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The Motel Family: Part Six

The Motel Family: Part Six.


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The Motel Family: Part Six

English: Virgin Mary statue in Kuźnica. Polski...


©  Copyright  2013   by Sara Jacobelli

A Shoot-Out at the Getaway Motel


Sunday, December 20, 1981


Cara Nonna:


Last week was our last week of school before Christmas Break and it was pretty exciting. First of all, Mama let me skip school on Monday and go with her to the Bastille Bar in the French Quarter.  She wanted to talk to the owner, Mr. Carlo Morelli, about getting a bartending job there.

Tootsie was working. She had her wild Red Hair piled on top of her head, and make-up on to try to cover her freckles.  Her long fingernails were painted Hot Pink, and her big boobs were spilling out of her pink halter top. The top had a glittery smiling flamingo on it, to match the pink flamingo tattooed on her shoulder. I’d love a top like that, but I know what Mama would say. “You’re flat-chested, what’s the point?” And Papa would say, “That’s clothes for a puttana.”

Me and Mama sat at the bar together, and Tootsie gave Mama a Dixie beer and fixed me a Cherry Coke. (Coke with Grenadine splashed in and some REAL cherries on top). Mr. Morelli came in. Everyone says he is some kind of Big Gangster, so I was surprised to see him. I thought he would be Big and Mean like Gangsters in the Movies. He was nothing like that. He wasn’t very tall, and he had shiny silver hair and blue blue blue eyes and neatly manicured fingernails and wore tight Designer Jeans. He took his hand and shifted his nuts in his Jeans a few times, which made me and Mama look at each other and Giggle. He was really nice, though.

“Carmela. Such a pretty name.” He smiled at Mama. She was wearing her best clothes, a silky purple top and tight black pants. “So you wanta work here, babe. You ever bartend before?” He climbed up and sat on the bar and watched the door while they talked. People kept coming in to talk to him, usually men. He waved them away. He drank a plain ginger ale.

Tootsie winked at me and pretended to wipe down the bar with a bar rag while she listened. The only customer was an old man drinking coffee sitting at the other end of the bar. The bar was plain and dreary, with no decorations. There was a Jukebox but no Pool Table. The narrow room was too small to even fit a Pool Table in. Even in the daytime the place was dark.

“Well, once before. At the Sugar Shack that used to be on Chartres Street?  The Jukebox had all 50s music on it? Joe’s place, Joe, what’s-his-name? He ran off with that girl Cricket, the dancer? Cricket or Crystal, I think?”

“Yeah, Joe Gemelli’s Old Joint. I remember it. They used to get a lot of dancers in that place. Right between a coupla strip clubs.” He jumped down off the bar to shake some guy’s hand who just walked in the door. “Give him a drink, babe,” he told Tootsie. The guy was wearing an expensive-looking suit and a Gangster hat and had a gold and diamond Pinky Ring. Mama’s eyebrows went up when she saw that big ring.  He downed his drink, nodded at Mr. Morellii, pointed at the shiny Rolex on his wrist, and left.

“Well, this isn’t a bad place to work. And I’m easy to get along with. My Main Rule is: Don’t Lie To Me.” He looked first at Mama, then at me. For the first time I saw how intense his blue eyes could be. He touched Mama on the arm. “If you NEED something. Anything. Money. A Day Off. Whatever. Just tell me. Don’t play games with me. And I’ll see what I can do. I can be your Best Friend. Or I can be your Worst Enemy. It’s all up to you.”

He lit Mama’s cigarette.  A few other customers drifted in. He waved at Tootsie, “Give the House a Round, babe.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Mr. Morelli. I really need this job. I mean, I got kids. I got three kids to feed.” Mama smiled her best smile.

“You can call me Carlo. And you—-“he ruffled my hair.”  My face turned red. “You can call me Mr. Carlo.” He smelled of good cologne. I wished Papa would wear that cologne.

“But is your Old Man that Riccio guy? Tough looking, useta box a little, plays poker?” Mr. Carlo looked at Mama. Concern spread across his face. “Siciliano?”

“Yes, he was born in Palermo.  Came here when he was about fourteen. And I’m half Irish, half Sicilian.” Mama sipped her beer.  She looked a little nervous.

