but I think he could use a T.A. or something to manage the kids. There were about 16 kids, aged 3-5. Olinga roped a Russian girl and a Korean boy into a game of "chase" while they were supposed to be doing stretching exercises. . .definitely a good mix of boys and girls and a good mix of racial backgrounds. I felt bad that I didn't bring a camera to snap photos like a few other parents but I suppose there's always next week.

Shortly after we came home, I saw the truck of Jesse the landlord pull up. Sure enough, he was here making repairs to what I still think of as Lydia's apartment. He's beginning to do the extensive rehab work that wasn't done after Lydia moved out. Ten minutes later, Elarryo went to the video store to rent "Bride and Prejudice" and then to the grocery to buy some taco shells. A while after he left, I heard some voices in the hall and once again peered through my scratched peep hole to observe the goings-on in the hallway. Jesse appeared to be fixing something on the floor right at the entrance of the apartment across the hall. The young woman, a Latina with a blond dye-job was chatting with him and there was something about her stance that seemed a bit too casual. Sure enough, thirty seconds later she gives him a hug and says, "Thank you Papi! I love you and I'll see you later!" Yes, I'm living across the hall from our landlord's daughter. I'm sure that's the ultimate rent control.


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