by RIP RENSE
LAST MEXICAN OF VENICE
(Oct. 18, 2015)
Last Mexican of Venice is gone. The flippers got her. Yanked her
like a rotten, smelly tooth. Sent L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies to do it.
Jeannine Mendoza grew up
in Venice. She and her four siblings waded in the marshes before there was a
Marina del Rey, built bonfires on the beach before it was illegal, delighted in its
unpretentious working-class Little Rascals streets. Her parents bought an
unassuming house in what avaricious realtors would one day dub “The Golden
Triangle,” but it was just a sidestreet niche in 1957. And Mom and Dad had
grown up in West L.A. and Santa Monica.
For that matter, the Last
Mexican of Venice was descended from the Marquez family, recipients of an
1839 land grant that included Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades.
You want your “roots?”
There are your “roots.”
But Jeannine Mendoza,
a great-granddaughter of Old California, has been kicked out, under
threat of arrest, from the home she and her late husband, Aaron Hassman,
bought back in the ‘70’s. A cute 500-square-foot matchbox on Superba Avenue near
Lincoln where they somehow managed to raise two boys, while Jeannine’s Nana
lived in a mother-in-law apartment out back. Typical circumstances of old
Venice, long replaced by millennial tekkie royalty, movie royalty, developer
Royalty. I remember an
old bum I met on a pier long ago, declaiming about rampant injustice. Everything in his speech
somehow came back to the word, “rat.” “Royalty!” he exclaimed, spit hanging
off his white stubble. “Roy. Al. Ty. RAT!”
The RATs got the Last
Mexican of Venice, which is how Jeannine wryly referred to herself in recent
years, just as they have gotten countless others in her heavily white
gentrified neighborhood, and flipper-infested neighborhoods everywhere. The
RATs smell money, and nothing else matters. Not someone’s hard work or
integrity, not suffering, not tragedy. Only money. It’s really just the old
Vaudeville play, “The Drunkard,” on a huge scale. The poor widow (Jeannine
lost her husband several years ago) being evicted by the rich landlord. . .
Jeannine grew up believing that you should give back to the
community, the world, in some way. Most people used to believe this way,
before college kids answered “icon” or “rich” when polled as to their career
ambition. She went to Cal State Northridge on loans and financial aid for
minorities (Educational Opportunity Program) in the early ‘70’s, got a
degree in education. Then a Master’s degree. Eventually, an Ed. D. Right.
And she gave back by
teaching kindergarten, occasionally first or second grade. She believed this is
where she could make the most impact, and that the most impact should be
made here, when brains and hearts are so malleable. She was dedicated, she
was effervescent, she adored her students. Many came back years later to
thank her, a somewhat rare thing for a kindergarten teacher. There were
radiant reviews from supervisors. Always.
And so it went. Jeannine
taught, she raised a family, she paid off her gigantic student loans. Her
husband also taught grade school, and supplemented income by playing guitar
at weddings and becoming a boat
captain for hire, piloting outings to Catalina, Baja on weekends. The Hassmans got by. They were a happy couple, in love with each other, their
kids, their home, their work.
Except. . .
Aaron decided to more
than double their tiny living space by adding a second storey. He maxed out
credit cards and took on a new mortgage, and the work was done.
Finances were tight, but it was all do-able, he insisted, as long as he and
Jeannine kept working.
Except. . .
One day Aaron broke up a
fight between a couple of kids on the playground, in the process falling and
injuring his back. The pain came, and no amount of physical therapy could
take it away. As anyone
with chronic pain knows, it destroys functionality, life, sometimes sanity.
Aaron turned to prescription pain-killers. As anyone who takes prescription
pain-killers knows, the addiction is insidious and personality altering.
After a few years of valiant effort, he quit teaching and went on disability.
Not long after that, he quit his marriage, and went on a spree with other
women. . .
Jeannine was left behind
to pay off the massive new mortgage, which was more massive than she had been
led to think. While estranged and drug-deranged hubby continued maxing out
It was around this
time that the complaints from her new principal began. They were
completely unfounded, ridiculous, trumped-up, trivial,
Jeannine said, yet
all could be justified with administrative double-talk, and were. She was
baffled, she was deeply hurt, she was outraged, and then she wasn’t. LAUSD wanted her out,
she said, because she had maxed out her salary. Get
rid of the veteran, selfless teacher who has given so much, because it’s
time to bring in a kid and pay next-to-nothing. (Note: a billion-dollar
class action suit over this widespread tactic was just filed against LAUSD by a
She fought the
complaints, which were relentless, for a solid
three years. She consulted her essentially useless union, she talked to
attorneys, she countered every tacky charge the principal dreamed up, and
she did so with dignity. Something you should know about Jeannine is that
she does everything with dignity, courtesy, optimism. She is upbeat, sunny,
and never-say-die, always has been. Friends say it's innate.