Tootsie gave me a handful of quarters for the Jukebox, I took my time picking out songs because I wanted to hear every word of their conversation.

Mr. Carlo leaned in close to Mama. “Tell him I said it’s against the Rules for my female bartenders to have their old men hanging around during their Shift.” He tapped his fingers on the bar for emphasis. “It’s bad for Business, they get Jealous. Plus there’s too much Temptation to give them Free Drinks.” He shifted his nuts again. “and that one, Tony? He’s a Hot Head, you won’t make any tips with him watching you like a Hawk.”  He looked Mama up and down. “You’re a good lookin broad. Bella.”

“You mean I got the job?” Mama asked. She almost seemed like she was Flirting with him.

“Sure. You can start tomorrow. Thirty a shift, plus tips. Everybody else pays Twenty five.” He pointed at me. “And with those kids you should be working the Day Shift.”

Mama frowned. “The Night Shift is better tips though.”

Mr. Carlo looked at me. “Hey, young lady, did you just play Summer Wind? You like Sinatra?”

“Yeah. He has Blue Eyes like you.”

He laughed. “This one, she don’t miss a trick.” He looked at his watch. “I’ve gotta go, I got appointments.”

“Mr. Morelli, um, Carlo,” Mama said. “I want to get one of the apartments upstairs, if any are available.”

He frowned. “I should have one coming up. It’s small, just one bedroom. It’s two hundred a month, but for my bartenders I only charge one seventy five. Not the best place for kids. My girls are in Metry, Catt-lick School.” He looked at me. “That’s best for kids, safe neighborhood. A pool in the yard.”

“We’re staying in a Motel on Tulane Avenue right now,” I said.

“Are you serious? Babe, those Dives are Dangerous, no place for a family. Nothin but Drugs, Pimps, and Hookers.”

Mama looked at me. I wasn’t sure if I said the right thing or not.

“It’s true. I can’t even make a decent Spaghetti and Red Gravy for my husband.”

“Hey, I’m Siciliano. We gotta stick together. I’ll see what I can do about the apartment.” He leaned in close. “No drugs? You’re not into coke or nothin?”

Mama shook her head. “No drugs, I got kids.”

“And no drug dealing in my joint. I don’t care what you do outside of here, but no dealing in here. Got it?”

Mama nodded her head up and down.

“You don’t got no trouble with the CPS do you? Tootsie’s had problems with them.”

“No, they never bothered us.”

“And you don’t have a Police Record, do you? I’m gonna have to get you a Manager’s License. You have to have one to tend bar.”

Mama’s face darkened with worry. “But how much will that License cost?”

“Don’t worry. $150 bucks. But I’ll take out $50 a week and you’ll have it paid in no time. Now, I could get ya a License if you have a Record, but it’d cost more.”

“No, no record. I’m clean.”

“Tootsie, give er a bar napkin an a pen. Write down your name and date of birth, for the License.” He started for the door. Then he turned around.

“Aren’t you supposeta be in school?”

“Um, I’m so Smart, they gave me the Day Off.”

He laughed. “Baby, remember this. You can’t Bullshit a Bullshitter.” Mama and I both laughed. Mr. Carlo laughed too, on his way out the door.

Tootsie came down to our end of the bar. “So it’s cool, you got the job? Let’s celebrate, girl.” she poured herself and Mama shots of Jose Cuervo and they clinked glasses.

“Mama, give me a sip.” I took a sip but it was some Nasty Stuff.

“If I could make some Decent Tips, I could get us out of that Hell-Hole,” Mama put her arm around me. “I think he really liked Dani.”

“He’s got two girls, she probably reminds him of them.”

“We only got one problem. Gotta make sure my old man don’t get too jealous.”

“Honey, we all got that problem. But we’re Young.” Tootsie downed her shot and poured another one. “When we’re Old, we won’t have to worry. Nobody’ll want us then.”

A song came on the Jukebox that I played, Hot Child in the City, and Tootsie came out from behind the bar. The three of us sang along, and danced to it, bumping our butts into each other, gasping with laughter, ignoring the old man at the end of the bar, who kept holding up his coffee cup expecting a refill.


