Palms is a neighborhood in L.A. It has a Ralph’s, five storage units, and three unrelated streets named National Boulevard. It smells vaguely of cat litter and intensely of the 10 Freeway.
There are very few palms in Palms.
I moved there when I was twenty two.
On purpose. Kind of.
I was out of college and into debt, and no longer had any business living by the beach.
The apartment my then boyfriend and I found was cheap. And huge. And adorable. And we should have known something was wrong with it.
That something couldn’t have been Kozetta, the eighty- year- old landlord, who we met the day we found the place. We went flying through the unit, losing our minds over its many amenities, ‘Green carpet! A stove from the sixties! Checkered linoleum!’ Kozetta sat quietly in the corner with a sweet, unassuming smile, and a tight ponytail that pulled her face back neatly. She handed us an application, ‘Deposit’s got to be cashier’s check,’ and licked her lips slowly, a New Orleans soothsayer, ‘I dot my i’s and cross my t’s.’
Moving day was a stuffy afternoon in June. We played Bob Marley and ripped mismatched dishes out of cardboard boxes stolen from behind Smart & Final. And we met Stephanie, Kozetta’s fifty- year- old daughter.
Stephanie didn’t start out by telling us about her crack problem. First, she let us know she lived next door. Then she offered to sell us her bed. Then she showed me where she kept her spare key, in case I didn’t hear from her for a few days, and smelled ‘something funny’ (her dead body) coming from next door. Stephanie reassured me that this was only a cautionary measure, and explained that she generally smoked rock in moderation, because she ‘wasn’t a simpleton,’ before repeating the phrase ‘What had happened was’ several times as she tripped on thin air.
Stephanie never was one for knocking. Rather, she would stand at our metal screen door, dressed in a trench coat and slippers, holding a commuter’s coffee mug, and demand (not ask), ‘Got any wine, got any weed?’
Of course, I always had both.
So, being the good hostess that I am, I would get Stephanie stoned and pour a little Cab in her coffee mug. This is how she got the name Sippy Cup.
Sippy Cup had a jolly disposition: hearty laugh, liked to dance, and often came bearing free samples of perfume, or expired produce from Trader Joe’s. She wouldn’t have scared me at all, if I hadn’t known about Betty Davis.
Betty Davis was her best friend, and also a loaded revolver. She lived in the pocket of Sippy Cup’s bathrobe. Now, I’m all for guns, and I’m all for dancing, but even a simpleton like me knows that you’re not supposed to mix the two. In Sippy Cup’s defense, she only did this on special occasions, like parties, or any time she was extraordinarily spun on crack cocaine. She would turn up the bass on her favorite Young Joc song, sway her hips, cackle, and jovially toss her lethal weapon into the air, letting it spin a few times before catching it. Girls will be girls, I suppose.
You’d think Kozetta would have been overly accommodating to us, given that we paid our hard earned money to rent an apartment that came with a both central heat and her gun wielding, drug addled daughter. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.
The first time Kozetta tried to evict us, it was because we didn’t have a bath mat. It was difficult to discern at first that we had been evicted, as the official notice came typewritten, on a half-slip of paper, and was in the style of Charles Dickens failing English Composition class.
‘You and each of you shall take notice, on, dated, this, hereby, the fifth day of January. You have hereby been given, such as it may be, must vacate the premises for the following reasons: (Handwritten) Failure to own a bath mat.’
Apparently, the Sippy Cup crackle hadn’t fallen too far from the tree.
We obviously had to move out. Instead we complained to rent control.
They sent Kozetta a reminder that ‘Failure to own a bath mat,’ was not, in fact, a viable cause for eviction. The letter kept us in our home, but it did not keep the ‘eviction notices’ from appearing.
They came more frequently than take out menus. Always typewritten, never coherent.
‘Due to shampoo bottles on ledge,’ ‘Excessive use of sink,’ ‘Because of lawn chairs and your negligence.’
Tom at rent control was on autodial. Sippy Cup continued to siphon chardonnay.
But really, you should have seen how cool this apartment was. Usually.
One Sunday, as I watched Law & Order reruns like a goddamn American, all of the electricity in our living room went out. Five minutes later, grass, flowers, and a touch of sewage came overflowing from our toilet. Within the hour, a cabinet door came unhinged and clocked my boyfriend in the forehead, and, apparently, opening a vein.
Luckily, Kozetta was next door, picking up Sippy Cup for church. I watched from inside as my boyfriend flagged her down, lightly concussed, gripping his bloody head.
After listening to his concerns, Kozetta paused and nodded sympathetically.
‘I’m sorry about your head, baby.’
‘But fuck your head. And fuck Tess too. Fuck her in the ass. Fuck her hard. In the ass.’
Eighty. Years. Old.
‘You guys are white trash. And I know white trash. I used to shit in an outhouse.’
Things were never the same between Kozetta and I after that. How do you look someone in the eyes after you’ve pictured them shitting in an outhouse?
Still, we had gotten used to the eviction notices, and Sippy Cup sometimes gave us her leftover antipsychotics, and moving really is a pain in the ass.
So we stayed, and I generally avoided the geriatric landlord hell bent on sodomizing me.
Well, I tried.
I was singing show tunes in the shower when the shit really hit the fan. It started with the doorbell.
‘Just a minute!’
I opened the door to my ‘caller’ whose eyes were bulging, even as she squinted.
‘Let me in.’
‘Kozetta. I’d love to, but you have to give us twenty four hours notice.’
‘Don’t be stupid. Let me in my apartment.’
That’s when the elderly woman shoved me. Hard. Knocked me to the ground. Stepped over me, and broke into my home.
I want to say I didn’t hit her back because of her age, or that I was in such shock over being assaulted by my landlord that my reaction time slowed. The truth is, however, that old bitch was stronger than me.
When I got back to my feet, she was running rabidly around the place, snapping pictures and sloppily muttering obscenities.
I kept a safe distance and called the police.
By the time they arrived, however, she had peeled out in her lifted F-150.
I was given a brochure on how to file a restraining order, and some very convincing arguments on why I should get a Westside Rentals account.
And so we finally moved. Six months later.
We lived in Palms for two and a half years. We gave nearly thirty thousand dollars to a family that filled our lives with senseless eviction notices, physical and verbal abuse, and the ever present fear of overdose and/or gunfire, all because we were too lazy and poor to relocate to a better neighborhood. So, in the end, I suppose Kozetta did fuck us in the ass. And it probably was because we were white trash.