Sunday Stories: “Down on the Boulevard”
Down on the Boulevard
by Justin Maurer
NOTICE TO QUIT.
It was an eviction notice on my front door.
“Fuck,” I muttered as I peeled the scotch-tape off of my white wood door. It left a mark behind which would remind me, daily, that I’d be evicted unless I came up with a 1000 dollars in ten days.
Community College was out for a long winter break, and being an hourly non-salaried employee of the Los Angeles Unified School District, I was ready for a lean holiday. I wasn’t expecting a notice stating that my December rent check had been returned to the bank. So I took action, applying at every job imaginable.
After 100 resumes were thoroughly distributed around the whole of L.A. County, I got a call from a tour bus company on Hollywood Boulevard. A heavily accented female voice asked me to come in for an interview. I obliged. The next morning I caught the Red Line train at Pershing Square in my suit and tie, feeling self conscious among throngs of homeless men picking half-used cigarettes out of the sidewalk’s steel grates. The North Hollywood bound train pulled up and I hopped on, sitting next to a chubby Mexican woman with two small children on her lap. One of them, a brown-eyed little girl, tugged at the sleeve of my sportcoat affectionately.
I exited at Hollywood and Highland, and walked the gargantuan escalator upwards to street level. Upon entering the cavernous lobby of the tour company, I noticed a filthy red carpet, a jumble of wrinkled maps on the walls, and enormous mounted head shots of airbrushed Hollywood celebrities. I was bluntly greeted by a tiny Chinese woman, Sharon. She wore a beige cashmere sweater, ancient bifocals, and neon orange Sketchers running shoes. The interview was brief and I was hired on the spot.
She tells me why. “I don’t just hire anyone, but I hire you because I like you. You speak a few languages, you smart. I can tell. You seem more European, more respectful. Americans much louder. We used to have more American customer, now only foreign people. They don’t speak English. Indian people, European people, nobody speak English. So stupid. Here only speak English.”
The next morning was my first day. I punched in a manila colored time card on one of those ancient machines. I’m struck by how loud it is. Sharon arrives work with a water bottle full of ginger and cinnamon sticks. She informs me that the concoction keeps her healthy. She begins a relentless blitzkrieg of training while fingering a manifold of maps and manuals.
“Tell them they see Mel Gibson yesterday on one of the tour. Ninety percent of time they see celebrity on tour. This help you sell many tour. You sell many, make good money commission. Tell them where they go. Movie star home tour. Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, many famous star eating lunch outside.”
Sharon’s eight-months-pregnant daughter Julie is working as well. She’s a dullard. At best. Julie creaks over to me in a dilapidated office chair. She whispers, “You don’t mind yelling do you?”
A few moments later her mother begins ranting and raving when a tourist couple asks if their small child needs to buy an extra seat on the tour bus.
Sharon screams, “No free seat! Baby must buy!”
Another customer asks about parking.
“We in business 30 years! In Hollywood parking is expensive. Do not come without a reservation!”
After the tourist storms away fuming and muttering Sharon turns to me.
“Don’t you know nobody in Hollywood speaks English? Also, every time I walk outside, it smell like pee, I can’t believe these homeless people, just pee everywhere. Hollywood smell like pee. Disgusting.”
A Scottish man named Bruce Gilmore comes into the office also ranting and raving. He manages and repairs the tour buses.
“Fookin hell Sharon, tell those fookin idiots to park the vans properly.”
She begins screaming at Bruce Gilmore. Bruce screams back, they go into the back room. It sounds like an extremely localized earthquake. Various objects are hurled about the room in between obscenities. He storms out.
I ask my pudgy co-worker Frankie from Minnesota, “Did Bruce just quit his job?”
“No, he likes arguing with Sharon. They’re like a married couple. He’s been working for her over 20 years.”
A giant ponytailed metalhead with full sleeve tattoos runs into the office. He looks like Gaston from Disney’s cartoon version of “Beauty and the Beast”.
He addresses all of us in the singular. “Dude, I just hit OJ! Just smacked him as hard as I could in the face.”
“What happened,” Sharon asks.
“Dude, check it out, he was sitting there drinking and I kicked his chair out from under him. I warned him, the fucker still wouldn’t leave, so I slapped him in the face as hard as I could. He squealed, whydju hit me Jimmy, and ran off down the alley. God, it feltso good to finally hit that fucker.”
Sharon is delighted and pats the metalhead affectionately on his massive lattisimus dorsi, “Good, you punch him! You need punch more people. I give you raise.”
The metal head laughs and walks back outside to hand out tour bus flyers to the hordes of tourists swarming down Hollywood Boulevard on foot.
“Who’s OJ?” I ask.