Virgin Mary statue by Hoover Dam, NV

Me and Mama walked down Toulouse to Dauphine Street and headed towards Canal Street.

“Honey, we need to get Papa a job. Then he’ll feel better.”

“Do we have enough bus fare?”

Mama pulled out all the change in her pockets and we counted it.

“Yeah, we have enough.”

“Maybe when you get paid, we can go to Central Grocery and get muffelattas. And donuts and coffee at Café du Monde. And get a good apizza.”

“Honey, stop. You’re making me hungry. And we’re all out of Food Stamps. And I’ve got to use some of these quarters to wash my clothes for work.”

“Mama, maybe we can put up a Christmas Tree in the New Apartment.”

“Maybe. We’ll see,” Mama got a far-away look in her eyes. I hate it when she says We’ll see. That usually means Never.

“Mama, look. It’s the Virgin Mary.” We both stopped and looked at the Virgin Statue tucked in between two buildings. She was painted blue and white, and tucked in almost shyly behind an iron fence.

“Oh, I love her. She’s the Blessed Virgin of Dauphine Street.” Mama laughed. “You know, your Papa useta give her a dollar here and there for good luck—when he was waiting tables in the Quarter. “ She giggled. “Sometimes I would sneak over and take it back.”

“Mama, that’s wrong! We should give her something. For the new job and the new apartment. And maybe a job for Papa too.”

“Well, she just gets a quarter today.” Mama got down on her knees, reached through the fence, and carefully placed a quarter by the Virgin’s feet, crossing herself as she stood up.

We got to Canal Street and waited and waited and waited for the bus. Wasn’t there a song like that, Forever and A Day? That’s how long we waited.

Finally it came. It was so crowded we had to stand.  Mostly women, carting crying babies and strollers and little kids and grocery bags.  Young women and old grandmas, all of us squished together. I wondered why Mama was so quiet.

“Mama, what’s CPS?”

“Child Protection Services. They take away your kids.”

An older black lady with what looked to be her grandson sitting on her lap, nodded her head. She held the boy close. “It’s true. Yes, indeed,” she said. “They’ll take your babies if you don’t tow the line. Thank the Good Lord I got my grandbaby Myron back. Yes, indeed, yes.”

“They’re not going to take US, are they?” Mama and I both held onto the straps as the bus jostled to a stop and more people squeezed on.

“No, honey. But we have to watch out for them. They took Dakota and put her in Foster Care once. They take Poor People’s kids any chance they get.”

“Why don’t they take Rich People’s Kids?”

“Because they got Lawyers. Lawyers cost a lot of money.” Mama sighed and looked out the window. “And Rich People don’t take the bus either. They drive Big Fancy Cars.”

When we got to the Motel, she grabbed my arm as we walked upstairs to Our Room.

“Don’t tell Papa yet, about my job. Fill out some of those applications for him, OK.”

“But Mama, I want to tell Gino and Antonietta!”

“Not yet, honey. With men, you have to take your time. Tell them things in a certain way. You’ll understand in a few years. You promise?”

“Yes, I promise. But Mama, why can’t Papa learn to read in English? I could teach him.”

“Honey, don’t even mention it. Besides, he can’t read in Italian either.” She lowered her voice. “He can’t read at all. He only went to school for first and second grade. Then he went to work.”


The Little Kids were sitting on the bed watching TV and Papa was taking a shower.

”WE’RE HUNGRY!!!” they clambered all over Mama as we walked into the cluttered room.

Mama yelled, “Turn that TV down, pick up this God-Damned Mess, and we’ll all eat some Cheerios!”

“There all gone! There’s nothing left to eat!”

“Mama, you swore,” Antonietta said, in a small voice. Her dark eyes widened.

Mama sighed. “I’m sorry baby. I shouldn’t say that, but I’m mad at God right now. He’s not Helping Us.” She pulled Antonietta onto her Lap. For a minute I was Jealous. I wished I was as small and trusting as Antonietta.

Papa came out of the shower. He had on boxer shorts and a towel around his shoulders. You could tell he used to box by how powerful his brown chest and brown arms looked.

“BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!”  It was the loudest noise I ever heard, so close that me and the Little Kids put our hands over our ears. Antonietta started to cry. It had to be gun shots; it was a million times louder than Fireworks.

Papa sprang to Action like a Fireman. “Tutti scendere! Ora! Down! Everyone! On the floor! E’ pericoloso!”

We all lay down on the floor between the beds and Papa grabbed his gun. He crouched by the door. He put his finger to his lips. Mama lay on the floor with us, her arms spread over us.

“BOOM! BOOM!” Two more shots. The noise was so powerful it went through my entire body. I was sure it pierced my ear drums. There was something about that sound. A finality to it.  A gun shot sounds like an Ending, I thought. An Ending to a Life.

Someone was Screaming, but it was Impossible to Tell if it was a Man or a Woman or even a Child.  Sounds of someone running, of sneakered feet slapping the pavement.

Then someone else yelled, and threw something. Doors slammed, Motel room doors and car doors. A car screeched away. Then I heard a siren, either a police car or an ambulance. That was quickly followed by more sirens.

All the Sounds were Amplified. Antonietta crying— I could feel her tiny body shaking. Gino was soundless, his eyes closed, his small hands bunched into fists. Papa was silent as a panther, crouched by the door with his gun. I could hear everyone breathing. Mama still had her arms over us, as if she could use the force of her Love to shield us from gun shots.

“He’ll Protect us,” Mama whispered into my ear. “That’s what men do.”


Photo Credits:  “Jukebox,”  by AJ Wms.  License CC NonCommercial. Flickr.

“Virgin Mary Statue by Hoover Dam, NV,” by Jacob WF. CC License NonCommercial ShareAlike.

“Virgin Mary Statue in Ku’znika, Polski,” by Wikipedia.


Hot Child in the City. 1978. From the album City Nights. Written and recorded by Nick Gilder.

Summer Wind. Frank Sinatra. 1965. Music by Heinz Meier. Lyrics by Jonny Mercer.




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The Motel Family: Part Five

The Motel Family:  Part Five.

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The Motel Family: Part Five


© Copyright 2013 by Sara Jacobelli

Mama Gets Robbed at the Circle K



Sunday, December 13, 1981

Cara Nonna:

I have a lot to tell you. You wouldn’t believe what has been going on around here. Papa is still selling Weed. So far, he hasn’t gotten busted. Mama gets mad because he blows too much money betting the horses at the Fairgrounds racetrack. Sometimes, when he is sound asleep, Mama sneaks into his wallet and carefully takes out some money. Some ones, a five, or even a ten. She can’t take too much or he will figure it out.

Well, Friday night, one of the things I was afraid of finally happened.  Mama got robbed while working the nightshift at the Circle K  store. That store has been held up three times since she has been working there, but never on her shift before.

Some skinny young guy about sixteen years old came in and stuck a gun in her face demanding money.  His hand was shaking. Mama said the gun was bigger than he was. She gave him the money in the register. Only about fifty, sixty bucks. She said all she could think about was who would take care of us kids if something happened to her.

The policeman gave her a ride back to the Motel. Papa was mad about that. He didn’t like the idea of her being in a car with another man, especially a cop. Then he told Mama, “Couldn’t you have stuck a couple twenties under the tray for us?” Poor Mama, she gets robbed, almost gets killed, and she gets no sympathy.

That night she told us she was quitting her job. “It’s not worth it, not for Minimum Wage,” she said, shaking her head. “Tomorrow, I’m going to see if I can get a bartending job where Tootsie works.” She took some Goody Powders for a bad headache.

Mama’s friend Tootsie bartends at the Bastille in the French Quarter. Mama said she could make good tips there, plus the bar owner has Apartments that he rents out. “I don’t really want you kids living upstairs from a bar,” she said, lighting a cigarette. “But it’s better than this. At least they have little kitchens.”

Mama hates not having a kitchen to cook meals in. It’s such a hassle to cook on the hotplate that we end up eating Cheerios for breakfast and more Cheerios for dinner,  or ham and cheese sandwiches, or getting Popeye’s or McDonald’s. Mama says she wants to make us some Spaghetti and some good Red Gravy.

