AMEN ARMEN


          About twenty-five years ago while searching the want ads for a job; an advertisement for an on-site property manager caught my eye.  At the time, I was committed to launching my dance troupe, the Jammers, and like most dance troupes, a non-profit enterprise.   

           I appeared at the interview wearing the only career outfit I had left. A petite woman with sparkling black eyes, dressed in black leggings and a T-Shirt greeted me, her name was Armen. I recall we sat at her dining room table and talked. About halfway through the interview, I realized this woman was not interviewing me for anything except trust. Armen did not study my resume or ask me hypothetical questions, she engaged me in conversation. I ventured to explain, why I ejected out of commercial real estate into the business of a dance troupe. Armen shook her head, “I understand, you don’t have to explain, I come from an artistic family, and my mother was an Opera singer.”

          She asked me to start the following weekend. I packed up my belongings from the Gaslamp apartment on G Street and moved into The Terraces. Armen gave me a spacious two-bedroom apartment over the pool because I told her I loved to swim. I did not have enough furniture to fill the apartment. Armen laughed and said, “ What do you need, a bed and a table, that’s it.”    

She lived in one of the smallest units and loved the simplicity. She did not own a television or a blender. She invested every cent in the project and planned to convert it into condominiums. This could not be accomplished without rental income. My job was to lease the apartments.

          We set up a model office and hired a maintenance man, and a landscaper. We fixed up the apartments, and I rented them. In the evening, I presided over the Jammers Dance Classes in a fitness center downtown. The classes were expanding, and everyone wanted to learn Hip-Hop. My artistic pulse was satisfied, and my financial burden was lifted.

          Every day at noon Armen would call me, 

           “Lily. Come over-I have lunch.”

           “Thanks, but I’m not hungry.”

           “You have to eat, just a little.” 

   She did not take no for an answer.  She prepared delicious Turkish and Armenian exotic dishes, and for an hour, we sat at the table and discussed ideas, art, and the American lifestyle. In a short time, it was evident The Terraces was just a backdrop, a setting to an unfolding drama of fictional proportions. The looming danger, disaster, and deterioration came in waves. Just as we recovered from one shipwreck, another was on its way.

          First, there were the tenants; a collection of eighty lifestyles and characters that invariably collide and come running to Armen. I never saw her turn a tenant away. She was so complying and understanding; tenants retreated and left smiling. In spite of utility shutdowns, and cracking staircases from the earthquake. failed security alarms, and slipping balconies, we moved tenants in and they did not move out.

           Armen did not permit defeat to wedge influence over her mission.  Nor did she allow the consumption of things to soften her existence in life. She maintained simplicity without a magazine or a consultant to show her how. At times I came to her with complaints, about the insufficiencies in my life. She always had a philosophy that inoculated me from my narrow view. She broadened my sense of self and helped me to free up petty insecurities.

          The digression began when Armen realized her financial partner had hoodwinked her and was succeeding in acquiring ownership of the property. Then the maintenance man revealed his hidden love for me and went running to Armen every time I had a date. We were afraid to fire him, Bill was big as John Wayne and started admitting how many men he killed in Vietnam. There was more drama, a friend from Junior High school appeared veiled in innocent memories and slowly unwound into a crack addict with a bad temper. He took possession of a vacant apartment and threatened to kill me.  I had to hire a bodyguard, one of the Jamaican Martial Arts experts from the Jammers dance studio. Armen did not ask me to leave. Even when the Addict swindled money out of our tenants, masking himself as a Private Investigator.   

                 We set up a model office and hired a maintenance man, and a landscaper. We fixed up the apartments, and I rented them. In the evening, I presided over the Jammers Dance Classes in a fitness center downtown. The classes were expanding, and everyone wanted to learn Hip-Hop. My artistic pulse was satisfied, and my financial burden was lifted.

          Every day at noon Armen would call me, 

           “Lily. Come over-I have lunch.”

           “Thanks, but I’m not hungry.”

           “You have to eat, just a little.” 

   She did not take no for an answer.  She prepared delicious Turkish and Armenian exotic dishes, and for an hour, we sat at the table and discussed ideas, art, and the American lifestyle. In a short time, it was evident The Terraces was just a backdrop, a setting to an unfolding drama of fictional proportions. The looming danger, disaster, and deterioration came in waves. Just as we recovered from one shipwreck, another was on its way.

