Forget it, Jake

Updated: August 11, 2016

Part I

I first met Max Grant early last November. It was a sunless afternoon after a rain. I was heading into the barbershop. He was heading out, a balding man, about eighty, I’d guess, with gray hair cut very short. He recognized my face from the paper. A black and white picture of me appears next to the heading of my column. The photo’s going on ten years old and I wear a beard now. It’s kind of a miracle he even saw a resemblance, to be honest.

“Jake Bogosian,” he said, reaching for my hand, “love your stuff.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Just going in for a trim.”

He shook my hand with a grip that didn’t quite bring tears to my eyes. “This is going to sound strange, I know, but I think there’s something going on that might interest you, could be a story in it. If I could have a few moments of your time. Later, of course.”

I handed him a card and told him to give me a call during business hours and we’d set something up.

We next met at Max’s house in Northtown about a week later, a few blocks from the freeway. On the phone I reminded him that I’m a sports reporter now and that if he had something for our regular reporters that he should give the city desk a call. He said that he used to work with my dad and that this connection was why he trusted me. He didn’t want to talk to a complete stranger. I figured what the heck. Maybe I’d at least get some stories about my old man out of it.

Usually when I get these kinds of requests, it’s somebody wanting to tell me about their son, niece, grandchild. What a great talent they are and why the paper should take an interest in their athletic achievements. I try to keep these meetings as short as possible, as a rule, referring that person to one of our beat reporters. I thought that’s what kind of talk I was in for with Max, but I was wrong.

It was about two in the afternoon and Max and I shared a couple of beers. He lived in a nice Spanish colonial with an iron fence. I knew Max didn’t work at the dealership. I would have recognized him if he had. It turned out that Max worked at the port with my dad in the sixties, before my time. This was back when containerization was beginning to take over the shipping industry, and longshoremen were being let go up and down the west coast.

“Guys were losing their jobs left and right back then. Union did it all by seniority,” Max said. I nodded. Max was one of the lucky ones. He had been on the job just long enough to hold on to it. My father, he must have been not more than twenty then, did not.

Still, dad landed on his feet, as he so often did. He ended up selling cars at a Toyota dealership over on Cherry, selling the same cars Max unloaded, eventually taking over the operation in the nineties. He did quite well.

“How’s your dad doing these days?” Max asked.

I told him that dad retired about twenty years ago and moved out to Palm Springs, where he still golfs and goes to Codgers games.

Max chuckled. “Never did take an interest in the Codgers myself. Couldn’t stand those uniforms, with the pink.”

“They call it salmon,” I said.

“It’s pink,” Max insisted. I didn’t argue the point further. Many former Dodgers fans see the Codgers as just adding insult to the injury of losing their team. Mocking them. For some that wound is still fresh.

Twenty minutes into our conversation, I still couldn’t figure out what I was doing here. I got to hear some tales about my dad’s brief time on the docks, which was worth the trip, I suppose, but my mind started to turn things over. Max was in his eighties, but he still got around pretty well and was far from frail. He had a wife, but she succumbed to cancer years ago. His kids were about my age and lived back east. What could Max have got up to?

He must have read something in my face. Max got up from the kitchen table we were sitting at and fetched a letter from the counter.

“Anyway, this is why I asked you to come over, Jake,” he said, handing me the letter.

I read it. It was from some law firm up in Los Angeles. I looked at Max when I was done.

“Does this neighborhood look blighted to you?” he asked. “Look out there. There are families in those houses. Nice families. And their pushing them out. There are neighborhoods like this all over town, but this one is blighted? What are they doing?” He sighed. “Needless to say, I’m not selling. Not willingly.”

I told Max I didn’t have any answers for him yet, but would look into it. I got out my phone and tapped out an email to one of our researchers, asking for a brief write up on ’eminent domain’.

“Your neighbors get similar letters?” I asked.

“The ones that own did,” said Max. “There are a lot of rentals here. Don’t know who owns them.”

I jotted down some quick notes and handed the letter back to Max. We parted and I walked out to the street to my car. A fellow stopped me on the sidewalk. Pacific islander by the look of him. Congenial.

“You the reporter?” asked the man. I hoped Max hadn’t talked me up in the last few days. Whatever was going on, I doubted that I was going to be able to stop it.

“Yes, that’s me,” I said, “Jake Bogosian.”

“Camilo,” he said, shaking my offered hand. “Do you have a minute?”

“I have several, you from the neighborhood?”

“For now. Getting evicted in a couple of months. New landlord wants us out,” he said with a shrug. “I know somebody you should talk to. Connie, over at the South Street Tavern. He’s had guys trying to buy him out, like with Max, but they’re not too friendly.”

“Actual guys, not just letters?”

“Yeah, kinda rough characters from what Connie’s said.”

“Thanks for the tip,” I said, “I’ll drop in on him.”