After hugging Mama tightly, the Little Kids fell back asleep. I stayed up late with her and Papa. “Do I have to go to school tomorrow?” I asked. Mama shook her head. “No, honey, that’s OK. You can go with me to the Bastille.”

Papa grabbed Mama roughly by her shoulders. “I don’t like for you to work in a bar,” he said. His accent gets thicker when he’s mad. His eyes get even darker and his scars make him look scary.

“Look, you wanta move outta this place, or what?”  Mama stood her ground. She knew he’d hit her more if she worked in a bar. Papa goes into these Jealous Rages if he even thinks another man is looking at her. She also knew the money was better than at the Circle K.  I was surprised Papa didn’t start yelling and throwing things.  He climbed onto the bed and kicked his shoes off,   put his arm around her. “I don’t want you to work at that store. You coulda been killed. Maybe the bar is better.” He leaned against her shoulder the way Gino does when he’s in trouble.

“We might get an apartment right next to Tootsie and Dakota?” I asked Mama.

“Yes, honey.  But I don’t want you Running the Streets with Dakota.”

Papa found a channel that had some old Twilight Zones and Outer Limits shows.

“Oh, I love these. These shows are what I useta watch when I was a kid,” Mama said.

“Black and white? It looks so funny.” I poured water into the pan and heated it up on the hot plate to make instant hot chocolate.  I filled a mug for each of us and sat between them while we watched TV. She leaned across me and touched his hair.

“Gino’s going to be handsome like you. Bello. With that thick black shiny curly hair. And that darkskin.”

“And Antonietta’s  gonna be pretty like you, Mama,” I said. “But what about me?”

“She not so bella, more like smart,” Papa said.

“That’s mean,” I said. “You’re calling me Ugly. Brutta. Just because I wear glasses.”

“Stop it, you’re not Ugly, you’re not brutta, you’re Cute,” she said, sipping her hot chocolate. “But more important than that, you’re Smart.”

“Too Smart. Smart fucking Mouth.” he said. “I hope she marries a man who’ll keep her in line. A Siciliano.”

I fell asleep in their bed. I was vaguely aware of Papa picking me up and gently laying me on a pile of pillows and blankets on the floor. All night I dreamed about Mama at the Circle K getting robbed. In my Dream, she took the teenage robber’s Gun and chased him all around the Store. She grabbed him by the shoulders, shook his skinny body, and screamed at him, “What would your Mama think? You out robbing people like this?”


Nonna, please take care of yourself. I hope you are doing well. Does it snow it Italy? Will it snow for Christmas? It doesn’t snow here except once every hundred years. My Big Wish for Christmas is to get Our Own Apartment and to not be in the Getaway Motel by Christmas Eve.  I’ll let you know if that really happens!

Love, Dani


PS:  We couldn’t play outside at the Sands Motel on Airline Highway because the traffic was too dangerous. Now we can’t play outside at the Getaway Motel on Tulane Avenue because the traffic is too dangerous and there are Drug Dealers and Prostitutes and other Unsavory Characters here. So we are all Cooped Up in this Room. The only games the Little Kids know how to play are Candyland and Shoots and Ladders. I wish Mama would play Monopoly or Scrabble or Life with me but she’s always too tired from working. Mama says that she is “already playing the Game of Life, and Losing.” (Whatever that means).

PSS:  I went back to our old Apartment on Spain Street. I sat on the front stoop and talked to the Lady who lives there. Her name is Miss Franny and she has two little boys. She said she sees Old Mr. Kitty sometimes, and puts out food for him.  He still hasn’t come close enough to let her pet him.

PSSS:  I learned something, Nonna. If you love someone, hold them real close. You never know when you can lose them. I just can’t imagine life without Mama. Now every time I hear her laugh, or smell the shampoo in her hair, or watch her tuck in the Little Kids at Bedtime, I think of how close we came to losing her.  It makes my heart stop for just a second, and tiny little goosebumps crawl up my arms.



Photo Credit: “Twenties,” by The.Comedian.  License CC NonCommercial. Flickr.

