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
At exactly 6 p.m., Frances pulls into Resurrection’s parking lot where there is only one other car. A young male receptionist in the church office tells her to come back at 6:30. When Frances returns at 6:35, the parking lot is packed.
“I’m scared,” says Frances. But she walks into the crowded meeting hall anyway, and 45 or so sets of eyes swivel toward her. For a few milliseconds, a frozen Frances stares back. Then all at once it becomes clear that the receptionist has it wrong. This is not a Neighborhood Watch meeting at all but a group of parents planning some big baptism Mass.
Back in the parking lot, Frances collapses against the car with a case of hysterical giggles. “When I saw they were planning a Mass,” she says, gasping with laughter, “I thought, oh my God! These people are really serious about getting me out. They’re even praying about it!”
Undeterred, Frances drives next to Hollenbeck police station to ask where the real meeting is being held. This time she’s directed across the street to the office of Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa where, indeed, a large, lively meeting is in full swing. However, this new meeting concerns the disputed closing of a popular local bar. Frances gives up, at least temporarily.
Back at home the night is still warm, so she walks down the street to talk with one of her neighbors, a fine-boned woman with a long, wavy mane of pure white hair, whom Frances refers to respectfully as DoĂ±a Christina. “Oh, yes,” says DoĂ±a Christina in Spanish, “there’s a group who was taking around a petition a few months ago to try to get you kicked out of your house. But I don’t think many people signed it, so don’t worry.” Whether or not this last part is true, it calms Frances’ anxiety, at least for the moment.
Luis goes to court again on Monday, May 3. Once again he is offered a deal. The offer is worse than the last time, eight years instead of four. Attorney Bisnow tells him it’s as good as he’s going to get and that he ought to grab it. Again, Luis refuses.
It takes Frances longer than usual to drop the kids at day care, so she reaches court a few minutes late and misses Luis’ appearance altogether. Luis calls her at work later in the day and tells her about the offer. She tries to be sympathetic but is too drained. “Tell Bisnow he should do the eight years if he thinks it’s so damn good,” she snaps. “I thought he was supposed to be on your side.”
“I don’t feel like I’m there for Luis right now,” she says when she hangs up the phone. “I don’t feel much of anything. I just feel like I fucked up my life at the beginning, and now there’s nothing I can do about it.”
She hasn’t slept well in days, she says, because Frankie, the 4-year-old, has been keeping her up nights asking for Luis. “Now he won’t go to sleep because he thinks Luis might call. He keeps telling me, ‘Mom, make the police give him back.’” And, with the Astro van still broken, Frances has been driving Luis’ 1990 Nissan Stanza, but the registration on that car has just come due, meaning it also needs a smog test. “But to pass it, I have to have the muffler repaired, and that’s another $100.” Plus, although the baby’s birth was covered by Luis’ insurance, she still owes a $500 co-pay. “Which I know is a great deal, since the real bill was, like, $11,888. But for me, $500 is still a lot of money. Money-money-money,” Frances trills the words in a rhythmic litany. “That’s what it’s all about, right?”
On top of everything, the results of her notary exam arrived in the mail this morning. “And I didn’t pass,” she says. “I need a score of 75, and I got a 64. It’s okay. I’ll take it again in a month, but it makes me feel . . . you know . . . stupid.”
In an effort to take control of something this day, Frances calls Senior Lead Officer Pedroza and politely tells him she’s heard about the community meetings and would like to come to the next one. Pedroza pauses, then gently tells her the truth. “Look, if you come, the rest of the people won’t come. I’ll organize a meeting if you want, but I’m telling you, that’s what’s going to happen.” (For the record, the Neighborhood Watch committee declined to allow the Weeklyto attend any of its meetings, despite repeated requests.)
One of Frances’ gifts is the fact that, while she has her unhappy moments, she never really lingers in the lows. “See, Frances has to put on a strong face all the time for everybody, for her kids, for Luis, everybody,” says Lalaina Rasmussen, a former homegirl who used to work at Homeboy Industries. “But sometimes she needs to break down and lean on a shoulder.”
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