03 November 2022

A Blast from the Past

by Eve Fisher

For your consideration:  I recently excavated this from a file drawer. It's the opening of the first (and only memoir, if you don't count journals) I ever wrote, back in my early 20s.  I was trying to write down some of the stories from street life in L.A. while they were still fresh, and I centered them around Hollywood's infinitely less famous & undoubtedly seedier equivalent of the Chelsea Hotel:  The Blackburn.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Blackburn Chronicles, Part 1:

The Blackburn Hotel sat two blocks from Hollywood Boulevard and one up from the coffee shop and that was all the directions you needed to get there.  It was like most downtown hotels, run to seed and winos, covered in cockroaches and losing another window every day.  Maybe Hedy Lamarr had slept there:  she'd probably gotten crabs and spread more than the word.  The linoleum in the lobby was curled and buckled and the carpet on the stairs was a health hazard.  The walls sucked in any new paint and the ancient cracks in them smiled like the toothless old men on the fifth floor.

This haven of rest - and it could be a haven and even heaven on a wine-filled afternoon when it was raining outside or the Santa Ana had hit - cost $60 a month for one room, $100 for two and a bathroom and kitchen all to yourself.  The Management was strict about the rent, too, most of the renters being the sort who found 3 AM to be the best time to move out.  This caused a certain culling of clientele - not so much of poverty but of personality.  The obvious solution was to have three, four, five, a dozen people to a room, at which point the rent, if nothing else, was manageable.  Very few flunked the test of communal living.  As long as you didn't hack everyone to pieces or steal too many drugs you were in.  Those who did flunk ended up in the flophouses, the missions, or at the Free Church where they let drunks snore on the carpet in front of the altar and spent a lot of time cleaning puke off the pews.

Sex, which was always rearing its pointed head, culled the herd in a different way.  The heterosexuals were fairly used to performing in semi-public (5 people in a room did not make for a lot of privacy) if not necessarily en masse, but only among other heterosexuals.  The transvestites, transsexuals, homosexuals, and the heavy bondage crew stuck, for the most part, to the third and fourth floors.  If they were young and beautiful, they moved to the Shangri-La Hotel, where they could join Julius Caesar X in his daily berobed, bejeweled, and bedrugged frolics in the central pool.  (He had serious money. And even more serious connections.)

The Shangri-La Hotel:  still there, tarted up, very pricey.  Wikipedia

The second and third floors, right above the lobby, had the most transient and "normal" inhabitants.  All the freaks who hadn't quite descended to total addiction or risen to a part-time job shuffled through them.  There was a lot of experimental trust.  We called ourselves families, and each other brother and sister.  The doors would stay open all day and half the night, unless someone was horny or busy hiding their drugs.  The noise level was unbelievable - radios blaring, guitars jangling, people playing drums on the walls with their feet; laughter and talk and yelling and toilets backing up; friendly screaming and an occasional crash of furniture or tinkle of glass.  Both floors reeked of wine, vomit, dust, urine, sweat, incense, and - on one miraculous occasion that would live on in legend - of a half-pound of cocaine that Popsicle  Joe spilled in front of a fan.  White dust floated everywhere, settled on everything, and for two weeks at least it wasn't considered weird to be seen licking the walls.  

The lobby was no man's land, where anyone could sneak in and hide and crash at night.  Most mornings would find number of homeless sprawled out like dressed hamburger, and if Mad Dog bottles had been returnable, we'd all have been rich.  Sometimes they'd start a fight, or someone would die, or someone would light a fire.  Of the three, the management got most upset about fires.  The Blackburn was a firetrap and would have burned to the ground in an hour, tops, and the fire department would have just sniggered into the phone and kept watching TV, and the police would probably have given a reward to the arsonist.  

The police figured it was all too weird for them and stayed away, except for the yearly pre-election cleanup when they arrested everything in sight.  Even then, they went no higher than the sixth floor.  The Blackburn went higher than that, but no one knew for sure who, or more importantly what, lived on those top floors, and everyone had tacitly agreed that in this case ignorance was bliss. 

The management - a surly 400-pound ex-professional wrestler with a permanent hernia - couldn't get any insurance and couldn't sell, so any hints of fire led to large buckets of water and a few extra bruises for any poor bastard with a pack of matches.  Nonetheless, the homeless kept on lighting fires.  It gave them light and warmth, and God knows the lobby was a gloomy, damp, hard, evil place at night.  It was large enough to hold the Oscars in, and seemed bigger since there was nothing in it but huddled people and trash.  The management figured the rent didn't include cleaning of anything, so anything that fell on the floor stayed there except for dead people, and the police would cart them away.  Anything to save the hernia.

It was a bad hernia, and it was a good thing that so many painkillers were floating around the building.  The management didn't care what kind - reds,  yellows, librium, darvon, pentathol, THC, grass, hash, cocaine, thorazine, methadone, smack, or just cheap wine - if you didn't have money, he'd take drugs instead.  He'd snarl and ripple a lot, but he'd take them.  There were rumors that he'd take sex, too, and considering his 400 pounds everyone was sure he would, but at 400 pounds no one would take him on, or at least, no one would admit to it.  And he didn't care who lived there or who paid the rent as long as it was paid. You could answer the door, a total stranger he'd never seen before, stark naked, a needle in one arm and a bloody hatchet in hand, and all he'd want to know was "Where's the rent?" 

And we paid up.

More later. Maybe.  Let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, some BSP:

My latest story, "The Closing of the Lodge" is in the latest AHMM:  

BTW, congrats, O'Neil, for getting the coveted cover!

My story, "Cool Papa Bell" (set in prison, BTW), is in Josh Pachter's Paranoia Blues;

And on Amazon HERE


  1. A story setting for sure.

  2. Absolutely. And, frighteningly, all real...

  3. Like Janice said, this piece makes a great setting for a story. You make readers feel the atmosphere and background. Apparently, you were a good writer even way back then. There is so much here though that you would need to distill it down for one story, or use different pieces in different stories. Maybe a series.

  4. Oh, I know, Rob. This is just the opening of a 50 page memoir that I wrote in a fever heat, trying to put down things that I never wanted to forget. I thought I'd put it out on SS in installments, if it's considered suitable. Let me know.

  5. >…sprawled out like dressed hamburger…

    And presumably pickled. Dressed hamburger… I don’t think I’ve encountered those words in quite that way.

    Eve, as a student, I lived in the NYC equivalent, moving from Greenwich Village to Staten Island, but despite hookers tripping on LSD and an insane ex-soldier with a .45 and PTSD, mine wasn’t nearly as rough as yours.

    Congratulations on the AHMM story. I haven’t yet seen it. Apparently trucking problems affected shipment of the magazines to the warehouse distribution center. I may have to buy the digital edition!

    Eve, if you come up with a novel or story collection, I can picture an R. Crumb cover accompanied by a Fillmore soundtrack.

  6. Oooh, Leigh - I like the idea of that cover!


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