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The Heiress and The Transvestite: Part One

The Heiress and The Transvestite: Part One

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The Heiress and The Transvestite: Part One

It is with great pleasure that I introduce guest blogger Susan S. Barmon. Susan and I met in San Francisco’s North Beach in the 1990s. The City was still reeling from the AIDS epidemic, and at the same time undergoing rapid gentrification. We enjoyed walking and talking around North Beach, dropping into various cafes and bars. The views were gorgeous, the people quirky. And due to skyrocketing rentals, we knew our days in the hood were numbered. Susan will be periodically presenting her Slice of Life Stories here on Capitare a Fagiolo. SJ

My story started unbeknownst to me when we moved to San Francisco in 1992. Four years later we returned to our planet, east of the Mississippi, and I began sorting through the unforgettable people I met while living in the west. The Slice of Life Series began with The Heiress and Transvestite.  

  Susan S. Barmon


Slice of Life Stories

Fiction by Susan S. Barmon

© copyright 2013  All Rights reserved

The Heiress and the Transvestite: Part One

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm ...

There’s a “Raver” in North Beach who spends most of his days in Washington Square Park disrupting traffic on Columbus Ave. He’s in good shape and appears to work out regularly. Briskly marching around the park he rants to fat people about the importance of exercise, inevitably belittling what he perceives to be their rich, comfortable lifestyle. When finished he turns abruptly, picking up his pace in preparation to deliver his message to the next “victim.” It was a warm spring evening when he marched in front of us. Not being overweight I was a little surprised to be face to face with him and got a weird feeling in my stomach wondering what the “message” would be. The Raver had another mission in mind. His destination was the three foot tall concrete column latitude marker, engraved 37 degrees, 47 min., 57 seconds N., embedded in the grass yards from where we were sitting. Jumping up on it and balancing precariously on the pointed top, he started to rant.

“North Beach and San Francisco are all about money and trust fund kids.” He got louder, complaining about the selfishness of “the idle rich in North Beach and their lack of soul.”

Little did he know how timely the message was for us. That very morning The Heiress had given us our thirty day notice to vacate our apartment. Illegally evicted. Shocked, we were trying to wrap our heads around what eviction would entail, when the Raver screamed at the top of his lungs

“It’s all about the money!”

In the weeks following the eviction notice our lives were slipping out from under us like a cheap rug. We needed a lawyer. Careening between feeling murderously angry and total despair at the thought of being homeless, anyone within earshot knew we were looking for a place to live. Betty, who owned the cleaners two doors from our flat, let us put a sign in her window. She hated The Heiress because the Transvestite, whom she  lived with in her North Beach flat, never paid his cleaning bills. Actually, he always “forgot” his wallet until “the next time.” The Heiress, embarrassed and not willing to settle his bill, went to her competitor up the block.

Once again our lives were a big question mark at the whim of someone else. It was those exact circumstances that brought us to California. My husband’s twenty-three year airline pilot career ended in the company declaring bankruptcy and my job in retail advertising went out of business. When employment in the west was offered, Matt had been teaching flying and wondering how much longer he could hold life as he knew it together.

Seemed like we couldn’t afford to take the job and we couldn’t afford not to. And, he told himself, being an executive at a professional flight school could be a good thing. My mother was ill and I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of leaving her or my daughters and friends. We were still reeling from our perfectly good lives being sacrificed for someone else’s wealth. It almost sounds like today instead of 20 years ago in the early nineties. Then interest rates were double digit, cell phones were new (although huge and still very expensive) and a laptop weighed in at eight to ten pounds. It wasn’t a good time for either of us and certainly not an optimum time for sound decision making. Our house went on the market and we drove west into the unknown. It was the only port in a very heavy storm. Here we were four years and several apartments later and we still hadn’t gotten it right. Deja Vu all over again.

Nick owned the corner market across the street from Betty and along with Betty kept urging us to get in touch with The Tenant’s Union. We were approaching desperation, with no appetite for apartment hunting. What a surprise to learn we were living in a city where tenants actually had rights. All it took was $35 to make us members of the San Francisco Tenant’s Union. It was no comfort to know “we belonged” somewhere. After reading The Heiress’s letter, the  volunteer lawyer on duty said the same thing as the man at the Rent Board. “This  isn’t legal. You don’t have to do anything.” He gave us a handbook with a list of lawyers that did tenant/landlord cases and sent us on our way.