          First, there were the tenants; a collection of eighty lifestyles and characters that invariably collide and come running to Armen. I never saw her turn a tenant away. She was so complying and understanding; tenants retreated and left smiling. In spite of utility shutdowns, and cracking staircases from the earthquake. failed security alarms, and slipping balconies, we moved tenants in and they did not move out.

           Armen did not permit defeat to wedge influence over her mission.  Nor did she allow the consumption of things to soften her existence in life. She maintained simplicity without a magazine or a consultant to show her how. At times I came to her with complaints, about the insufficiencies in my life. She always had a philosophy that inoculated me from my narrow view. She broadened my sense of self and helped me to free up petty insecurities.

          The digression began when Armen realized her financial partner had hoodwinked her and was succeeding in acquiring ownership of the property. Then the maintenance man revealed his hidden love for me and went running to Armen every time I had a date. We were afraid to fire him, Bill was big as John Wayne and started admitting how many men he killed in Vietnam. There was more drama, a friend from Junior High school appeared veiled in innocent memories and slowly unwound into a crack addict with a bad temper. He took possession of a vacant apartment and threatened to kill me.  I had to hire a bodyguard, one of the Jamaican Martial Arts experts from the Jammers dance studio. Armen did not ask me to leave. Even when the Addict swindled money out of our tenants, masking himself as a Private Investigator.   

          Eight months into the battle, I moved out. Armen stayed on and continued to wage her battle against her con artist partner. It took another year, but one day Armen drove away without a penny from her property. Three years later she acquired three of the condos. She never gives up.

     She returned to Los Angeles and moved in with her parents.  She found another project and started over. When that project failed, she returned to her parent’s home. By this time, she was married with a little girl, and the five of them lived together. Armen had lost her independence, project, and privacy, but she held on to her spirit. Over the years, I struggled in another territory, and we kept in contact by phone. We compared difficulties, and she assured me no matter how difficult the circumstances, not to give up. 

     Now twenty years have passed. Armen has two children. The girl is named Aida, and the little boy is Mathew.  Armen lives in Los Angeles now. She achieved much since the days of the Terraces. She continued to work in real estate and chose to broker buildings. She gained a modest win over The Con and was compensated.  Last week I spoke to Armen over the telephone. 

          “ Oh Lily, I had a good year, you know, I cannot believe it. I am out of the project in San Diego now for good. I got the last of my money.”

          “ Congratulations, at last! Look how many years.”

          “ Do you remember Paul, the contractor?”  He moved to Las Vegas and has had a hard time you know. He is trying to open up a business there. Remember his little girl, she’s a teenager now. Can you believe it?”

          “ So much has happened.”

          “ You know I promised to pay Paul, one percent of the profits. I’m going to Las Vegas next week–I’m going to pay him.”

          “ Does he know?”

          “ Nothing, he doesn’t know anything. I’m going to surprise him.”

          “ How much did you owe him?”

          “ Eighty thousand, he’ll be surprised. ”

          “ Will he ever!”  

That is only one of Armen’s victories; she has many and one day they will be told.

        

That is only one of Armen’s victories; she has many and one day they will be told.

KNPR INTERVIEW


https://knpr.org/knpr/2011-05/luellen-smiley

My first interview on Dad, when I listen now it reminds me how liberating it was to talk about my family history.

Luellen Smiley

KNPR.ORG

Luellen Smiley

Luellen Smiley is the daughter of reputed mobster, Allen Smiley. Smiley’s dad was a close friend and confidant of famous Las Vegas mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and he was sitting on the couch just feet away from Siegel the night he was murdered. While Luellen Smiley hadn’t been born at the time o…

https://knpr.org/knpr/2011-05/luellen-smiley?fbclid=IwAR2YLsL-1RUSFQdjTtbrLmoVZXC29SF9ek8goQH95onmH3h1guo8Q8dv8fw

WHAT DO YOU FEEL?


