By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It’s been two years since I heard Serape scream. It was early in the morning, and I was tired from having worked late the night before. I remember looking out my loft window and seeing her car. The door was ajar, but I couldn’t see her. I didn’t see anything else, so I tried to get back to sleep. Three minutes later I heard sirens. I looked out my window again and saw the gumball lights of a paramedic bus flashing. It was parked at an angle, next to Serape’s car. I was certain something was wrong. I jumped into my jeans and went downstairs. By the time I got to the parking lot, the paramedics were pulling off.
I know Felix, a Watts Towers security guard. We usually debrief each other in the morning; I let him know everything that happens on the graveyard watch so that he doesn’t walk into a blind game on the day watch. I went over to the security house and got the news.
“Some guy rode up here on a bike,” he said. “He robbed Serape, hit her in the mouth, knocked her teeth out. They couldn’t stop the bleeding. They took her to Martin Luther King.”
I listened to his words. But I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Zulema Aguirre started working at the Watts Towers, a National Historic Landmark, in 1986. She is from El Salvador. She got a job as a curator involved in the renovation of the structures, which were damaged during the Northridge earthquake. Along with her boss, Bud Goldstone, who in 1959 hooked up a 10,000-pound load to the Towers to prove to the city that they were safe, Zulema supervises all of the masonry, tile and mortar restoration.
Zulema’s last name is hard for me to pronounce. Since she wore a serape, that’s the name I used. And it stuck. I really got to know Serape when I had cause to remove a huge root growing behind the fireplace wall on the north end of the Towers. The root was undermining the fireplace structure. Serape decided that the root had to go, so one sunrise, pick and shovel in hand, I went over there and got it out. It took me all day to dislodge it. It was really hot that day. I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. For a while I thought I might dig up Sam Rodia’s old car. (There was a rumor circulating in the neighborhood that Simon Rodia, the Italian immigrant who single-handedly built the Towers over a 33-year period, had buried it under the site to throw immigration officials off his trail.)
Serape took a picture of the root and me. I told her I wanted a copy. She remembered and saved the photo. She gave it to me some time later. We’ve been friends ever since.
I called Officer Phil Thompson to tell him about the assault. “It’s a damn shame,” he said.
“I begged them, Phil. But they wouldn’t listen,” I said, referring to Mark Greenfield, then director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, and his colleagues. “They need two guards working here every shift for this very reason. The perimeter is compromised.”
“What did they say?”
“Ah, they crying broke as usual. But that’s not the reason. The real reason is because it’s coming from me. And a lot of the Big Juice downtown don’t like me ’cause I require social equality in my dealings with folks, and I won’t keep my mouth shut about it.”
“Over 25,000 people from all over the world visit these towers every year,” Phil said. “They got some really nice people live in this neighborhood.”
“Serape doesn’t bother anybody, either.”
“Well, that security house needs an upstairs,” Phil added.
“Not just that,” I said. “They need cameras. They already had a guard killed over here.”
“Who knows,” Phil said, trying to sound encouraging. “They may do something to change it.”
“Sure. Just as soon as one of those tourists steps off a bus into the middle of a running gun battle.”
Serape still works at the Towers. I saw her recently. She said she had to go back for her third surgery the following week, and that she will never again be able to chew properly. She smiled. But I could see it in her eyes.
“Something is broken inside of her, Phil. She will never be the same.”
Too Fast, Not Furious
I was driving home on the 101 last week with the radio up loud, when I noticed the flashing lights in the mirror. I changed lanes, thinking the CHP patrol car was after somebody else, but the flashing lights changed lanes with me. I changed lanes again. So did the police car. Yep, it was me. Great. I remembered the letter I’d just received informing me that I owed a Pomona court
a lot of money for illegally crossing out of a slow carpool lane and then forgetting to pay the ticket. I moved my car over to the shoulder. A voice from a loudspeaker barked at me to get off the freeway. I exited and pulled to the offramp’s shoulder. The bullhorn barked at me again, this time with sarcasm, to get off the ramp. I pulled around the corner.
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