Children were not allowed in the Spanish apartment building—all the units were studio apartments meant for individuals or couples. The managers were sorry to see us go but wished us well. Mr. and Mrs. Miller were very sweet to us the whole time we lived there. I couldn’t wish for better first landlords.
When Mahasraya informed the BBT that he would be needing funds to move into a new apartment, they gave him some shocking news. Since Srila Prabhupada was so ill and his translation work had slowed down, they were only going to need one computer typesetter per day, and the senior of the two was the other devotee who worked during the day. They were phasing out his typesetting/guarding job and so we had no source of income or way to get an apartment.
We were just stunned. Where would we go? What would I do while pregnant? This was October and my baby was due in December.
Mahasraya told me I had to apply for welfare and not tell them I was living with him. I went to do so and was told I needed proof of pregnancy. I looked down at my large abdomen in disbelief. Did they think this was a fake? And how was I supposed to afford a doctor to give me the required note?
Finally I came up with a plan. I went to the emergency room at a nearby hospital and told them I had passed out. They did some tests and came to the conclusion that I was anemic. They told me to start taking iron and I got the doctor to give me the note I needed while I was there. With that I was able to apply for welfare. But there was a delay while the paperwork went through. Meanwhile we still needed a place to stay.
Some devotees named Jamadagni (also called Indra) and his wife took me in for a couple of weeks until her own baby was due and she was having regular braxton-hicks contractions. Mahasraya was staying in a laundry room beneath the apartment of his friend Bruce. They dropped me off there one night, apologetically. I looked around at this room in despair. There was a water heater in one corner, ugly green walls, a cement floor, a gap under the only door to the room and one window at the other end. Unused laundry hookups protruded from the wall and the floor was strewn with boxes and Mahasraya’s sleeping bag. Bruce had a few things stored there as well and they were pushed under the window.
I laid out my sleeping bag and tried in vain to get comfortable on the cement floor. Periodically the November wind would blow leaves under the door and a chill would sweep the already frigid room. I was huddled under the sleeping bag and a wool blanket and yet still I was cold. My back hurt from carrying my unborn child and the hard floor wasn’t helping. My son was kicking against the confines of my womb, already very large in these last months of my pregnancy.
In the morning we were able to bathe upstairs in Bruce’s apartment. He didn’t have a refrigerator so we didn’t try to cook there. Instead we walked two miles to another friend’s home—Srilekha’s—and did our main cooking of the day at her home. In the afternoon or early evening we returned to our laundry room.
Mahasraya was looking for work and landed a job with a printer running an AB Dick printing press. He had claimed to know more about it than he did. He had learned a bit about running one in a graphics class he’d taken. But when it broke down he didn’t know how to fix it. The owner offered to bring someone in to train him the rest of the way but I guess he was so embarrassed at his deception being discovered that he couldn’t bear to stay. So he walked off the job. When he came home to tell me I couldn’t believe it. I was furious that he’d leave a job while we were homeless! He was counting on our welfare money but things would have been so much smoother for us if he’d kept this well paying job. We could have been in an apartment much sooner.
As our stay stretched past November and into December (past my birthday), Bruce took pity on me and gave me a foam cushion to sleep on. I learned to pee into a milk jug with the top cut off, balancing precariously in a squatting position with my huge belly throwing me off balance. In the morning I would dump it in a different corner of the yard and rinse it out.
One Sunday Srilekha asked me to please come along and babysit her daughter Kishori while she taught Sunday school to young East Indian children. On the way back the man who was driving our car got in an accident and I was pretty banged up. I was terrified that something had happened to my son, who didn’t kick for over an hour after the crash. The paramedics had checked me out and said I looked ok but suggested I get checked out in the Emergency Room. I didn’t have insurance coverage yet so I declined. Finally my son kicked and reassured me that he was ok. I could barely walk, though, because my shins were seriously bruised. I spent the night at Srilekha’s so I could have a chance to recover. She and her husband, SriGovinda, were going on a trip for a few days and she offered to let me stay at her house.
When she got back things were very strained between us and I wasn’t sure why—was she getting tired of my using her kitchen? I tried to help out by completely washing her dishes and cleaning up the stove and counters. It turned out that she was also thinking I should offer to clean the floors and bathroom but I hadn’t done so. One day she thought I was being quiet because I was resentful or something but I was angry at Mahasraya for not bringing back milk in time for breakfast. She started yelling at me and I just sat there, stunned, trying to explain myself. Mahasraya got back and my grandma called just then. I was on the phone and my grandma offered to fly me back home to have the baby. I burst into tears and gave Mahasraya the phone. It took me awhile to calm down and explain why I was crying and Srilekha was apologetic. I was so torn between going back home and having a roof over my head that didn’t include a cement floor, but I didn’t want to have my baby in a hospital and I didn’t want to be subjected to my family either. I realized that I couldn’t use Srilekha’s kitchen any more. Mahasraya agreed so we made the best of Bruce’s kitchen and got a little Styrofoam ice chest. I was doing massage for devotee women for a few bucks here and there, he had his departing check from the printer job, and the BBT was sort of shamed by public opinion into giving us a bit of a settlement towards finding a new home. So we were living on baked potatoes and lentils-and-rice. I had milk for my protein source. Once in awhile we got cheese.
Mahasraya began to talk about painting the walls of the laundry room and installing carpet and an electric heater. I looked at him like he was crazy! I stated as emphatically as possible: “I am NOT having my baby in a laundry room.”
One day Bill Fregd, an old friend from his Chicago days, arrived at the L.A. temple for the Sunday Feast. He was driving a sports car he’d purchased entirely with the money he made selling psilocybin mushrooms. Of course this got Mahasraya all excited. He never met a get-rich-quick-scheme he didn’t fall in love with! The idea of picking mushrooms and getting lots of money was a wet dream for him. He started buying psilocybin identification books and bringing home toadstools to identify. There was a piece of wood in the laundry room and he propped it up on some bricks to form a long, low shelf upon which he laid out his specimens. The room reeked of mushroom odor and my sensitive nose and queasy stomach rebelled at this. To this day I can’t bear the odor of fresh mushrooms and try to avoid cooked mushrooms as much as possible.
He never did find any psilocybin mushrooms but he read up on the methods for cultivating them. He decided that when we got a place to live he would send away for the mycelium needed to grow the mushrooms and start his business that way. I was not keen on this because I could so easily imagine getting busted and having my child taken away from me. But Mahasraya was growing so volatile that I didn’t want to argue the point. I can’t count the number of times that he got angry and hit me in the head and arms while I was pregnant, especially while we were in the laundry room and under so much stress.
I tried to keep myself together by reading incessantly. If I couldn’t get away from the laundry room any other way, I could enter another world by reading. I had discovered Lord of the Rings when I was at Jamadagni’s and asked to borrow it. So I was absorbed in Frodo’s quest and the shadow of Mordor. Would Frodo throw the ring into the Crack of Mount Doom in time? Would we find an apartment before I gave birth? The two seemed linked in my mind.
Finally, two weeks before I gave birth, we got our retroactive welfare check (or rather, my welfare check meant for me and my unborn child) and got into an apartment fairly quickly. I barely had time to get settled before I went into labor one night while baking my very first loaf of bread using the Tassajara bread book’s recipe. We were living in a one bedroom apartment on Durango Street, just a few blocks away from the temple.
...to be continued