Jean Barker

Cosy in Koreatown, Los Angeles

2013-11-29 09:55

Jean Barker

I'm snotty and sneezing. My hands are swollen. Both toenails are broken, and one is bleeding. I think I sprained my shoulder. There's something under my nails but I don't know what it is. And yet I'm really happy.

Yeah, you guessed it. I just moved into a new apartment, finally leaving the little town of Orange behind to set up home in Los Angeles. Only making a film is more exhausting. Making a film is like moving house and staging a wedding simultaneously. Sometimes it's like getting evicted and organizing an elaborate funeral simultaneously. But enough about my career...

I often write about what is different here in the USA. I can tell you, however, that one thing is exactly the same here as it is in South Africa: finding an apartment.

Stage One: The impossible dream

It begins with falling in love with living in a particular place. I originally crushed on Venice Beach (hippies and beach), West Hollywood (gay and party), and Los Feliz (hip, nearby park). Then I started cruising for a place and quickly found that the apartments - even the tiniest economy units or shared apartments listed on Padmapper - were way outside my price range.

Stage Two: Compromise

Now I was open to Mid-Wilshire area. Or Downtown. Downtown has a lot of police helicopters shining lights into your window. Mid-Wilshire tends to be cramped. But they're both very walkable and close to the metro. I called and made a few appointments.

At the first place, the agent led me through the front door, directly onto the bathroom. At least, that's how it smelled... But no, this stinking cupboard was the apartment. It also had a "kitchenette". Translating from agent-speak, a "kitchenette" is, in fact, just a fridge plugged into the wall of the living area. $799? You gotta be kidding. And to qualify, I had to be salaried at 2.5 times that per month. And here is where I learned that rental agents are the same wherever you go: "You won't find anything this good in LA for this price", she said, proudly talking up her little hovel. "Cosy!" I replied. She smiled, pleased that I spoke her language.

The next place I saw was virtually a crack den. The manager at the following place told me I didn't qualify, having assured me before I drove up to LA that I did. The manager at the third place said the apartment was open and told me to just go let myself in. She wasn't kidding. And other potential tenants had been using the bathroom enthusiastically despite the lack of toilet paper!

Stage Three: Settling down

I needed to rethink my glamorous plans, I realised. And that's how I wound up in Koreatown - LA's most ethnically diverse neighbourhood, and by far the most welcoming to me, financially and otherwise. After a two-day hunt, I'd been approved, and I went ahead and signed 300 pages of documents promising that I wouldn't sue if I got cancer, died, fell down the stairs, or discovered my apartment was haunted. Why not? I loved Korea. I loved the wooden floors. Noise isn't really a problem after my two years in Sea Point. I also figured getting up at 6am to move my car every morning would be really good for my work routine. $70 fines are surprisingly motivational.

And then I spent four days carrying things up stairs and injuring myself. This better be worth it, I thought, as I lugged yet another inexplicable box of who knows what from my car.

Late on the first night, I lay dozing off in the LA never-dark, watching cars' headlights cross the high ceilings of my own  newly-painted, newly-disinfected, newly-sprayed bachelor unit, surrounded by chaos, having flushed the broken toilet with a bucket.

A couple screamed at each other in Spanish in the apartment next door. On the busy corner below my window, a cop pulled someone over for something or other they did or didn't do.  Someone drove by with rap music blasting. I smiled as I listened to the sounds of the city, the sea of human insanity and crazy Hollywood dreams and other possibilities.

Ah... yes. Home, again.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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