I FEEL A SENSE OF GUILT to seek pleasure, amusement and escape. This weekend fifty-seven innocent people shot in Chicago; Nyiah Courtney, a beautiful six-year old in W.DC, a violent riot in Los Angeles, a woman and son robbed before falling down a flight of concrete stairs at the Subway station in NYC, and in Tucson: “The gunman parked his silver SUV by the park, got out of the car and opened fire on the two paramedics who were inside the ambulance, Magnus said. The 20-year-old male EMT who was sitting in the driver’s seat was struck in the head and the 21-year-old female EMT who was in the passenger’s seat was shot in the arm and chest.” Bullets’ targeting fans outside the Washington DC Stadium will be what everyone remembers.

That’s all I could handle this morning. So, why aren’t I talking about it with friends? ‘ I don’t watch the news anymore’ is what I hear and so my feelings remain unspoken. Maybe because I do not have a family, or the man I could love, and so my emotions stretch to a world of strangers in pain and agony.

It is not depression that leads my day, it is mild shock, anger, and a halo of sadness for the cloud of hate, crime, corruption, and divisive storm looming over.

My heart is especially raw for the youth, embarking on adulthood, the unsolved immigration crisis, and knee-jerk mask attacks on one another.

The words of condolences: ‘We pray for your family, you are in our hearts’, lasts how long? Do they get a phone call from a Lawmaker or Member of Congress? It seems laws have to be passed. Instead, all I see is a game of power. A solid gesture by the government to rename streets after the victims, a monument, or a wall with their names, so we never forget is my suggestion.

VOTING HAS BEGUN ON TALEFLICK.


 

IT’S HERE. “CRADLE OF CRIME-A Daughter’s Tribute” is LIVE in the TaleFlick Discovery contest.

 

Hi Readers:

Voting has begun on Taleflick for this week’s winner. It ends on Friday at 4:pm. CRADLE OF CRIME- A Daughter’s Tribute is on

Page 8. There you will see a voting button. Let’s win!

Head over to the TaleFlick Discovery page, where https://taleflick.com/pages/discovery all visitors to the site will be allowed to vote (once) ON CRADLE OF CRIME- A Daughter’s Tribute

  https://taleflick.com/pages/discovery

 

 

WEST LOS ANGELES TO EAST SARATOGA SPRINGS NY


A metallic sky is blowing the cotton ball clouds with the force of a lawn blower, a collage of sunflower leaves brush beauty in the windows of my home, and the act of observation becomes my pastime, here in the Northeast.


The Village of Ballston Spa.

When I used to sit on the stoop in front of my Westwood studio, it was the dogwalkers and gardeners, visitors and residents that my eyes laid on, with a backdrop of high rise two million dollar condominiums, with concrete terraces, usually vacant, that formed the view and from that, thoughts randomly trapped, wish I owned that, wish I had that car, wish I had that man. It is amusing, how one’s view can determine one’s thoughts.
West Los Angeles.

On the street where I live now, homes are two hundred years old, or newly built to imitate the Victorian era. The automobile is sturdy, practical, and unwaxed. The way of this wonderment brings simplicity into my life. No need to dress up and fit in, it’s the opposite here, dress down to fit in, or like me, a combination. You are not watched, observed, questioned or complimented, because, well I don’t know the answer, not yet. This is the day after a storm. Half of a tree collapsed in my front yard.

 

The Polar Freeze had to arrive with me, and the test was not so much about the snow outdoors, it was how to stay warm indoors without running up my gas bill to five hundred a month. Luckily, I found my Irish wool sweater in the basement, that is so large I can wear three sweaters under it, then the leggings, knee-high woolen socks, hats, and gloves even indoors. My activity was limited to bringing the furniture from the attic, basement and unloading the UBox from Los Angeles. Boxes of books and china, photographs, records, and bric a brack from so much antiquing. Three months later the house was staged. I was left with a fractured elbow, but the scenery indoors plays a critical part in your emotional health, because it is too cold to play outdoors.

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Most of my conversations came in Nomads, where I’d have a Cortado and some eggs, and talk with the owners who were also my tenants. I begged myself to interview them properly with a recorder, but I never did. They astounded my fictional idea of a millennial, not being general but based on what I observed in Los Angeles. In LA they don’t talk to adults unless you have a common bond; a tattoo or a protest sign. Nick and Alex have the play stations, all the tech knowledge of a Microsoft department, but, instead, they talked about literature, foreign films, and psychology. These are my subjects so if we began the conversation at eleven am, we finished at noon, minus the interruption of a customer. Many times, I’d ask for an explanation, and they’d answer without snickering or amusement. I recall one time I asked, ” Don’t you get tired of hearing adults say, you’ll understand when you get older (they are both nineteen years old) and Nick answered within a second, ‘No, because I know a lot they don’t. ‘Don’t forget I used the internet when I was five years old.’

