The sun is rising in the east of LA and shedding a golden light on its economy. This area is slowly being revitalized and retrofitted to attract young college-educated people and repel those that are not. For many, the sun has set in the west of LA and moving east to cheaper rents and mortgages is the new silver lining. However, this mass migration of displaced westsiders comes at a price: the displacement of the current eastsiders.
Even as the faces of the locals and the homes they inhabit are changing along with the businesses catering to their tastes, there’s a type of inhabitant that doesn’t plan on moving or being displaced. These residents have already been displaced and call the streets their home. Their resilience is laced with an unspoken creed similar to that of House Greyjoy from Game of Thrones, “What is dead may never die.”
The illusion of a pristine hipster utopia is shattered by the sight of a homeless woman pushing around a wheeled shopping utility cart stuffed with all of her belongings, crowned by a blaring portable radio spewing out a cacophony of bad 90s hip hop music. She pours cans of Budweiser into a can of Sprite as to disguise from others the fact that she is an alcoholic. Her putrid breath and protruding beer gut are infallible evidence of the nature of the liquid she drinks like nectar. She wears her hair in a high bun, so high up atop her head that it aligns with her neck and spine, with shaved sides à la mode of her hipster neighbors. From afar, I can see her pushing her life around in that cart—listening to the music of her youth—bobbing her head to the rhythm of the music and the booze in her bloodstream. Her bun sways back and forth like a palm tree in a storm. This palm tree lies on the unreachable island that is her mind. It is in a constant storm.
A clown dances on a hot day with smeared make up from the sweat running down his face, wearing raggedy clothes a few sizes too small. Coco Loco is his name and he appears to be a “sad clown.” The source of his sadness is undetermined from simply looking at him blowing up and shaping animal balloons. Is it a character choice or a manifestation of his misery? Is he just like most Americans and simply hates his job and does it disdainfully? It is almost as if he can’t separate his private life from work. He let’s his personal sorrow affect his work’s clownish sorrow.
Of the many condemned houses in East LA that are being sold and flipped, there is one that houses a man with the complexion of a caveman. His long matted black hair is thick and greasy. Were you to press it like you would olives, you would extract an oil of the essence and true spirit of neglect. A scent that developers and entrepreneurs are lured by, but still haven’t been able to get rid of quite yet. His skin is reddish pink in color—like that seen on depictions of Santa Claus—jolly and merry from all the cheap beer he drinks. As I walk past him, he spits out an unintelligible jumble of utterances meant to be Spanish, but sound like a language foreign to me. Utterances that if recorded and played back would be unintelligible even to him. Surprisingly, I am able to understand the gist of his sputtering due to the enthusiasm with which he delivers it, accompanied by his animated facial expressions.
The homeless represent the ugliness and disgusting practices in all of us. The ones we have gotten good at hiding from others. The ones that if others were privy to would place us—in others’ eyes—in the same light as the homeless. The truth is that we are all only a few months of unpaid rent or mortgage away from being homeless and so we work in jobs we hate out of fear of reaching this lowest of squalor. Our fear is greater than the sum of our hate. The drinks may be on the homeless, but the joke’s on us.