Frankie from Minnesota leans back in his creaking office chair. It sounds like a blue whale’s mating call. The quality of office chair seems to decrease with the chain of command. “OJ is some dick who works for another tour company. This black guy. Drinks all day. Sometimes the other tour companies just hire street people to hand out their flyers. Tour guys are territorial. We don’t go on their turf and they don’t go on ours. Jimmy warned him to stay off our property and he didn’t listen, so he got it.”
“What’s Jimmy’s story?”
Frankie continues, “Jimmy used to be a heavy metal singer in a real big band. He played all the venues in town, the Troubadour, Whiskey, the Rainbow, all of those places. He’s a party animal; we go drinking at the Powerhouse like every night.”
Sharon rampages over to our side of the office. “Frankie, I not pay you to do nothing and talk all day, you talk too much. You and Justin go out back and clean up, there dead pigeon out there.”
Frankie and I reluctantly saunter out onto the back patio. It is filthy, littered with discarded tour bus seats, cigarette butts, fast food wrappers, dirt, and a dead pigeon stuck in a bit of wire around a drainpipe.
In this crossroads between glamour and gutter, I attempt rational thought. “We better get him before he starts to decompose,” I say.
“Fuck that, I’m not touching the pigeon,” Frankie says.
I convince him to hit the pigeon with a broomstick handle and I catch its solid body inside of a garbage bag, tying it shut before the smell hits me. “Rigor mortis has already set in,” I say.
We see another pigeon injured, flopping behind an abandoned bus seat. We attempt to catch him, but he tucks himself into a corner, and we give up. I wonder what else I have given up on. Another one of our co-workers comes in through the back alley smoking a cigarette. He’s a skinny, femmy well-dressed kind of guy. He says hello, puts out his cigarette and goes inside.
Frankie informs me, “That’s gay John, he was in gay porn back in the day. Man, he stays up all night ass-fucking dudes while high on crystal meth, and then comes into work. He’s crazy. But I’m crazy too. When you get to know me a little better, you’ll know how disturbed I am. I actually aspire to be a porn star in a bunny suit. People love shtick like that in porn. Imagine an out of shape guy in a bunny suit doing anal only. Just imagine me wearing these bunny ears, just spitting on a girl’s asshole then fucking her. It would be hilarious. I’d be a celeb at the porn conventions. I either wanna be a porn star or a comedian. I don’t want to brag, but I used to be a real big comedian back in the Minneapolis bar scene. It’s harder to get into the comedy scene in L.A. I actually have a comedy night next week at Laugh Factory, want to come?”
“Sure,” I tell him.
We go back inside. It’s a slow day so he tells me more gossip about the place.
“All the bus drivers here come from a place called Mulberry House. They’re mostly felons and ex-cons. A couple of them drive like real maniacs, but mostly they’re good drivers, reliable workers. Sharon works them to the bone.”
A black man with dreadlocks begins playing buckets across the street like a drum set. It’s pretty loud.
“Sharon hates that guy. She calls the cops on him every week trying to get him thrown in jail. She’s convinced that a rival tour company hires him to discourage customers from going on one of our tours. One time she kicked a bucket out from under that drummer guy’s feet. He spit on her and she spit back, then somebody called the cops. She was fighting two black guys one time. She’s completely fearless, raging temper. She’ll go from one to eleven in about five seconds. She caught Spiderman pissing behind the building one time. I thought she was going to kill him. The dude ran off with his Spiderman costume pulled down to his knees yelling fuck you at her. His junk was slapping all over the place.”
Sharon comes over as we hand a pair of German tourists tickets for their tour bus ride.
Sharon smiles, “German people very smart that’s why I like them. Good business people too.”
A group of twenty Asians walk down Hollywood Boulevard carrying crosses and handwritten signs reading, “Jesus Saves.” A well-dressed and hair-gelled man leading the procession wears dark sunglasses and holds his left hand outstretched as if he is blessing a congregation. The rest of them scream into bullhorns behind their stoic leader, chanting broken English slogans and marching as if they were in the military.
“TURN TO JESUS. COME TO JESUS. WORSHIP JESUS! JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!”
Sharon scoffs, “Those Korean people are just showing off. I don’t like Korean people.” She runs outside, shooing the Korean Christians, “Get outta here! Get outta here!”
An older Korean man tries to hand her a flyer saying softly, “Jesus is your savior.”
“Get outta here,” she screams again.
“Awww, Jesus is your savior,” the old man says again. He finally surrenders and hands his flyer to an Australian tourist waiting for our tour bus.
Sharon storms back inside and flops into her fine black leather office chair next to me. Across the road is a black man dancing with sandwich board advertising for Subway. He dances pretty well. Sharon does not approve.
“Look at him dancing like a monkey. Black people act like animals, I can’t stand them. They scare me.”
She changes the subject.