The customers, mostly local residents, come solo or in large groups, families with toddlers, mothers and daughters, uncles, and nephews, everyone here that I met has a huge amount of family, which caused me some hesitation when asked, ‘you have family here, don’t you?’ After that question dozens of times, I thought maybe I should make one up. I’m not and never have been a believable liar.

The volume of their voices is another adjustment, not in a bad way, just a curiosity, they do not contain their vocal strength. Maybe it is a part of the heritage, just the New York way of conversing, but it is self-effacing genuine. I never detected a play on pretense or arrogance. Imagine how refreshing, like a gulp of spring water from a waterfall, after the playacting that overrides conversation in Los Angeles. To be continued.

Saratoga Spa Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADVENTURES IN LIVINGNESS- LA.


  • The exhilaration and expectations of stepping out of one grid, of eighty thousand people in Santa Fe, NM  to one million people in Los Angeles is something I didn’t really think out, it was more like, I’m going home, to Tara. 20180914_130708.jpg

Santa Fe slow as a rippling stream manifests when I’m at a yellow light, and I think the driver behind me is going to have a heart attack if he doesn’t get through before it turns red. How serious, overly stimulated, exhausted and determined the Angels of Angeles evolved.  Either you are so rich you don’t have time to say hello, or you are struggling with loneliness and can’t wait to say hello. When I lived here in the eighties and early nineties, the vibe felt in social arenas; Hollywood, technology, the arts, and real estate were promising ventures of investment. People in the know were opening shops in ungentrified neighborhoods, warehouse space was scraping the horizon downtown,  real estate was affordable, and technology wasn’t the flag we saluted, it was more like we’re in real time paradise.

Century City, very close to my front door, is a memory. My father lived on Century Park East in the last few years of his life. He didn’t like it because it was all concrete, newly built, it didn’t have a history.  Now when I drive into the satellite of  HIGH RISES,  mall music, billboards, shops, and cafes, I know what he means. It is changed, rushing executives, employees, shoppers, a pace that makes one slower feel extradited.    20180704_140814(1).jpg

Then the parking, you will need a ticket to park, a parking pass, or you will have to circle the block four times before you find a parking space.  The line outside the restaurant is too long, or not long enough, the business of dining here is a mouthful of expectation. The business owner of a shop sells me what I did not come in to buy, and the sales pitch is like a Hollywood script, and I’ don’t know the language.  The wait for the Doctor is two months, and that’s if he takes your insurance, which I found out in California has very few Medicare physicians.  If someone does speak to you, you can’t hear them because there is so much construction noise, pulsating bass music in surround sound, you find yourself shouting.

Flip the coin. The day after I landed a woman walked up to me and said, ” Oh, you just moved in, I’m Barbara, I’m at 1203 welcome to the neighborhood.”

We walked together with her little Boo dog.  She asked questions, and I answered because she was that kind of person you want to talk to, she soothes, applauds, and comforts all in tune with your admissions.  The next few days as I awaited my furniture, she glided by, and we continued our life stories, some from the past, some of the moment. My first friend materialized, like a new moon in a new city. 20180805_183912.jpg

IN LA, because of the immeasurable density, people are always close by, not a foot between us. It’s the life here, it’s not the LA I remember, but it is home.  So, like family, I am learning to accept and stay individual.

 

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME.


RELOCATION  isn’t just about the physical exertion of packing, and unpacking,  I’m learning this as I swirl onto the 10 Freeway in a cavernous flow of luxury automobiles headed west from downtown LA. Self-doubt is not an option driving the freeway, you have to be a lioness or a cougar, imagine me more like an indoor cat going outside for the first time.  On the 4th of July my transport from Santa Fe, NM to the city of Angels, ended in the late afternoon as I pulled up in front of a new place to call home.   Fireworks beginning, palm trees rippling, dogs barking, and sirens escalating, all a safe distance from my front door.  Noise in Santa Fe is Church Bells, bad-ass guys on motorcycles and an occasional siren. First step to ‘when in LA,’ block out the noise or turn up your head set-by the way everyone is strapped to a headphone. I noticed this phenomena on the few trips I’d made to LA while deciding if I should move back after twenty-five years.   20180704_140814(1)

As I entered the 1940s period bungalow for the first time all was very familiar. Thirty five years ago I lived in the same compound. Mine was across the common garden area, but the floor plan is the same with a built-in vanity, windows on every wall but one,  fireplace, and a small kitchen. It’s like a doll house, four-hundred square feet. The landlord  delivered a newness to it with  freshly painted walls, polished wood floors, and a spotless kitchen and bathroom. I set my luggage down, took a shower and bounced. 

