This week, Kayden takes a look at the oft-forgotten side of her downtown L.A. neighborhood.
Here's what I know about Skid Row:
Nathaniel Ayers is a local celebrity. He lives around the neighborhood and we all claim to have seen him, by the Beethoven statue, with the pigeons, or playing to an empty house in the tunnel downtown. He was an accomplished musician at Julliard before schizophrenia took over and the subsequent downward spiral that landed him on Skid Row. Then a local reporter got wind of his story, and next thing you know he's being played by Jamie Foxx in a major Hollywood movie. It's a touching story minus the part where he's still homeless and sick.
Hit the jump for the more of Kayden's Skid Row stories, including shooting apocalypse porn by a homeless camp in the L.A. River...
I've known Marsha all my life. Her kids are my age and we took turns being babysat. Marsha only believes in goodness in the world, and modesty, and pastries, and god, so you can imagine how strong her reaction was when she moved with her family to downtown L.A. and their first walk around the neighborhood required her to pull a naked man off the edge of a bridge while he fought her with dirty fingernails and threatened to jump, while shielding her 12-year-old daughter's eyes and telling her two boys to stop laughing, before finally getting yelled at by the police for getting involved. It was dark outside and there were rats around her ankles and all the corners smelled like piss. She moved to Malibu after that.
I don't want to rain on her parade, but in my opinion the mental illness on Skid Row is not nearly as shocking as the sex in Malibu.
Ricky the Pirate is also a local celebrity. He hangs out around Sixth and Main. Technically that's Skid Row Light. There are some sandwich shops in the East Coast style there, and a high-end pet store, and a few extra cool pubs where speakeasys used to be. Another close friend of mine had the top floor of one of the loft buildings on that corner. It functioned as a porn studio/sweet bachelor pad and I ended up spending a fair amount of time there. That's where I met Ricky the Pirate. Somehow he knew the code to punch to get in the building and he'd spend his days riding the elevator. He would talk to whoever rode. No one bothered him, possibly because of the pirate hat and eye patch, or maybe just because they all knew him, and often because they were friends with him on Facebook. It turns out Ricky was a relatively successful actor before the schizophrenia took over. It also turns out that his crack dealer lived a few floors down from the bachelor pad.
Ricky the Pirate is not the only one on Facebook, or the only one with a crack habit. When I drive down Sixth Street in the daylight there is a growing segment of the homeless population that sits on the steps of the missions surfing the web. I remember the first time I was shocked by the technological means of the homeless. It was two years ago, in the cement-lined and graffitied L.A. River, and we were shooting porn there. We were specifically shooting The 8th Day (NSFW), a movie about the end of the world and all of the sex I have in it, and we chose that location because it already looked like the end of the world. I was placed in the middle of it, which at that depth reached up to my knees, and I had full porn hair and make up (think blond extensions and fake eyelashes), and they left me there in an unbuttoned men's shirt and sandals. Presumably, if the world were to end, this is exactly what porn stars would be reduced to.
A number of homeless families live near the L.A. River. They drape tarps or tents over wind-protected areas and search for a Wifi signal. So, of course, we weren't entirely surprised when one woman, from her tarp window, saw us traipsing around her front yard in bad imitations of proper human clothing and makeup and doing culturally unacceptable things with each others' unnaturally disproportionate breasts, and she picked up her cell phone and called the cops and told them that aliens had landed in the L.A. River. I wish I could say the cops never came. Not only did they come, but they drove straight down the river, which I suppose is a benefit of having a paved one. We just couldn't stop talking about the fact that she had a cell phone.
Image via Big Orange Landmarks
We also shot Body Heat (NSFW) in Skid Row, at the firehouse that has been abandoned for years. With a crew that size we were forced to bring in a truck of upscale portapotties, like the kind you find at outdoor concerts. We parked them right outside. I later put together the significance of this. For a week, the locals watched porn chick after porn chick run in and out of these things in scanty bath robes and fire boots, sometimes smoking, sometimes two or three at a time. They watched the crew, made entirely of men, also run in and out. I'm sure, more than once, they heard the symphonic notes of live porn drifting past their tents. We had security at both ends of the station to monitor who came and went as well as who used the portapotties. While no one cared to force his way into the firehouse, a number of locals came to near blows trying to get into those portapotties.
It makes a lot more sense now that I've learned that the row of portapotties stationed a block from where we'd parked our own doubled as the local brothel. The people on the streets thought we were denying them entry to the best whorehouse in town.
The firehouse is not the only thing abandoned there. Trash spills over the cans and the onto streets and piles so high that it climbs stairs. People sit on overturned milk crates playing cards, or talking amongst themselves to pass the day. They smoke crack on the street corners while they wait for the light to change and let them cross, or they've already smoked crack and they just step in front of oncoming traffic. I made friends with a firefighter who worked near the area. He said that because the area had no tax dollars, they came last. Where other, richer cities could borrow trucks and firemen from neighboring stations when their own weren't enough or were out of commission, these impoverished areas of L.A. would simply go without. He told me about the worst case his station had ever been called on. A woman got high on crack and gave birth, chewed through the umbilical cord, then wandered down the middle of the street clutching the child, a little disoriented. She'd clearly not accounted for the placenta coming out after, as it was dragging wetly behind her.
At night the streets are lined with tents. This is the only expressly legal thing going on in Skid Row. Years ago it was decided that tents were temporarily legal in that district between dusk and dawn until the city could pull itself together and provide somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 beds for the homeless. That never happened. Meanwhile, the local police station has accused cops and hospitals from surrounding areas of relocating the homeless they stumble across to Skid Row, the foster system has been accused of being a major source of the problem as kids turn eighteen and find themselves with nowhere to go, and the mental health system doesn't know what to do when patients would prefer to live with their illnesses than with the side effects of their medications. Skid Row is the answer we got when we as a society refuse to provide one ourselves.
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