The phone rang around midnight.
“Wake up you smart ass Jew-boy!” a drunkard shouted.
It was my belligerent landlord, Mr. Hemison. He was generally tolerable, but tonight he was on a bender.
“You might as well commit suicide right now!”
As a poor student in Westwood, one of L.A.’s richer zip codes, I was willing to put up with a certain amount of abuse in exchange for low rent. “What’s wrong, Mr. Hemison?”
“You’re losing the war against the ants.”
It was true. The ants were winning.
For $75 a month, I had a small room in the basement and a job as the building’s caretaker. I pulled weeds, purged hairballs from clogged drains, and vacuumed the Astroturf stairways. To make ends meet, I snuck into the unguarded cafeteria of a nearby housing co-op for my meals.
The tenants were all UCLA students like I was. In addition to fighting ants, we battled the high rents and turned a dense and narrow neighborhood west of Fraternity Row into a student ghetto. Most of the area’s small apartments were stuffed two students to a bedroom. Mr. Hemison had no idea how many illegal sublets and permanent “visitors” lived in his building. He was usually too drunk to care.
The only people living in worse squalor were the Frat Row bros.
When they weren’t having 6AM Tequila Sunrise parties and then taking over busy intersections to misdirect traffic on Gayley Ave, the brothers blasted music with enough sound power to keep the rest of us dazed and confused.
Early one morning, a travelling preacher dragged a large wooden cross up Fraternity Row and planted it on the front lawn of Tappa Tappa Kegga. He had a full head of hurricane-proof hair and looked self-righteous in a three-piece suit. He had a bull horn and was on a mission to save the fraternity brothers from themselves.
“Fornicators!” he shouted. “Pagans! Pornographers! Pleasure mongers!”
I was walking to an early class but couldn’t resist waiting to see the fireworks.
Unfortunately for Right Reverend Potty Mouth, the brothers slept through his tirade. Tired of preaching to no one, he followed me onto campus screaming “Repent you masturbator!” at the back of my head.
His cross had a wheel at the bottom which enabled him to move pretty fast. He was a real holy roller but I eventually outran him.
In retrospect, I wish I had thought to invite him back to my apartment building to rain holy hellfire down upon the ants. After riding us of pestilence, perhaps he could have exorcised Mr. Hemison’s demons, too.