Room 4 Rent
Room 4 Rent
This time, I was facing the consequences of sticking my neck out in defense of the truth and not the consequences of sticking a needle in my arm, as what became usual for me.
I was twenty nine going on thirty, but I really felt like twenty nine going on 21. I had been off of heroin for a year and a month, not counting the handful of slips over the course of the year. Yeah, I slipped…more than once. But the point was, I hadn’t been strung out for over a year and that was nothing short of a miracle.
Due to an interesting turn of events involving me sticking my neck out in defense of my roommate at the sober living house I was living in at the time, I was forced to find a new place to lay my head. I was right in the middle of the fall semester at Altadena City College and I had a job in the neighborhood; it was the most stability I had in my life since I could remember and I was not about to the throw it all away at the most critical moment as I had become accustomed to doing in the past.
One day while walking home from school, I noticed an orange flyer taped to a pole at the intersection of Hill and Colorado that read “Nice room for rent” with a phone number scrawled in black Sharpie. I was desperate and I didn’t have the time or the luxury to sit around and wait for the perfect place, so I called the number.
“Can you meet me here now? Do you know where the Saga Motel is?” The male voice over the phone asked. I said I did and he gave me the address. It was right across the street from the school. I walked the 15 minute walk down to Sierra Bonita ave and found the address and found myself standing in front of an old brown classic Pasadena one-story Craftsman house.
A man came out from the front door and introduced himself. He was an older man, probably in his late 40’s and looked of hispanic descent. I shook his hand and introduced myself. His name was Raymond. He lead me down the driveway and into the back of the house and showed me the backyard. It was a decent backyard with a detached room that he explained was rented out by someone else. The backyard contained various dying plants and trees. Raymond tried to give the impression that he liked to garden. There was a single chair that was placed towards the back of the yard amongst the dying lemon trees.
“I don’t have a winter garden, yet,” he said but “you can sit back there and just float away”.
“Yeah, okay” I said. “Show me the room”.
He opened a door in the back of the house that revealed the room. It was a decent sized room with hardwood floors that creaked when you walked on them, pale yellow walls, a walk-in closet and windows on two of the four walls. “I like it,” I said. “But what is the living situation like? Are all of the guys here solid dudes?” I asked. I thought it was both a reasonable and valid question but the look on Raymond’s face told me he felt otherwise. “Yeah, everyone here is normal,” he answered. Normally, this would have been a red flag serious enough to cause me to reconsider but I was in a jam and I needed a place FAST.
A few days later, I found myself confined to the four walls in a stranger’s house, alone, with everything I owned scattered about in black trash bags and the disorienting feeling that I had made a terrible mistake. I tried to lie down and rest my mind, maybe drift off to sleep if I was lucky, but even my queen size temperpedic mattress couldn’t quiet my mind. I laid their in the dark while my imagination ran wild and eventually gave way to paranoia. What if queer Raymond is not a “high-end chaueffer” but really a male escort for queers? I really wouldn’t get any sleep if that was the case I thought. My mind kept racing. Or what if this was the room of the former PCC student that just committed suicide in the school parking structure? What if the other guy in the house is actually Raymond’s lover? That would be an odd living situation. Intolerably odd. I tossed and turn in my bed for awhile, for who knows how long, before finally accepting sleeplessness. I grabbed my clothes from off the floor and lazily put them back on and decided to walk the boulevard and clear my head, maybe find something to cheap to eat.
I walked a block down the boulevard to the 7-11. I pulled on the door handle. It was locked. I looked up and noticed that the lights were off in the building. I saw a sign on the windows stating they closed at 12 am.
Most days were tough and filled with anxiety but every now and then I caught a beautiful sunset and a pleasant walk home. It was after one of these pleasant walks home that arrived at the house to find two strangers camped in the living room. One of them was sitting on a mattress thrown in the middle of the living room floor and staring at the wall as if in a catatonic trance, and the other was passed out on the couch. I didn’t see anything about transients camping out in the living room anywhere in the rental agreement that I signed. I specifically asked Raymond about the living arrangement to avoid THIS kind of a situation. I had been conned and I was upset.
The next day, I confronted Raymond about the 2 strangers in the living room. “Hey, so Raymond, I noticed there are two guys living in the living room now…I was just curious as to what the situation is?” I asked.
“Ohh uhh…” he fumbled with his words but the best he could come up with was a vague “The guy on the couch will be out in two weeks, he’s just transitioning”. Whatever that meant. He purposely avoided addressing the other guy who was now living on the mattress. I could tell I wasn’t going to get a straight answer out of him. It didn’t really matter anyway because at that point I had already made up my mind that I needed to find another place to live.
A few days later, I came home from school to find one of the transients rolling around and bawling on the living room floor. No one was home but him. “Hey what’s the matter, you alright?” I asked. He looked at me intensely and began muttering words but I couldn’t make out a thing he said. His speech was frantic. He was panicking. “Alright just calm down, what are you crying about?” He pointed towards Raymond’s door then pointed at the trash can a few feet from him. Raymond’s door was closed but the trashcan was full of various pills which I could only assume were some kind of antipsychotics. “You’re medicine? Is that it? You need your medicine?” I asked as I walked over to the trash can to retrieve the pills. “NOO!” He screamed as a look of terror washed over his face. I didn’t understand anything he said before but I certainly understood that. “Whoa, whoah. Okay. I’m not going to make you take anything. How about I call Raymond?” I asked. Again he screamed “NO!!” I have no idea what to do then, I thought. This is too much for me. I’m not getting paid for this. I threw my hands up in the air and began to make my way to my room when I heard footsteps following behind me.
“Out there he said,” pointing out the window towards the backyard. I went outside and immediately realized that he was motioning towards the door to the underground basement. When I got in front of the door, I looked at the transient and he nodded in approval. I’m guessing he wants me to go down there I thought. I opened the door and made my way down the stairs. I pulled a switch for the light and what I saw amazed me. There were rows and rows of filling cabinets and computer monitors for security cameras that I had no idea Raymond had. From the looks of the monitors, there were multiple hidden cameras in ever room of the house. I opened one of the filing cabinets named “tenants” and found dozens of social security cards, drivers licenses, insurance cards, and bank cards. I immediately recognized the name and picture on one of the driver’s licenses. Daniel Fong. He was a developmentally disabled student that went missing 6 months ago. It was all over the news. I stood there breathless and paralyzed by fear. I noticed newspaper clippings covered the walls, the same headline in different words repeated over and over: “Another developmentally disabled person goes missing”. “Holy shit,” I said. “I need to get out of here.” I pulled the light switch and quickly made my way back up the stairs. By the time i got to the top, it was too late. Raymond was standing in front of he door with a shovel in his hand and a blank look on his face. “Looks like you’ll be overstaying your lease,” he said. “And if you’re lucky, your name might even make it in the papers.”