That’s where we found Marilyn. We called her first because she didn’t charge for telephone consults. The initial phone interviews yielded the information that even if we stalled the process, despite what the Rent Board had told us, we would still have to move. It wasn’t going to matter that the letter wasn’t legal. No matter what the laws, “money would talk” and our recourse would be to wait for The Heiress to notify us that we could reoccupy. Legally, she had to, but so far she wasn’t concerning herself with too many annoying legalities. Her ideal scenario would be for us to quietly ride off into the sunset so she could raise the rent and be done with us. “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Our legal obligation, if we wanted to move back to the flat, was to notify The Heiress by certified mail as to our whereabouts. Being homeless, with all our belongings in a storage unit in San Leandro, we faithfully let The Heiress know our three different addresses that summer. We were biding our time until the project was completed in the fall, when we would get back in touch with Marilyn to apprise her of the current situation.

It was a big surprise when we got a notice from the Housing Board informing us that The Heiress needed an extension on her project and we were required to attend. The time had come to finally meet Marilyn.

Her office was located at the foot of Polk Street, just North of Market. Not a great neighborhood. All the buildings surrounding the one we were entering cast permanent dark shadows on the grim doorway. The whole building was grim, with spare aluminum framing that enclosed dark green plastic squares. A facade reminiscent of the early sixties. Waiting nervously on the sidewalk to be buzzed in, this meeting felt like a seedy rendezvous, which amused me and I gave in to an irresistible urge to look both ways to see if we’d been followed. Only the wino on the corner gave us any notice.

We bravely trusted our lives to the rickety, old fashioned caged elevator which deposited us up a couple of floors to a dingy waiting area piled high with stacks of Gay Rights pamphlets, magazines and posters. Being a reader, I was immediately drawn into browsing the literature, keeping a lookout for any material regarding illegal evictions from one’s place of residency. Marilyn told Matt, “It is my specialty.” Not judging from the pamphlets, I thought.

Hearing heavy footsteps, I peered around the corner to come face to face with a gigantic woman dressed in huge denim overalls. She looked as if she’d just left the farm. Aside from being proportionally mismatched with a big body and a tiny head, her brown, curly hair cut boyishly short emphasized the distortions. Her voice sounded as if she had just had a hit of helium when she introduced herself. Her dog, a pit bull mix, was at her side. He appeared to be as fat as his mistress, with the potential for having a nasty disposition. Marilyn introduced the dog, “Chunky”, and her hand disappeared somewhere into the depths of her pockets to produce a treat for him. A bribe to keep him at bay. Listening to Chunky devour the rock-like morsel, I watched him sharpen his teeth systematically from left to right, knowing from the way his bulging eyes were regarding us, that he would happily eat our faces at the first false move. With this in mind, I stood very close to Matt and looked up at the woman brightly when she asked, “Are you afraid of dogs?” We replied in unison “No, we’re not afraid of dogs.”

“We’re the couple who have been communicating with you regarding the illegal eviction from our apartment.”

“Evicted by?”

“Our landlady,” I said.

“Her name?”

“The Heiress.” I resisted the urge to say, “With a capital “T.”

“I’ll need her real name.”

“Her real name is Mary Jane Moore, but she uses The Heiress as if it was her real name.”

I neglected to tell Marilyn that The Heiress had used several different names on and off during her life.

Marilyn’s office complex was shared by several lawyers. There were no secretaries, and a few private offices facing the street. We were the only people there. She and Chunky ushered us into her office. It had a large collection of legal books dealing with civil rights, and a window facing Market Street. As Matt started to speak, I gazed down the block thinking to myself that this was a fitting end to our lives in California. Here I am in this strange office with this strange woman and her dog, watching the new retro tourist trolleys roll by. There had been a lot of publicity over those trolleys because they looked like trolleys that ran on Market Street in the forties. Each car was painted either red, yellow or green and they created a pleasant backdrop for the homeless who were starting to panhandle in front of the shelter on the corner. It was as ludicrous outside as it was in. This was the icing on the cake. I smiled to myself, knowing we would be miles away when The Heiress and Marilyn met.

