Getting Kicked in the Face at the 99 Cent Store
By Giselle Fernandez-Farrand
from Los Angeles,CA
It was my God parents who were raving about the 99 Cent Store in Silver Lake.
It's definitely the new hot area many akin to SOHO in New York. Deep East on the
famed Sunset Blvd, just past Hollywood, is this once downtrodden area where I
grew up as a child and had not been back much, that had certainly turned itself
around. It had become hip and cool with cute out door cafes like the Casbah for
Moroccan delicacies as well as trendy diners, furniture stores and unique gift
items clearly meant to lure the artist, punker or rock-n-roller. But it's a
place my God parents have lived for more than forty years, in a walk up Spanish
flat that they bought for 60-thousand dollars way back and today is worth nearly
They considered selling to capitalize on the real estate bonanza that could
assure them security in these golden years. But in the end, they just could not
let go. Silver Lake had certainly grown and they were very proud of their old
haunt and would rave about the evolution of this yuppified neighborhood they had
discovered long before it ever became cool.
My godfather Julie, is 78 years old, his wife Kathy, is in her early eighties.
She used to be my nursery school teacher and has the most beautiful baby blue
eyes you've ever seen, framed by her silver white short do and still proud of
her big bosom which Julie credits for bringing them together long ago. For never
having made much money, Julie is the richest man I've ever known. He was one of
those counterculture kids of the 60's, a member of the communist party, has
much to say about politics in America and even more to say about the travesty of
Bush and the war in Iraq. He e-mails me more than anyone I know with commentary
on the administration and collected articles that prove his points against the
administration. We always joke that he is one of those "liberals" that the
media today reviles as a dirty word. These are two really young people in aging
bodies with silver hair, that have kept up with the times just like Silver Lake
has morphed into it's new modern rendition.
Since my husband and I moved to Hancock Park from Beverly Hills, we are much
closer to one another and as a result, have the good fortune of seeing them more
often. They pop by with bagels, cream cheese and lox on Saturdays and come armed
with treasures picked up at garage sales throughout the city. It's absolutely
amazing what they pick up for 25 cents or a dollar. Julie will point to the hat
on his head and say, "50 cents!" Or his sunglasses for a dollar, that my husband
John says are so large he will never have to worry about check burn. He's
brought me a cheese plate for 25 cents, a cup with doggies on it for a quarter
and Kathy even brought me on one occasion, one single shoe. A pretty shoe, but
still only one.
We talk of the great bargains they find, how they give what nest egg they have
to their kids because they don't need the new Lexus or a trip to Europe. "Not
our values," Julie says. They go to a casino in Commerce and blow a couple of
hundred now and again but complain about spending six bucks for blintzs at
Canter's Deli. I love to hear them talk about their gambling nights in Commerce.
They say they often play blackjack at the tables with mostly Chinese men who
call them "momma and pappa." When they win a hand, Julie says the Chinese
players heartily congratulate them crediting Julie with having Kathy as his
"lugy cham' or lucky charm!! We talk about movies like the new Kinsey film and
Julie recounts what it was actually like when the big sex report really hit like
a bombshell! They really liked the new movie, Sideways, saying they had always
thought that all the hoopla on wine, grapes and years, was garbage. After seeing
the film, that changed. Julie says he had no idea wine had so much complexity.
"It's a great slice of life film," he said, "I learned so much about wine I
It's during a visit this past Saturday when we got on the topic of the 99 Cent
Store on Sunset Blvd. "You should go!! It's amazing what you can get for 99
cents!!" Both John and I had passed the big window often with every item you can
imagine stacked up neatly for display baring the "99 cent" banners underneath. I
had always wanted to go in out of curiosity to see what truly was available for
under a dollar. My housekeeper's daughter, who doubles as my assistant, often
tells me I pay too much for things. One day when she complimented me on my new
olive green Juicy sweat pants, I proudly proclaimed, "100-dollars at Neiman's!!"
She pointed to hers in pink and said, "30-dollars in Inglewood! You pay too much
All this is what made me want to finally venture into to this warehouse of
affordables, so when Julie and Kathy had finished their bagels and cream cheese
after a couple hours of fun visiting, John and I packed our pooches into the
Range Rover and drove East. I wanted to peek into all the SOHO style stores with
the hopes of uncovering the great find for that unique Christmas gift you could
never find in a department store. Plus I thought it would be fun for John and me
to adventure into this new cool neighborhood. We had both gotten so used to
shopping in Century City, on Wilshire at all the department stores, that I was
eager to venture out into new territory. Trust me, on the West side you don't
see nearly as many black, Hispanic or Asian people on the streets as you see
here. Nor do you see as much life with all its diversity, color and feel. I
loved the more real, urban vibe of walking the streets, lined with real people,
"kitch" shops and cafes, and seeing all kinds of styles, ages and faces. Just
ten minutes away from our new home, I felt we were in a new city and I was eager
to dive into all the new influences and possibilities of life beyond the West
side. In one store called, "Further," we were so blown away to find really cool
letter openers, martini glasses, lacquer boxes and Balinese furniture for such
affordable prices. One ceramic tray with a sculpted flower in the middle for
chips and salsa was priced at 50-dollars. In Neiman's it would have been 350-
dollars. I was giddy with the prices and could hardly believe you could find
such quality crafts that were so affordable!! This was a whole new world!!
