Before the art installations, graffiti parties, or Halloween parties, before squatters took over and it was ever nicknamed Bates Motel, the Sunset Pacific motel on Sunset was simply known as Mr. Eng’s Office to my family and me. And this was where I spent many of my childhood vacations.

It was Edward Eng, my dad’s boss, who owned the motel and property. When you entered through the “lobby” and went through a door behind the counter, there was a larger room in the back, which was where Mr. Eng’s accounting business that my father managed before taking over and moving the practice to Monterey Park, taking with him the majority of his Chinese clients.

This was where I spent summer vacations and most bitterly, many spring breaks, which was more like a week-long labor camp aka tax season. Instead of going on vacation like normal kids, my brother, sister, and I worked. While I was too young to enter people’s tax information onto the worksheets, which is what my older siblings did, I sorted the client’s receipts. This trivial task suited a child of six or seven as I would just arrange these bits of paper into neat piles and staple them to make it easier for the employees to add up. Usually, the week after my mom would buy us discounted egg dying kits and chocolate rabbits because my parents were too busy working up until April 15. We always missed Easter.

Edward Eng (but we only ever called him Mr. Eng) was a looming presence but was never in the office — I never met him, but I heard a lot about him. How he had a horrible temper and yelled a lot. He was clearly a formidable man, even to my father, who also has a legendary temper. But also how he was exceptionally clever. He was an account, a lawyer, and prolific L.A. property owner — including his properties in Half Moon Bay, and in the midwest, where he’d go for old fashioned animal hunts. The upstairs of the office had a giant bear and tiger that he hunted, now spread eagled, and mounted to his wall, along with an innocuous mounted moose head. He shot all of these animals himself. And as a child terrified of everything, I would hold my pee for as long as possible, because this was where the restroom was so very conveniently located. I refused to go up there by myself among the animals in the dark and decrepit room. With their eyes and mouths ferociously open, as if they were lunging at him just before he shot them dead.

My dad eventually moved the practice to Monterey Park, where we lived, and where most of his Chinese clients were moving to. You know Chinese Americans are old school if they lived in places like Los Feliz or Silver Lake. They really kinda made it, in the way we talk about immigrants fully assimilating. And that was Eddy Eng. Everyone else just moved east, where they could mix comfortably with other Chinese people and not really make an effort to learn English. Those tended to be the restaurant or grocery owners who relied on my dad’s accounting services. (Though the way my dad tells it, he saved us from growing up in Chinatown. This was when moving to the suburbs was a sign that you made it.)

My dad left Sunset Pacific forever and moved to a brand new site in Monterey Park in the late 80s, before the motel turned into a real dump. I mostly hated the long ride there, but then again, when it wasn’t spring break, it felt kind of neat to see my father at work. My mom only drove on surface streets, so we would drive all the way down Brooklyn Ave. (now Caesar Chavez), all the way to Silver Lake. When I saw that certain row of palm trees I’d know that that we were a just block away from the office. Plus, it was this great childhood treat to be able to pick out donuts next door at Tang’s, another relic from the past.

So whenever I pass by that blight of a building in Silver Lake, I can’t help but feel slightly nostalgic. But that Mr. Eng was essentially a slum lord fills my mind with equal parts disgust and intrigue. He was kind of a legend among Chinese Americans who knew him. I think when your people have been screwed since the late 1800s by the U.S. government simply for just being, I can understand why people like my dad and others of his generation relished that Mr. Eng was basically giving the city of Los Angeles the finger for so long (to be clear I’m not condoning the horrific conditions, but let’s not pretend that this kind of thing was unusual at the time in this part of L.A.). The guy basically didn’t give a shit and made a fair whack when he sold it off.

I just hope he took his dead animal trophies with him.

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