On a lark and perhaps on just a passing fancy, I decided to rent an apartment in El Paso. I had known of the SRO on Missouri Street, and actually been shown a room once before, several years ago. It was a small, filthy den that reeked of cat piss and hobo ass. I turned it down and headed elsewhere.
Flash forward to now: I again made plans to rent there in lieu that I knew it was a quick route out of that damn shelter. All I wanted was a quiet place to begin this next book which is exploding in my head. The assistant manager of the old red brick building was a gimpy, pedophile named Norman - I actually had a run in with him years ago. In San Jacinto Park, I witnessed he was blatantly attempting to seduce a fifteen year old boy. After harsh words from myself and spitting in his face, I whisked the kid away to safety. I was hoping this Norman didn't hold a grudge. After awkward pleasantries, Norman had me fill out the various paperwork and it being the holidays, slotted me to move into a room on the first of January. He even showed me a decent room on the third floor with ample natural light, decent furniture, a desk by the window...sure, I'll take it.
Days, weeks passed and I received not as much as a phone call on how much my rent was to be - it was subsidized through HUD, so about 30% of my monthly pay. On the last day of December, I made an impromptu visit to the SRO for inquiries.
Norman seemed to be on leave, so I was greeted by the manager, a ratty hag named Cristine. On the landing, I politely demanded to know my rent and asked if that room was ready for I was to move in the next day.
"I'm not blindly going to pay for a room and not see it first." I stated.
I was given the keys to room #13. In the basement.
"What happened to the upstairs room I was shown?" I asked.
"Oh, we gave that to a tenant who had to move in early." She grinned with cold, dead fish eyes. "You'll like the basement room. Lucky 13"
Down a dank hall, I found 13. I turned the latch, opened the door, and flicked the light switch. No lights. The darkness reeked of mildewed rags and vomit.
I returned to the office and asked, "Will the room be cleaned before I move in?"
"Oh no," She stated firmly, "You'll have to clean it. We are short staffed. Did you see the room? Did you like it?"
"The bulbs are out." I droned.
She grunted at me like I just shit on her carpet, walked down the hall and returned with a ladder and two fresh bulbs. Meanwhile, the creepiest gay Indian in in the entire southwest, who babbled that he was a "20 year volunteer" leered at me with that look of thirsty lust so common to the fags here, he was obviously maintenance but refused to assist cleaning that stink pit.
I grudgingly went down to the basement room and changed the lights out. I wish I hadn't. It was the grimiest, filthiest shithole I had seen in many a moon. The normally gray tiles were blotched in brown and black grunge, tattered, smelly bedding lay wadded on the rickety bed, a towel was saturated with what appeared as dried vomit lay next to a pile of discarded cigarette butts in the corner, a foul evil wafted from the rattling refrigerator.
I returned the ladder to the manager. Before I could utter a remark on the dire state of the room, Cristine began to drone on about no knives, no drugs, no alcohol, no nothing in the rooms all the while handing me a big ass jug of bed bug spray. "We have this horrible bed bug problem. Here, use this. Where did you say you're staying right now?"
"The Rescue Mission." I whimpered.
She flipped a clawed wrist, "Well, all you people keep bringing them here. You're infesting the entire city!"
I actually wanted to punch her.
"There aren't any at the mission now." I stated.
I returned again like a dumbass to the room and soaked the mattress in the toxic, foul chemical. Squirting every crack and tear in the walls and every dark smudged corner. Halfway through I said to myself, Fuck this shit, I'm not staying here!
I angrily returned the spray and said my goodbyes, mumbling that I would be back in a day or so to mop and wipe down the room. Out in the street, I tossed the keys into some bushes.