Community Service in Hollywood - Page 2

By Amy Dresner 12/11/13

Sentenced to 30 days of community service in Los Angeles, Amy Dresner recounts facing up to the consequences of her actions.

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Photo: Dresner

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Thereʼs a new kid on my crew this day. I accurately guess that heʼs 27. I smell money. We spoiled kids can sniff each other out. Heʼs also newly sober. I smell that too.

“What you get busted for?” I ask as we take our morning break outside McDonald's.

“DUI and possession of Xanax,” he says, wearing stupid looking oversized yellow raybans.

“Party on!” I say and wink.

“I was totally done with my community service for my last arrest, finished the DUI class, was going in to see the judge and have everything dismissed.”

“And...”


“Well, I put on this jacket I hadnʼt worn in a while and...”

“Oh I already know where this is going.”

“And I set off the metal detector in the court building. They search me and find some foil with heroin trails on it. Bam. A whole new charge of felony possession. Not just a violation of probation.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah...” He takes a drag of his cigarette. “We just sweep all day? That doesnʼt seem bad...”

“Youʼre obviously new,” I say and laugh.

“Yeah.” I lay down some of the rules: donʼt look at your phone while sweeping, donʼt talk to strangers, donʼt smoke while sweeping, make sure you get the gutters and all the cigarette butts, donʼt take your community service t-shirt off.

“God, you could work here. You know everything.”

“Babe, after 20 days of this shit, so will you.”

We are slowly making our way down Vermont. He is skinny, lazy and slow and misses all the fucking cigarette butts. He doesn’t realize it’s a TEAM effort and that what he doesn’t pick up, doesn’t just not get picked up. It gets picked up by the rest of us. It’s just as easy to do a job poorly as it is to do it well. But trying telling that to a 27 year old junkie...or me a few months ago. I finally have a work ethic. Miracles do happen.

“Hey you ever find money or drugs out here?” The kid asks me.

“Dude it’s community service, not a fucking treasure hunt.”

He laughs. Heʼs easy going. Later I try to make him smell my disgusting sweaty hands, finger tips all pruney from hours in rubber gloves. He almost does. I laugh hysterically. If I canʼt haze the new guy, where is the fun in being the old hand on the chain gang?

I occasionally snap a picture of these guys...from the back, of course, to preserve their anonymity. Now Linda, my bisexual bipolar best friend, wants one of the uniforms: a holey paint-splattered t-shirt, or the grimy ones that say “business improvement district” or the tan button downs with “Clean Team” on the back. She collects all the clothes from my bad decisions for pajamas: jail socks, psych ward gown and pants and now a community labor t-shirt. How restful can that shit be? I guess itʼs easy to sleep well when youʼre grateful you arenʼt your retarded best friend. To each their own.

One day, two people asked me if I was the job “supervisor." Granted they were both homeless but I must have looked important or bored. I have a soft spot in my heart for the homeless and we see a lot of them sweeping the streets, especially on Vermont and Santa Monica Blvd. So many of them are stricken with mental illness and drug/alcohol addiction, both things I’ve been struggling with my whole life. If not for parents and friends who continued to support me and never abandon me, I too could have been on the street.

A slim young girl with erratically chopped up hair, smeared black eye make up and rotting chipped front teeth is manically gesticulating and walking up the street. She is obviously a speed freak. She has on stained moccasins, a t-shirt, underwear, no pants, a long sweater and something strange tied around her head. I feel a weird fear come up but then I remember my new motto...see everybody for their humanness, the way you want to be seen for yours. And it is ONLY the homeless people that ever acknowledge us or say “good morning." To everybody else we are invisible trash.

She walks up and smiles and does a twirl.

“Where are your pants, girl?” 
I ask.

“Some Armenian bitch burnt them!”


“Oh shit...”

“Are you Argentinian?”
 She asks.

“No I’m from here. Why?”
 I smile.

“Because your hair up like that...it looks Argentinian."

“Thanks." She is referring to my messy bun that keeps my long blonde locks off my sweaty face and away from the street filth.

Then she goes rambling on about feeling other people meditate and I just smile and laugh and pretend I understand. And then she touches my arm and prances off. My heart breaks a little.

I have eight more days of community labor to complete. And as tiring and humbling as it has been, it has been the BEST thing that ever happened to me…once I accepted responsibility for my actions and stopped feeling sorry for myself. Sure, I never thought I’d have a criminal record for assault and battery let alone be spending a month picking up trash and human feces. But I have made the best of it. I have had a laugh with the guys and learned the joys of “chicharrón." One day I even caught myself singing Steve Winwood’s “Finer Things” while sweeping my little ass off at nine in the morning. The irony was not lost on me.

Nobody is immune to the consequences of their bad decisions. That leveling revelation finally destroyed my enormous entitlement and any last vestiges of false pride. You do the crime, you do the time. All those things that you are convinced could never happen to “you”? Well, I’m here to tell you that they can. From Beverly Hills to Hell can be a short fucking ride. You could easily be in anybody’s shoes under the right…. or should I say wrong circumstances. So try to be compassionate and kind. As Wilson Mizner said, “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet ‘em on your way down.”

Amy Dresner is a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about the varieties of self soothing options in recovery, and the joys of the 13th step. As of today she has one day of community service left to go.

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Amy Dresner is a recovering drug addict and all around fuck up. She’s been regularly writing for The Fix since 2012. When she isn't humorously chronicling her epic ups and downs for us, she's freelancing for Refinery 29, Alternet, After Party Chat, Salon, The Frisky, Cosmo Latina, Unbound Box, Addiction.com and Psychology Today. Her first book, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean was published in September 2017 by Hachette Books. Follow her on Twitter @amydresner.

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