Then, after 18 months of
separation, Aaron returned one night, apologizing, pleading to have his home and life
back. He missed his wife and teenaged sons, he tearfully confessed; he missed. .
.himself. Jeannine tentatively welcomed him, provided he got serious help kicking
drugs, left him to sleep in the living room and went to bed.
morning she found him dead. Didn’t bother with an autopsy.
There is a Grateful Dead
song lyric apt for this story: “Can’t close the door when the
in.” Jeannine was suddenly a widow in her late '50's, with two teenaged sons at home,
both aiming for
college. She was being driven out of her beloved career after nearly 35
years by what she saw as administrative bully instructed to cut costs. What
else could go wrong?
of her sons was horribly scalded in a home accident, and spent months in
hospitals, getting intravenous antibiotics
and skin grafts for legs and feet. His mother, of course, was frequently at
his side. The principal notified her that she was taking too much time away
Mendoza kept her
temper and continued to find ways to cover expenses, to cope, plugging ever-springing leaks in the dam
with a finger, a thumb, an elbow, an idea.
To meet her mortgage,
though, she would have needed Batman.
Ethical Real Estate Funding, LLC (CEREF), whose guiding principle is
the “preservation of homeownership in California accomplished
through ethical and fair dealing with homeowners and our investors,"
refused to modify her loan.
Menacing letters on legal letterhead began arriving like junk mail. Threat after
threat of foreclosure and eviction. It was in this atmosphere that she
finally retired from LAUSD, unable to tolerate further stress, figuring she could
substitute teach and still bring in enough money to maybe hang on to
Except. . .
Catch 22: she was
barred from substitute teaching in LAUSD because of all the complaints from
her principal. And you wonder why this school district is so loused up.
That’s correct: a
wonderful teacher with a doctorate in education who taught selflessly in city
schools for 35 years was blackballed by the district. Not exactly a gold
watch. So she asked for financial help from her siblings and her sons, and they rose
to the occasion. It was a small version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” really,
such was the rallying spirit of the Mendoza clan, cousins and nieces and
And she managed to make
the payments, or withhold them if her attorney advised it during times when her
mortgage was bought and sold again and again, passed from one “private
equity” firm (read: foreclosure vultures) to another like a mad football
play. There were periods when she didn’t actually know who to pay. Something
called the California Ethical Real Estate Funding, LLC (CEREF), whose
guiding principle is the “preservation of homeownership in California
accomplished through ethical and fair dealing with homeowners and our
investors," refused to modify her loan. So much for "fair dealing."
At one point, she
declared bankruptcy---something she felt deeply ashamed about--- essentially
to stall foreclosure and hang on. She wrote to Los Angeles Times
columnist Steve Lopez for help, knowing full well that she was hardly alone
in her circumstances. Lopez, who often champions the
“little guy,” wrote back a terse note saying that he didn’t see what
gentrification had to do with her problem. Never mind that most of Venice
has been gentrified, and all the working class folk long driven out. So much,
apparently, for a columnist championing the “little guy.”
Yet her plan worked.
She substituted in private schools and tutored, bringing in nearly as
much as her old salary, never mind that she was driving (when the car was
running) or taking buses all over the city, regularly putting in
fourteen-hour days into her early ‘60’s. Renting a room to college
students helped. In the end, it was really a sort of miracle: she had actually managed to put enough money together to buy her house back, when the flipper
got her. One can only wonder if someone got wind of her impending bid, and
moved in for the kill. She’ll never know.
“Alex Middleton III bid
$1.4 million dollars on my house in June,” she said. “At the time I had
secured funding from a different source to buy my house from the investment
group that held the mortgage. It took a day longer than I planned to get out
of bankruptcy, and in the interim my house was auctioned off. I tried to
stall the inevitable but last Thursday (Oct. 8) while I was subbing, the sheriff came
and evicted us. We were allowed to come back and get some stuff and today I
was there today from 7 a.m. until eight at night. This Middleton wants to fix up
the house and flip it before El Nino starts up and his profit margin slips,
that’s my guess.”
So as The Last Mexican
of Venice sinks slowly in the west, and someone with the caricaturish
rich-white-guy name of Alex Middleton III prepares to gut and flip her home
for a crass profit, Dr. Jeannine Mendoza has moved in with a brother,
temporarily. She gets $400,000 out of the deal (the “overage”), which sounds
pretty good, until you think about what
$400,000 will buy you in L.A. these
days, and you think about losing not a house, but a home where your kids
grew up, and where you spent your happiest times.
On top of losing a career
of 35 years. On top of growing up in a neighborhood that has all but
disappeared under a hurricane of flipping, exploitation, greed, gentry.
After your ancestors essentially settled the region in the first place.
© 2015 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.