It’s Monday of my second week in Louisiana, my fifth day in NOLA proper., since Peter brought me over here last Wednesday night. I have only two more days here, and two nights. I’m leaving Wednesday morning from the Amtrak station in NOLA. Actually of course I’m leaving from here on the bus I always take, the 94, which stops under the oak tree right across the street. I know how to connect to the Amtrak station bus to the Airport, for $2. That’s the Jefferson Parish bus line, and to get half-price fare for seniors, you have to go to some hard-to-find office. Not worth it for one trip.
The NOLA bus system is much better about that. It’s only 40 cents for a trip including transfer, if you are a senior and show your ID proving age over 65. I feel sorry for the poor people I see paying $1.25 plus 25 cents for a transfer, but there’s not much I can do about it. Last night I gave away my transfer when I realized I’d rather go back on the same line I came on than see another part of town on Sunday night when it was dark and everyone was saying how they’d been waiting an hour since so few buses were running. I hadn’t planned that, and even now that I think about it, anyone who needs a transfer has probably bought it already. But I’ll keep my eyes open to see if I can help anyone else.
That woman I gave the transfer to had the most pathetic life story, which she told to a young guy who came along to wait for the bus after getting off his shift at Wendy’s. She asked him how much Wendy’s paid, he said $7.25 per hour, and she was off to tell how she had been disabled since the 1980s and had not had a job since then. He said that was before he was born, since he was 31. I looked at him and he looked younger than that, and I thought what is a 31-year-old doing working at Wendy’s. He seemed smart and was very polite and personable. Maybe some people just need to do some financial planning here. I graduated from law school when I was 31. It wasn’t that easy to do that, or even to decide to do it. I remember saying maybe I would be too old to just be strating as a lawyer so I shouldn’t go back to school after teaching for five years as I had done, and my sister Phyllis saying, “Brenda, how old will you be in four years if you don’t go to law school?” Smart.
Back to the disabled woman. She said she had had two strokes and a nervous breakdown and then couldn’t work anymore, and then she told us her son had broken into her house and beat her up last year—for which he went to jail for eight months, where he still is—so she lost her $60 per month house she rented a few blocks from where we were, by the Gentilly Winn-Dixie. She had asked me for $2 for bus fare when I first came up, and I’d given her 50 cents, then later had given her my transfer. She said the 50 cents got her through what she needed for today, and she had appointments she had to go to Tuesday and Wednesday so she’d have to get that money somehow. I hope the transfer got her one trip on Tuesday.
Anyway, she had had Section 8, she said, but was disqualified for some reason—probably her son beating her up and trashing the house—so she had to go to an interview and try to get back on. I listened to her telling the young guy her story and I thought my gosh, why doesn’t she disappear away from that son. I know I would. It wouldn’t be easy, but people really do need to plan and execute the plan for decent lives for themselves. I wouldn’t make much of a social worker or therapist because I’d think this is hopeless, face it, and move on. It’s that easy, and if you don’t look at things that way, you’re stuck.
Then I started thinking about the claim against the City of Santa Monica and the Rent Control Board about eliminating 109 low-rent housing spaces (for people who bought their own mobile homes and rent the spaces, covered by rent control. Michael and I decided to do that so we’d have something permanent to salvage from my getting divorced from Floyd and having to sell our mansion in the Hollywood Hills. We therefore bought that trailer with $16,500 from the proceeds of my half of the sale 25 years ago. Is doing that claim the same kind of losing proposition this disabled woman was describing? Should I just move on instead?
It’s true that we’ve had a great benefit from having that space for 25 years. Maybe we should be grateful we had it and look forward rather than trying to keep what we have.
We’ve had $300 per month rent in a place where other people had to pay $1,500 per month for studio apartments.
We’ve had our wonderful yard. (Peter texted me last night that there are chayote squashes growing, finally, on the plants. They have had enormous leaves, bigger than two hands each, and vines of hundreds of those leaves spreading from the NE back corner of the house all the way along the N side of the roof edge to the NW edge, in three or four rows Peter trained along bamboo poles with rope and wire to catch tendrils to. There are so many of them they have hidden our patio chairs on the roof from view. Those vines had grown about half that big and that much when I planted another chayote I got at the Mexican market, since the lack of fruit might mean they needed pollinating from another plant. I don’t know if that is what has made them have squashes or not. Maybe they just had to grow 1,000 leaves before they grew a squash. That’s the disadvantage of just planting things and seeing what happens the way we do. Sometimes you don’t know how to interpret what you see happen. Anyway, it’s great to be having chayotes.) We’ve had fresh tomatoes and peppers and herbs, and strawberries and potatoes we haven’t had much success with yet, growing in burlap bags, and now we’ve planted artichokes, two out of four of which appear to be going to make it. We don’t have enough sun because of the ficus tree from Gail’s yard next door, but we are going to trim all the limbs on our side this fall and do better.
We’ve had great privacy, no connecting walls with any neighbors and then this year, high fences hiding the views from front and back at ground level, and keeping people from walking under our windows as they had started doing since the owners stopped renting spaces out when people moved.
We’ve had great neighbors, some we’ve known for 10-15 years. Michael has known some of the older men for 25 years.
We’ve had permanence someplace, even as we moved our main residences to Arizona and Nevada and then to the California desert near Palm Springs and then to the high desert 25 miles from there, in Joshua Tree. Then we had a residence to move to when Autumn needed to go to school to play CIF basketball.
All of that is what rent control gave us.
But no matter how great it has been, we are entitled under the law to have in the future as well as the past what we bargained for 25 years ago. Rent control still exists in Santa Monica, so we are entitled to the same protection from having our homes taken away that every other tenant in town—even City Council and Rent Control Board members, if they were tenants—would be entitled to have. Which they are not, so that’s the rub. It’s a class thing, pure and simple, and the difference between fighting a losing battle to keep living where your mentally ill son can keep coming to wreck your life, and fighting for legal rights you and everyone like you are entitled to, is the difference between how that poor woman has just fallen into a sad life, and how and why I went to law school.
The rights of the working poor—which is what even a former lawyer like me becomes when she becomes older and not fully employed, when her husband becomes disabled, when life changes in ways we didn’t plan for whether or not we could—are entitled to be defended. That’s what Home Grown Food Network is about, and that’s what my whole life has been about. It’s right to do this claim, and it is right to win at it, as we will, against all odds. My life has shown me you can fight City Hall and win, so I have no doubt this next fight is the right one for us.
Brenda Barnes, President
Home Grown Food Network, Inc.
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