And that is how we came to the 99 Cent Store. Passing it by, John and I quickly
made a U-turn into the parking lot, remembering how Julie had raved about the
finds you could pack in your cart for a mere dollar. We parked, left the windows
cracked for the pooches and walked into a galleria of "99 cent" signs every
where. It was unbelievable!! Soaps, shampoos, cards, cups, hot dogs, candies,
can goods, wrapping paper, medicines, everything for only 99 cents. Both John
and I filled the cart to the brim with items we would have found at Vons for
three times the price. Amazing.
I must say, I did look back a couple of times into the people's parking lot as
it appeared a bit edgy to me. But when I passed through the automatic glass
doors I never looked back, remembering that Julie had said, crime here has
surely gone down.
After about an hour in the store, we wheeled our packed cart back to the car
feeling rather lofty about all we had saved shopping here instead of our local
grocery store. As we were pulling out with all our goodies, two cars waiting to
pull into a slot next to us got into a parking rage confrontation. I guess one
Latino guy driving with his wife and two kids was waiting to pull into a space
that another Latino guy with his wife and three young children were also waiting
to slide into. Next thing we knew, one family sped into the space and the other
honked furiously. That provoked the driver who snagged the spot to flip off the
honker. And that prompted the driver who lost out to storm out of his car. Right
in front of us, he ripped open the driver's side door of the guy who snagged his
perceived space and proceeded to brutally kick him in the face right in front of
his three toddlers and wife. They got back in the car, found a space and then
walked into the 99 Cent Store as if nothing had happened. The store's security
guard was nowhere to be found.
I was completely traumatized to see this all unfold right before us. The man who
was kicked got out of the car holding his red, bruised and swollen face, kicked
in by a stranger who had no hesitation resorting to violence when his car slot
was stolen away from him. His two young daughters, traumatized by what they saw,
got out of their beat up old car crying. The dad looked humiliated but hugged
them and assured them he was alright. The wife quickly took the youngest girl
down the street. The man in Spanish told me the youngest has heart problems and
it was not good for her to be so upset.
I was so outraged to see this happen. I got out of the car and asked if they
were alright. He was holding his face stained with the marks of attack and said
nothing. I spoke to him in Spanish and said we must call the police! We got the
license plate number of the offending vehicle and dialed 911 on the borrowed
cell phone from a kid who worked in the wireless phone store that shared the 99
Cent Store parking lot.
"They won't come," he said. "It takes them an hour around here." I couldn't
believe 911 was busy! It took twenty minutes to get through to an emergency
operator. When I finally got through, the 911 guy took all the information and
said he'd send someone over right away. We waited for nearly 45 minutes and the
phone guy was right. No one came. "Unless you're shot dead, they ain't coming
lady, and even then, in these parts, it takes a while."
John and I waited as the parking lot fell dark for the cops to come. I just
needed there to be some recourse. I needed to see that these people, clearly
poor and new immigrants, got some justice. This was not the America I wanted
them to experience. This was a young family, coming to do Christmas shopping in
the 99 Cent Store. And you get kicked in the face for taking a spot another
thought to be his.
I begged the guy to wait, assuring him the police would come. It was important
for his kids to see that their dad would be avenged - that the right thing would
happen when you are wronged. That is America.
But the guy was fidgety and wanted to leave. In Spanish he confessed that he
didn't have a license and it dawned on him that if the police did come, they
would ask him for his papers or a license, so he thought it was better to go. So
in the end, he did. And as he drove out of the 99 Cent Store parking lot, the
other family, with their cart packed with bags, appeared from the store and
stopped to look through clothing racks outside. The kicker I noticed did steal
away sly glances around the parking lot to make sure all was clear. It was. The
police never came. I wondered many things. His kids saw him behave like this,
saw him get away with it. I wonder how many times he gets away with similar
outbursts. I wondered is it was ever directed at his wife and kids.