We told Marilyn the eviction letter was a total surprise. The warning signals were there, but we hadn’t wanted to see them. The last update Mary Jane had given us was in the early spring after her mother had died. She said the addition of another floor on her building wasn’t going to happen for at least nine months,  “…so you can relax. Don’t worry, when it does happen you can be assured of a place to live, at the same rent.”  She said she wanted to wait until her mother’s estate was settled. Then the order of financial priorities would be the facelift, liposuction and tummy tuck, followed—after the swelling went down—with a trip to Italy. A red flag should have gone up when The Heiress used any kind of reasoning, but instead we were relieved, not wanting to think about another move. Two months after this conversation, early in the morning, the letter was shoved through our mail slot. She waited until Matt left for work. Facing us would not be an option. It’s The Heiress’s Out of sight, out of mind philosophy.

She had been waiting a couple of years for her mother to die. With the multi-million dollar inheritance The Heiress could build her “dream home,” expanding her four unit building. She wasn’t going to let getting rid of unwanted tenants get in her way. When we asked for specifics she offered no information and told us to talk to her architects. They referred us back to The Heiress for any information because we were not clients. We didn’t know if we would be able to move back, despite her previous assurances. The Heiress had effectively “edited all of her tenants out”, just as her architects did when the rooftop postcard view was marred by a nearby building and the design altered.

Marilyn pushed her tiny little glasses a little higher on her nose, twisted her pretty little ring around a sausage shaped finger pinched in at the knuckle, and reached into the depths of her pocket to produce another treat for Chunky. Those pockets were a bottomless feed bag. Her pen and legal pad were ready for the facts. Matt and I looked at each other, took a deep breath and started to tell our story with the letter coming first.

“Dear Tenants:

Yesterday I made the decision to go ahead with the project. After examining all my options and having the hard earned permit from the city as well as a beautifully worked out plan, I recognize that this is the only way to resolve my own housing and art exhibition needs. I now have the financing and have downsized the scope of work enough that we are able to resume as planned. The new schedule will be finalized next week. What is being discussed is that the basement work will begin as early as mid-July. We would like to start the seismic upstairs sometime in August. I strongly urge you to look aggressively for another residence as things are moving along. The longer this takes to finish, the more it costs in lost rent so there is an urgency for me to continue in a timely manner.

Therefore, this is your official 30 day notice. You may take an extra week in August rent free to help facilitate your move. To be more specific, you have 6 weeks notice which includes the extra rent free week. I’m sorry the building department is making me conform to such an amazing degree. I have no wish to displace anyone but I will not abandon a project that means so much to me. Please advise me about your understanding of what your deposits are.

sincerely (sic)

The Heiress.”

Marilyn’s eyebrows were near her hairline when she said,  “Does she not know what your deposits are? This letter is ridiculous. She has acted in total disregard of every tenant-landlord law regarding eviction for capital improvement in the city.  I thought you said she had been a friend?”

That’s what we had mistakenly thought too.

To be continued. . . 


Susan S. Barmon grew up in New York and has been telling stories through photographic portraiture most of her adult life.

She was educated at Syracuse University School of Art and The Portfolio Center in Atlanta, Ga., where Ms. Barmon studied photojournalism with Dennis Carlyle Darling. Her career has encompassed retail and editorial art direction and location photography. A move to San Francisco presented her with the opportunity to photograph “The Littlest Cowboys” Jr. Rodeo portrait series, and begin “The Millennium” series. Both have been shown nationwide, and won several major awards. In 2005 Ms. Barmon entered the digital world with her botanical scans. They have been shown extensively and are in private collections. She began her “Drive By Shooting” series in 2006. It is being shown and is ongoing.

Ms. Barmon’s Botanicals are represented by Art Licensing for licensing and publishing. In Atlanta, Ga. her work is represented by Soho Myriad Art Consulting.

Contact information regarding the purchase of Ms. Barmon’s work:    for botanicals   for portraiture and personal series


Photo Credit: ” A pair of high heeled shoes with 12 cm heels,” by Wikipedia. Public Domain Photo.



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The Motel Family: Part Four

The Motel Family: Part Four.

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