Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Bad Mother

Journalist Nancy Rommelmann wrote me about her new book The Bad Mother: A Novel and wondered if I would be interested in the topic. "Yes," was my answer when I saw that the story centered on the lives of Hollywood's transient population of street kids.

Maybe the street kid angle caught my interest as a psychologist or, more likely, it may be that I just got back from LA and Hollywood last week and I kind of missed it and figured the book would let me know more about the area from a different perspective. A cab driver told me about the kids and characters that hung around in Hollywood who were sometimes on drugs and sometimes lost. I wanted to know more. I was not disappointed. Rommelmann's skillful portrayal of the characters shows their unattractive side in a way that is realistic, shady and pulls the reader into a world they may never otherwise encounter.

The characters in the novel are based, in part, on Rommelmann's experiences chronicling the "under-told stories of Los Angeles's various shadow populations for the LA Weekly and the LA Times; a crew of Mexican gardeners working the Hollywood Hills; cop groupies hanging out at the LAPD's favorite bar, an East Coast heiress-gone-alcoholic begging for change at Venice Beach, and the dream-broke residents of Sunset Boulevard's $40-a-night motels."

Maybe these stories should be untold, they are depressing. The kids in the book are around 13-18 (mainly on the younger side). They shoplift, have sex with older men (and women) for cash, use drugs and have kids that they seem to have no business keeping. The girl, Mary, one of the main characters, has a baby at 13 that leaves the reader wondering throughout the book why in the hell she kept it.

Although the reader has to feel sorry at some points for the lives of these teens, it often seems to be of their own making. The babies who are born to the teen moms on the street never asked to be part of it. Sadly, they are the ones who will probably suffer the most.



Blogger Michael K said...

The book may well be accurate but I would be a bit suspicious of the people who tell stories about the "homeless" in LA. I teach medical students and have for 40 years at USC/ LA County Hospital. I have little experience with the Hollywood kids but I do have some with the Laguna Beach kids.

There is a subculture but kids are not a big part of it. Most homeless in LA are drug addicts (60%) or psychotic (60%). Half of each group is both.

The kids are a very small subset who are very popular with writers, especially left wing writers.

10:29 PM, March 20, 2011  
Blogger Amy Alkon said...

Michael K, Nancy has been reporting on these lost Hollywood kids for LA Weekly for years -- and winning awards for her work. Since you have "little experience with the Hollywood kids," why suggest there's reason to be "a bit suspicious"? It's also a novel -- fiction, in other words -- starkly and beautifully told. I'm friends with Nancy, but I have plenty of friends who write books, whose books I keep silent about. This is a gem.

2:11 AM, March 21, 2011  
Blogger Cham said...

I'm a bird watcher. Homeless expert? No. However, due to my bird watching endeavors I've learned a thing or two about homeless people because I find gobs of them living in tents on the shoreline where the birds I seek enjoy the water. Sure, the homeless people that end up in the hospital are definitely on drugs and may be psychotic. But there are a large number of homeless people that aren't. There is currently a large group of homeless people that are drug-free and perfectly sane, they've just found that living in a tent, vehicle or shelter cuts down on housing expenses significantly. Some of the homeless people have jobs, I know one guy that lives in a car that is a manager and a very large bakery. Some homeless people are very adverse to living in homeless shelters with 600 other people and find comfort living in a tent encampment with a few trusted people they know.

What the media and the homeless industry (shelters, aid, hospitals) thinks they know about the homeless is most likely incorrect IMHO. I've visited Hollywood, I've noticed the dirty teens prostituting themselves. I've also noticed the parks filled with homeless people. They're out there.

7:53 AM, March 21, 2011  
Blogger Dunkelzahn4prez said...

You mean the book isn't about Shaft? I can dig it...

9:03 AM, March 21, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

i know a guy. he a religious nut who is descending into strange waters.

he was married and lived in a $750,000 house with a thriving cleaning businees and a wife who made big money as an architect.

he decided he was to preach to strippers, and slipped out most nights to go to the strip clubs and, you know, tell naked girls about jesus.

i thought initially that he just needed a rationalisation to fuck up his marriage, but no..he really believed he was the new messiah.

long, long story short, he is now nearly homeless as the cleaning contracts he had were with his wife`s company that built homes..and his divirce settlement money has gone toward breast augmentation surgeries and other gifts (all part of the lord`s work).

this guy is absolutely anti-establishment, so refuses to pay insurance, mortages, advertising costs etc. so he`s running out of money and is talking about living in a tent, as his vehicle costs are too high.

he`s not lucid, intelligent or anything else that cham could suggest is a description of the type of person who is falling through the cracks so rapidly he will be living in a tent soon.

a home is a basic product of human existance. families and societies support the rational-minded person to either rent or own place they call home.

a home-less person is by default someone who has fallen out of that social environment due to drugs, psychosis, or such flaws in their personality that they fail in the give-and-take of normal human interaction on a daily basis.

i consider this guy a friend, but tragically he exhibits such extreme personality defecits that i can`t maintain regular contact.

i think many of these types who live in tents or caravans, or trailers, while not on drugs or alcohol or psychotic, may well be borderline, antagonistic or otherwise unable to hold up their end of things.

3:08 PM, March 21, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

Dr. alistair, I appreciate the sensitivity with which you described your friend. Your openess to his spirituality, no matter how bizarre, is frankly touching. He is lucky to have you as a friend.

But boob jobs for the Lord stretches way past any credulity I could muster.


4:12 PM, March 21, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

it`s a challenge for me to see him come apart.

for me the double bind his parents raised him in leaves him with nothing but struggles in relationships, and leaves him little option but to attack that which he desires most.

since my marriage i have further distanced myself from him, as my wife feels he is harbouring ever-increasing hostility, and doesn`t feel he`s a safe person to be around.

she is spot-on as, even though i haven`t told her many things about the man, she reads him precisely.

regarding the boobs thing, he has given the strippers so much money over the years that they`ve bought themselves many things...including augmentation surgeries....and sadly he feels that a few of these girls have emotional attachments to him.

one after the other they will contact him, sometimes after months or years and re-start a "relationship" that ends with him giving them money for things and meals and so on, which he becomes frustrated with...yet persists.

these are the types of men who frequent the clubs and allow the industry to function, but now that my friend is less able to give the girls money, they look elsewhere for support.

5:41 PM, March 21, 2011  

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