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Sitting Pretty

There's a rainbow in here somewhere...

UNITED STATES—Money in the bank–that’s what this new iteration of the screenplay way.  Confident, buoyant, even a little cocky. It was heady to be working on it with an accomplished filmmaker, and it gave me something to talk about at parties.

But I just realized something: because of my native thrift I had plenty of money now, thanks to property management. It was a long way from when I lived for weeks on ten dollars. With all its vexations the management job was giving me more than enough. I chronically felt shaky in my job security, nevertheless. Perks included the unregistered Subaru with Nevada plates. Didn’t pay any rent. Sitting pretty.

I guess I was better off than I thought I was. Years later upon my return to Los Angeles in the new millennium, Mr. Wylie told his bosom real estate buddy, Stanley Thorpe, to hire me as a manager to take a load off. It didn’t happen. But that reveals that my fears of losing the job were exaggerated. Stanley Thorpe was another Mid City landlord. About different real-estate related things I spoke to Stanley over the phone before I met him in person. His voice gave me the picture of a bald guy, sparse frizzy beard and overweight. Stanley had a pudgy voice.

In reality, he was a real-estate hawk–really sharp and steady–and over the phone it came out that he liked Spanish literature. He had taken an extension class in it at UCLA. We could talk about Jose Marti and Ruben Dario. His wife was Central American. When Stanley and I finally met at Manhattan Place, he was a thin man in his 50s. Dark hair, a product of Fairfax and La Brea. Thoughtful, diffident. Maria was the one with the moxie. Instead of the jeans and T-shirt I imagined from phone conversations, he was partial to sporty sweat jackets and matching pants with racing stripes. Drove a Chrysler Aero.

The Marti-reading real estate man became my mentor in trust deeds. His knack with trust deeds had made a solid foundation on which he built a rental business. Trust deeds are where you give 10 or 20,000 dollars to a property owner. Well, you don’t give it; you loan it and collect interest as the owner pays it back. If they default on payment, the lender can take over an assume mortgage payments on the property. It may seem a cold, hard business, but I sensed opportunity. And opportunity came knocking.

To fund the renovation of the Palmer House, Jim Wylie sold the 47th Street property, the ramshackle apartment house that I liked to visit south of downtown. The new owner was a young man of Oaxacan origin, Gus Morales, who headed his family’s interests. I helped in the transition: getting key copies made, talking about the tenants and so forth.

One day, after I had become acquainted with his real estate ambitions, Gus asked me if I could loan them five or ten thousand–something. I had developed trust. Do I trust people? Not always, given my checkered track record with tenants in the rental business. Of course, I suffered the police syndrome from dealing frequently with some not so good apples. That took its toll. From a wider perspective: Wylie’s tenants were not an accurate cross-section of the whole Los Angeles renter pool.

In the long run, I have learned that you must trust certain people in order to advance.

So on a cloudy day in Huntington Park, Gus and I drew up documents for the trust deed. Stanley Thorpe guided me through the process to see that the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed. The loan on the deed was for the amount of $2,000.

Grady Miller is a humorist. His latest collection, “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood” is now available on Kindle. Please contact Grady Miller at

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