 

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I headed for Westwood Village, where I spent years eight through thirteen.  I remember the Dog House, Mario’s, Fedway, Capezio, Bullocks and Desmonds where I worked one summer in Women’s Apparel. The best of all was Ships. My gang used to go there for breakfast in our pajamas to celebrate one of our birthdays. The Village is so close to  my defining history, why I ended up there and why I left. We lived on Hilgard in what was then called the The Hilgard House, a microcosm of modern living in a new hi-rise with a pool. It was like living with a family; unguarded neighbors that knew my name, a Fred McMurray type Building Manager, a few famous actress’s, and me, one of four or five blossoming teenagers.

I drove past the renovated building now condominiums renting for seventeen times what I expect my mother paid in 1962. The neighborhood hasn’t been gentrified! It is still  a quaint collection of Mediterranean and Mission style homes and four-flex’s.

I stopped in front of the second Hamburger Hamlet location, now Skylight.  It took about five minutes to decide I’m going to love this first experience in Los Angeles.  On the 4th the restaurant was empty, the room exposed and free of human camouflage. The brick walls remained, giving off some whiff of history and the rest of the room was finished in youthful coziness.  Coming from Santa Fe, a city of minor extravagances, the two mirrored lit up bars, stacked with more choices of liquor than what I know existed is my focal point.

” Hi, how you doing? Do you know what you’d like to drink?”

” Well looking at the selection, what do you suggest?”

” What do you like?”

” Wine, white wine by the glass.”

“That’s easy.”

They don’t have as many wines as they do Bourbons, so I ordered Sonoma Cutrer and a seafood pasta dish.

” I grew up here, right here in the village.”

“No way, that’s cool. I’ve met a few guests who lived here a long time ago and they tell me stories.”

” What happened to Westwood? Last time I was here, around the late nineties, it was really depreciated and unkept.  It looks better now, but not completed you know?”

” Yeah, Westwood went through some really hard times. We opened this a few years ago, and now more restaurants are coming in.”

” So you’re busy during the week?”

” Oh yeah, we get a lot of businessmen, and some students, you should come back and check it out”

” I will, it has an openness about it, room to move.”

I was the only customer until the staff’s friends showed up to have a party of their own. The high-kickers in mini shorts, and skimpy tops, they were cute, like cut-outs from a magazine.  I’d been on the road all day, and skipped the meals, so when the seafood pasta arrived, not only was the dish plentiful, it was deliciously fresh and spicy.

After dinner, I strolled along Westwood Boulevard, in a cube of surrealism, the homeless man hunched over his life remains in garbage bags, a Security Guard in front of an abandoned storefront, students striding along as their phones lead them,  What happened to Westwood? Why are the store displays bland and conventional, street art,  vendors and performers absent? The unmistakable sense of abandonment piqued my curiosity so I drove around the neighborhood, simmering in the memories of my gang.  What a utopian place to go through puberty; the College boys spilled out after classes and we waited to see them, on Saturdays we’d meet at the UCLA cafeteria and test our flirting finesse.  We spread out on skateboards along Weyburn and Westwood Boulevard flexing our budding egos and breasts. They are the flagship years of my life, maybe that’s why I came home, to flex my bruised ego and budding independence.

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When I laid my body down on a blanket, with fireworks as my backdrop, it was like a celebratory musical overture to a new beginning. The painfully hard wood floor slapped the idiocy of not bringing foam or a sleeping bag. I’ll buy a bed tomorrow and my furniture will arrive Friday. The first night faraway from my La Posada de Santa Fe Hotel family, friends, my old Discovery SUV, my house, my cat, and my best friend who initiated the change is not in my head! To be continued.