“Chinese people always try and get cheaper price. That’s why here is only English, I won’t speak in Chinese to them, if I do, they try and bargain with me, get cheaper price. No respect. They rich in China, lots of money, they come here on vacation, plenty of money. This isn’t Mexico, no bargain with me, they pay full price for tour.”
A barefoot homeless man with dreadlocks and two stumps for hands walks down the Boulevard screaming in anguish.
Jimmy the metalhead comes in to update us on the situation.
“Dude, that big fat rapper guy with gold chains stole the no-hands guy’s money! That’s fucked up,” he laughs. “Gotta love the Boulevard!”
At, this point, I need an oasis. I decide to check out the pool at the Roosevelt Hotel on my lunch break. On the way are scores of Spidermen, Batmen, Darth Vaders, Wonder Women, and Transformers. Sad people. Alcoholics and child molesters and failed actors.
Tourists are dressed to the nines, parading down Hollywood Boulevard in their hottest outfits as if there is a talent scout on every corner just waiting to scoop up sunburned Russians to star in next summer’s blockbuster. A midget Mr. T. decked out in gold plated chains and A-Team outfit struts by. Mini Mr. T. shouts into his normal-sized cell phone. In his hand, it looks enormous, “Mothafucka, I am calling you back.”
I bring Knut Hamsun’s Hunger with me and flop down on a folding chair poolside at the Hotel Roosevelt. Dean Martin’s “You Belong to Me” calmly trickles from the bar. Palm trees sway in the breeze as if Hollywood Boulevard doesn’t exist. I take a deep breath and sigh as I survey the clear blue water. It’s mostly old people, but a couple of young girls wearing thong bikinis unexpectedly walk over to the bar to order margaritas. I enjoy the view.
The blond cocktail waitress, an aspiring actress, is wearing a skintight stripy dress. She’s a white girl, but possesses a kind of ass that only a tall black girl would rightly have. It’s like a shelf. I marvel at its sinuous glory as she delivers gin and tonics on a tray to two male European tourists smoking cigarettes. As she bends down to serve the drinks, the penetrating magnificence of the California sun outlines her long legs and tight ass. Through the fabric of her dress I can see that she too is wearing a thong.
I close my Hamsun paperback and head back to the madhouse. A cue-ball shiny bald man with bushy eyebrows struts back and forth up Hollywood Boulevard singing old country songs. He goes into a Hank Williams tune as he passes our office’s wide open corridor, “I’m so lonesome, eyeee could cryyyy.”
Later, he’ll remove his shirt and do Kung Fu moves in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, right
People walk by sipping wheat grass and coffee out of paper cups.
I sneak around the block for a cigarette. I was told Sharon hates cigarettes and people who smoke them. I wind my way down to Sunset Boulevard. On the front lawn of Hollywood High School a homeless couple is sitting on their black duffel bags brushing their teeth.
I take Las Palmas back up to Hollywood Boulevard and see a man with one leg and one stump dragging himself along with a bucket and a rag. He is polishing every single star on the walk of fame. I see him scrubbing Rodney Dangerfield. He’s wiping down the pink star with vigor and looks up from his labor of love. “Happy Hanukah,” he tells me contorting his neck upward. “There’s Jews that practice Christmas, but those aren’t real Jews. But stop in a synagogue sometime, they have real good food in there. Food to die for.” He looks back down to Rodney Dangerfield. His face twitches a few times. He resumes his polishing.
Back at work, things are winding down. To everyone’s joy, Sharon is finally leaving.
“I go home now, but before I go, buy pizza. You want pizza? She hands me a twenty-dollar bill. I buy you dinner, I buy everybody dinner. I nice lady. Too generous.”
Before she leaves, I order the pizza. Sharon daintily nibbles at a slice then says goodbye leaving the rest for us. Sharon hugs everyone else goodbye, looks over at me and smiles sweetly saying, “Thank you, see you tomorrow.” She truly has the capability of being a sweet old lady, but she’s a real Jekyll and Hyde. The Boulevard has done it to her.
Outside, a strange serenity begins to unfold. A moment before the sun ducks away, the brown hills radiate, and a different flavor of madness begins to percolate. Before the chaos of the Boulevard catches a second wind, I duck into the metro station and head home on the Red Line train.
“And to all a good night,” bellows a homeless dwarf. He parades down the train car shaking a rumpled felt hat full of change.
“Come on, chief,” he tells me. “Out of work actors gotta eat too.” I toss a quarter into his hat. He winks at me. “To all a good night,” he shouts again, swinging the door to the next car open violently. The door slams shut as I pull out Hamsun and flip the pages to a makeshift bookmark, my folded eviction notice. The downtown-bound Red Line train screeches along and my fellow passengers brace and bounce in unison with the train’s erratic pulse, our final destination uncertain.