I looked once more at the busy boulevard to see if any red flashing lights were
approaching. I saw none. We stared at that guy and his family who got away with
kicking a stranger in the face for a good five minutes before slowly driving
away ourselves. I told John I didn't care how much we'd saved, that I was no
longer interested in the 99 Cent Store on Sunset Boulevard.
I know the same thing happens in Beverly Hills or any place on the West Side.
But the police come much more quickly there, that's the difference.
There are not enough police in Los Angeles, period. And crimes go unpunished
every day in this city and others. That we know. But when you see it first hand,
it sickens you that the bad guys get away. In one flash second you know what
gave rise to the riots, to Rodney King, to O.J. A feeling of powerlessness - a
feeling of victimization and humiliation that goes unpunished. That there was no
justice just pained me - that this father drives away with no recourse just
seemed so wrong and sick and pathetic. I so wanted to tell him we were much
better than that - that people are so much better than that.
I e-mailed Julie and Kathy about the incident and told them it ruined my day and
certainly my new shopping experience. That the yuppies may be perking up the
area but tensions still flared on these streets without consequence.
John reminded me that although it was not an excuse, the guy who got kicked in
the face did flip off the guy who attacked him. I've been there. I've gotten so
angry at drivers in this city that I too have on occasion flipped off, honked,
or made some horrible facial expression directed at a stupid driver. What if one
of these guys had a gun - what if I were the one to get my car door thrust open
- what if I were the one to get a boot in the face. And what if the police never
came for me? I would have waited until the cows came home for that black and
white, that I'll tell you, but I have a license and I don't have to compromise
justice for safety or the security of my family.
I wish there was some profound moral to this story but there isn't. Will I ever
shop at a 99 Cent Store again? Not any time soon. I'd rather pay full price for
something and have the illusion of safety than save a few pennies in a risky
area where the police don't turn up for something as tiny as a kick in the face.
Doesn't this happen in Beverly Hills as well? Yes it does. But the cops come
much more quickly.
John thinks this kind of violence and breakdown of justice will only get worse
in all walks of life, not just the parking lot for the 99 Cent Store. "We live
in dangerous times," he says, and the moralbreak down of society and the
boundaries of decency toward others, he fears, will only further spiral out of
control in eclectic neighborhoods of a yuppifying Silver Lake or the parking lot
at Sacks or Spagos in Beverly Hills. It doesn't matter. "These are frightening
times," he says.
Upon hearing this story Julie wrote, "Sure there are incidents of street crime
in Silver Lake, but it is no more dangerous than most other areas, including
posh ones. Remember, my love, that Bugsy Siegel was shot in the face in Beverly
Hills and Nicole Simpson was slaughtered in Brentwood. Indeed, Marie Antoinette
had her head handed to her in glorious Paris, of all places! And there was not
even one 99 Centime Store in sight!" I knew with all his years of wisdom he
would put all into perspective.
The only thing I keep thinking about is that there was no justice. How that must
burn and inflame the beaten who already struggle just to survive and provide a
better life for their children. I wonder about the kids, too, whose father felt
justified in attacking another for stealing a parking spot. Do they get beaten,
too, with no recourse? And when they grow up with that influence, how will they
treat their kids?
All from a trip to the cool section of L.A. All from a trip to the 99 Cent Store.
A slice of life on a Saturday outing that makes me wonder how Julie and Kathy
remain so spirited about living at their great age. Julie, who prides himself
knowing the FBI kept a file on him during he McCarthy era, and is dismayed over
the re-election of President Bush and the civil liberties he fears are in
jeopardy again, never stops seeing the best side of life. He is always armed
with a joke. The last he told me was about the benefits of breast feeding for
that 56 year old mother in the news who gave birth - "She never has to pick up
the child!" He makes me laugh! Next Saturday they will once again venture out to
Canter's Deli for their bagels, cream cheese and lox, and no doubt later in the
day peruse through the treasures at area garage sales, always returning with
some eclectic find for me. Maybe the other shoe finally to match the single
gifted me weeks before.
There are no answers when something like this happens - only questions like
where were the "fricken" police? Was it best they didn't come? Would the man who
was kicked in the face been worse off for staying? Would the justice be worth
The only thing that makes the sick feeling from this whole thing feel somewhat
assuaged is the thought of Julie and Kathy. They've seen it all and still live
grand with hope and humor. "Fifty cents, this hat cost me! Can you believe it?
Fifty cents?" That's what Julie said to me as he and Kathy, hand in hand, inched
down the driveway saying "goodbye." Funny, that image of them, partners for so
many years, still happy and enjoying life, giving to others, sharing jokes,
seeing goodness in all things, walking down our driveway linked together is what
gives me hope. Thank God for them. We should all be so lucky to see life as they
do into our senior years.