Nowadays my office spans from Gage to Venice on the Western Avenue corridor, from Hollywood to South Central Los Angeles. Often I wonder why I am here; “here” meaning where I work, mainly on the streets, homes and foster homes of urban Los Angeles looking for teenagers with psychological problems and emotional disturbances.
The mission for the past nine days has been to locate a young El Salvadorian refugee girl with a dual diagnosis of depression and substance abuse. Pathology aside, the kid has been dealt a horrible hand; a deported drug addicted mother for one. Her father sentenced to a wheelchair legless due to a land mine explosion while protecting his little patch of land in El Salvador.
She hasn’t seen either parent since she was two years old. The two paternal aunts who are in the U.S. with her are barely scraping by, and lost control of the child to the local street gang or “Mara” as they are called in their Pico/Union neighborhood. Pathology front and center is a neat little label that is easier for us to digest than the rawness and ferociousness of the cruel existence of the kid.
My mind’s hooks grasp to the Eagles’ lyric, “And I found out a long time ago/What a woman can do to your soul…” Like a wounded jellyfish, the mind’s barbs are quickly retrieved because of the 5:53 p.m. breeze slithering under my nose and oozing down my bronchioles. Dog shit, human shit, generic weed, Chinese food grease, pigeon dust, gutters, piss, vomit, cheap perfume, sweat, menthols, crack and bus emissions fill the depths of my lungs. The paintings of this week’s office “walls” are alive with signs of a different “version” of life.
This version of life is a far cry from the safety of the security guarded office, the luxury of the commute in my car, the corporate meetings afforded to me to complain about bagels, the report writing allowing me to have sway of whether a child goes home or stays in an anesthetized institution void of any kind of living.
At 6:32 p.m. I am jolted by an ambulance stopping at a housing project on Western and 62nd. Another body sheathed in white, another story gone by. I’ve seen many white sheets sitting atop bodies similar to when a momma chicken sits on her chicks. For the homeless ilk as I’ve seen at the coroner’s office or the alleys over on the Nickel, sheets are of a bio-hazard baby blue.