Tales of the Tenderloin

by Douma

This issue: "John George"

March 1993: Looking for a great apartment at low rent is what drove me to the TL I guess. The preferred homestead would be in the back of the building, top floor, off the street, hardwood floors, lots of light. The address listed in the paper was familiar. The building was "shady" but the rent was cheap. I check it out. The manager is Ricardo, a queeny older Latino man. He shows me some of the many vacant apartments in the building but I sense he's holding something back...the apartment I'm seeing in my mind.. I keep asking, "Do you have anything else to look at?" And finally, after much genuine reluctance, he apologetically shows it to me. He tells me it's in need of cleaning and fresh paint but he will cut a deal on the rent and give me a few weeks to clean it up before I move. I see the place, my place, and grab up the offer.

Filthy is an enormously inadequate word. The walls and ceiling were black with mildew, roaches dead and alive were everywhere, the hardwood floor was covered with a generic blue carpet that was soiled to the point where it actually had "trails" (one to the kitchen, one to the bathroom, etc.). I realized someone had either died in this place and/or had been on their death bed for months, if not years. Over the course of the next month or so the cast of characters in the building present themselves. There's Ricardo and his "helper", Angel, who really is like this tall, dark angel... maybe 18 years old, fresh from Mexico, innocent and speaking no English. Then there's Gloria the transvestite prostitute who works her trade from her street level, street-side apartment. And then there are these hillbilly "tweaker" types. They hang out with Ricardo and Angel a lot. Many evenings I see them all together going into or leaving Ricky's place. I presume they are watching porn videos or something. By this time I had cleaned and repainted and moved into my apartment. My next project was the large, unused garden in the backyard.

As I come and go the person I keep encountering is John George, one of the hillbilly dudes. He's short, hirsute, with bright red hair that is coarse and wiry, barrel-chested, blue eyes, in his early twenties.

One day I was working in the backyard, trying to turn a plot of dirt and nettles into the garden I had in mind, when John George called down from his apartment window. We struck up a conversation about something irrelevant and he invited me over when I finished. His apartment was small and sparsely furnished as in a bed, two old comfy chairs, a TV. He says he has no food, only Kool-Aid to drink. I don't remember what was on TV. Peripherally, I see mice running around the room and then very much directly see them running about and naturally hearing them as well. After a while John George says, "Did you hear a mouse? I think there are mice in this apartment."

I say, "I think I heard a mouse."

A short time later he falls asleep and I think to myself, Well... now what?

It seems impolite to leave, but I am beginning to wonder what I'm doing there. He wakes up soon, I excuse myself, leave, and never see him again, literally.

He simply disappears.

A few weeks passed and our building was bought by some other management company. Hence, Ricardo lost his job and had to move.

He had promised me keys for the storage closet in the hallway and I realized it was now or never. I had his new phone number at new building manager job he had and so I called him. We made arrangements for me to stop by and get the keys and I had to ask, "There was a guy living in the building... third floor, white guy... what happened to him?"

Ricardo says, "OH!...HIM! He got arrested for bank robbing. He's in jail!"

I say, "What?"

He says, "Yeah, him and his boyfriend were in southern California robbing banks and he got arrested. The FBI caught him."

And I say, "Oh yeah, one day a few weeks ago I saw these three guys in the building and they were huge, like football players, and they looked like they had flack jackets on underneath their coats." Ricky says, "Yeah, they got arrested and he's at 850 Bryant." (SF County Jail).

The next morning, early, the phone rings. To my surprise, it's John George. He says, "Ricky called and said you asked about me. I'm at 850 Bryant and they're holding me on bank robbing."

I say, "Yeah, Ricardo told me yesterday. What happened?"

He says, "Well, Ricky was talking to me on the phone one day and he asked me how I was doing and I said 'Not so good. My boyfriend has been gone for a week... he's robbing banks in southern California.' Then the next day these guys from the FBI were at my door. I don't think Ricky snitched on me," he said, in a questioning tone.

I say nothing and John continues his story, telling about how he had been cooking beans on the stove when the FBI came and had forgot to turn them off and how he agreed to go in for questioning and how they asked him to sign the back of a bank camera photograph to indicate that it wasn't him even though it didn't look like him at all and how the FBI then turned around and said the signature equaled confession to the robbery.

And then he remembered the beans were still on the stove and they sent someone back to check on them. He also said the charges might be dropped anytime and he might be getting out the very next day.

I say something like, "I wondered what happened to you so I asked Ricky. I hope things work out for you."

I never heard anything of him since. One time I did see Ricardo. I asked him how Angel was doing. He said,

"He moved back to Mexico City. He has a performance, a show he does... exotic or whatever you call it."