This post was originally published on April 30, 2015.
In December, I didn’t have enough money to pay my rent and in January, I was served with an unlawful detainer. By then, the landlord wanted two months rent plus attorney fees.
That’s why I found myself in court in February, my sponsor with me for support. Prior to walking into the dreaded courthouse on Avenue M in Palmdale, we said the Serenity Prayer (her idea, not mine).
Inside the courtroom, panicky thoughts churned inside my head like food blending in a garbage disposal.
“And the wisdom to know the difference?” I thought. “What the hell is the difference? I have over three freaking years of sobriety and I feel like I have hit rock bottom. What about the damn Promises? Or maybe the Promises happen for people who attend daily AA meetings? Oh my God, what happens if I have to live in my freaking Corolla with the dogs? How will I be able to write?”
Then a decent thought: “Well, I have a Sprint hotspot so I should be okay. Didn’t Paul Schrader live in a cab when he wrote Taxi Driver?”
This was followed by: “Oh my God, I feel so ashamed.”
Instead of having the letter A sewn in red on my chest like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter, I thought, why not brand the letter E for eviction on my forehead?
At the end of the day, the court granted me a month to move and told me that I wouldn’t have an eviction on my record as long as I evacuated the premises on time.
When I got home, I went to look for an apartment on Craigslist, checked “dogs okay” in the appropriate box, double-clicked the search button and voila! A majority of the results asked for rent that was more than I could afford, plus there was the security deposit plus the whole pit bull restriction nonsense.
When I first moved to Hollywood from Manhattan in the 90s, I scoffed at people who had an 818 area code. Now I would have sold my soul to the devil to get a house in Pacoima.
Then I had a thought: “Well, I am a writer. Does it really matter where I live?”
I checked out the Bakersfield section and came up with a four-bedroom house in a place called Trona. Rent? It was $550 per month plus no security deposit. Pit bulls? No problem, bring a goat, too.
I e-mailed the landlord and was approved within the hour. That was strange, but maybe it was a God Shot? I called my sponsor and she asked, “Where the hell is Trona?”
Good question. I looked up the address on Mapquest.
Turns out Trona is 25 miles away from Ridgecrest, wherever that is. The last commuter flights to Trona from LAX via the now-extinct Golden West Airlines were in 1983.
According to a 2006 article in The LA Times, the small rural town of Trona (population: 2000) is known for its seclusion and loneliness. (Isolation, as most people know, is the least healthy environment imaginable for a recovering alcoholic who has co-occurring disorders.)
The article mentioned that a lot of break-ins occurred in this quaint town. A naïve tenant who moved to Trona to escape LA was instantly robbed. Thieves stole his brand new $29 garden hose. And there was another tidbit of interesting information: the sheriffs in San Bernadino required deputies to work in Trona or at the local jail, and offered to provide them with free housing if they chose Trona. Most of them selected jail.
“Okay but isn’t Trona better than nothing?” I thought. “I am running out of time here.”
Then, out of the blue, a guy I’d met in AA years ago and only vaguely remembered texted me. It just so happened that he had a three-bedroom house in Lancaster, and was looking for a roommate. He said, “Bring your babies! Dogs love me. Move in.”
I put most of my stuff in storage. One of my dogs went to my friend Amelia’s house and I made arrangements to send another to Oregon to stay with close friends who own a pit bull rescue.
I turned down Trona and moved into hell.
Two days after my dogs and I moved in, he told me that he hated AA, hated his job and hated my blue-nosed pit Zeus who didn’t like him much either. The house smelled like alcohol and I found an empty vodka bottle in the living room.
Guess what? The house in Trona was up for grabs. I made an appointment for a viewing. Amelia drove, Zeus sat in the back and I checked the GPS on my phone.
There were rock formations on the 178.
“This is God’s country,” I said, wishing I were back in the Bronx or in Hollywood.
“A writer’s retreat,” Amelia offered.
When we arrived to the outskirts of Trona, a white sign with a crooked red cross that said OUR CHURCHES greeted us. The sign included a list of nine churches.
“Where there’s churches, there are AA meetings!” Amelia said.
Most of the houses in my future neighborhood were deserted and charred. Some had smashed-in windows. I thought I saw a few skeletons staring at me from a window but I attributed it to the intense desert heat. Dominating the landscape was the Mosaic Company chemical plant, which spewed noxious white smoke into the air. There was a sulfur-like aroma.
Tenants emerged from their houses like extras from The Walking Dead. I waved at them with the graciousness of Eva Peron addressing her subjects. All I got were stares.
Jim, the landlord’s handyman who lived two blocks away, greeted us outside the house. I was surprised that he wasn’t carrying a chainsaw. All of us, including Zeus, went inside.
“Sev, this room can be your writing room, and this room can be your meditation room,” said Amelia, as she bounced around the house. (I don’t meditate, but this seemed like a good time to start.)
“This closet would make the perfect darkroom!” she continued.
God bless Amelia. For her, the glass is never half empty.
She turned on the bathroom faucets. No water.
“Call Searles Domestic Water Company,” Jim offered.
“How much will it cost?” I asked.
“The windows have no screens,” Amelia pointed out.
“Thirty bucks each at Walmart.” That was Jim.
“Electricity?” I asked.
“Call Edison. And for gas, there is PG&G.”
My Sprint phone had no service. Oh my God, what now? I needed the Internet for work, plus how could I call 911 if I had to? No one would know I was getting murdered except for the weird neighbors and then they would step over my lifeless body, shoot my dogs, steal my garden hoses and raid the house like those crazy Greeks did to the Widow in Zorba the Greek.
“I don’t have a phone signal,” I told Jim.
Amelia checked her phone. “Me neither.”
“Verizon,” Jim responded. “Nothing else works.”
I took a deep breath. Trona or hell?
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take it.”
After Jim talked to the landlady via his Verizon flip phone, he informed me that we were good to go.
By this point, I don’t think it mattered to them if I was the assassin Squeaky Fromme. (According to The Times, Trona was a brief stopover for the Manson family in 1969.)
Not only did we get lost and end up in Tehachapi on the way back but I also had a major anxiety attack about how uncool it would be to put “Lives in Trona, CA” on my Facebook profile.
When I got home, the landlord sent me the lease along with a disclaimer stating that Trona had high levels of asbestos.
I turned down Trona. Again.
“Now what?” I thought. “I don’t know. Maybe I need to meditate.”
Yesterday I drove down to LA for work and took Zeus along with me for company. He waited patiently for me in the car while I attended a training session. On the way back, instead of anxiety, I felt a sense of gratitude and peace.
There are mountains alongside the 14 Freeway and while it was dark, their presence and that of my dog comforted me.
My sponsor wears a mustard seed faith amulet pendant around her neck. She loves to paraphrase the verse from Matthew 17:20: “You can move mountains. All you need is a little faith.”
I had a feeling we were going to be okay.
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