Tuesday, April 17, 2012



   On September 17th, 1969, a new comedy series premiered on the American Broadcasting Network (ABC), channel 7 in Los Angeles, at nine o'clock. It would air in that Wednesday time slot for two seasons, before changing to Friday nights at nine, following "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," and preceeding "The Odd Couple," and "Love American Style." The series was called "Room 222," and that would make for quite a winning Friday night line up.
   The filmed sitcom would air until January 11th, 1974, for a total of 112 episodes. It concerned the goings on at Walt Whitman High School right here in Los Angeles that Wikipedia says is fictitious, but I found one at 7795 Rosewood Ave, near Fairfax and Beverly Bl. in West Hollywood. It's also called a continuation school, which is a school for students who are considered at-risk of not graduating at the normal pace, which was not the case in the TV show.
   Walt Whitman High School is the home of the Pathfinders.
   The Television show was called "Room 222," because Classroom 222 was the room used by the star of the show, Loyd Hanes. His girlfriend was the school's guidance counselor played by the lovely Denise Nicholas, the principle was played by veteran actor Michael Constantine, and the student teacher was lovely young Karen Valentine, one of my very favorite actresses. This was her breakout role as a matter of fact, and well the rest is history.
   I remember watching the program as a young man (I probably stayed tuned in to that entire Friday night line up). I would have been all of 14 when the show premiered, and 19 when it ended, and enjoyed it a great deal (especially Karen... I don't know why). I watched a lot of television back then, which was waaaaayy before the Internet came into existence. I was also learning how to drink and use drugs during those years.
   I was a good student.
   Room 222 has another special significance for me in particular. My fellow Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT) Ambassador for the Las Americas Hotel, and friend, Tina Renee Castellaw lived there.
   And died there. Very sadly, Tina passed away, as best as can be determined, sometime a week ago yesterday on April 9th, a Monday, just 13 days shy of her 50th birthday.
   She hadn't lived here that long, just since August 31st of last year (I know this as I keep secret records of everything that goes on around here... just for the pure, sweet hell of it). After Tina moved in I began to see her around the building, which is pretty normal. She loved to cook, so I saw her in the downstairs kitchen quite a bit, happily making something or other.
   I first spoke to her during the hotel's Thanksgiving dinner last November, when she and I, along with many others, volunteered to help cook (and eat) the meal. I remember her as very cheerful, and outgoing, and easy to get along with. Indeed, her friend and neighbor Diane just told me the other day that Tina "was so happy just to be here." And it did seem like that was the case.
   After the meal was served and devoured, everybody stuffed with turkey and dressing and other assorted Thanksgiving edible paraphernalia, Tina went after the leftovers with gusto, removing the meat from the remaining turkey bones until they were picked dry as if attacked by a massive column of African Army Ants (Dorylus mandibularis), and then she made a delicious soup from the dinners' remains, and gave it all away.
   I still have some of that soup as a matter of fact. Please excuse while I thaw it out and  have lunch...
   ...boy that was good.
   Anyway, Tina and I would also attend special planning meetings devoted to sussing out what the hotels residents ideas were concerning the renovation of the courtyard area out back, where Erin, Paul, Hardy and I used to garden on Monday mornings. It was to be a whole big redecoration, with lots of resources involved, a landscape architect and everything! Lovely Molly, our Director of External Affairs, and Teresa, SRHT's in-house architect attended, as well as Patryk, our Marketing and Tour Coordinator, who took pictures (and provided Tina's picture above, thank you), my case manager Robert, and a host of community V.I.P.s. It was all a very big deal.
   We had these planning meetings about once a month for three months. We'd all enjoy free  pizza afterwards. Yummy.
   Last Christmas Tina managed to get my ex-case manager, lovely Erin, upset to no end, even though they have never met as far as I know. Tina took it upon herself to decorate the hotel's lobby and X-mas tree with Christmas decorations, which was quite appropriate for the time of year. However lovely Erin had wanted to come over and help out, because she enjoys decorating things at Christmas time too.
   Many people do. Especially women.
   But Tina had all the decorating finished before anyone knew what happened, prompting this angry Email I received from Erin: "You b_ _ _ _ _ _' s decorated without me!" (the word "b _ _ _ _ _ d" being a colorful endearment reserved for ex-case managers and clients), which prompted me to Email back, having to come up with a lengthy and apologetic explanation.
   Erin's still not talking to me (not really).
   But this aspect of Tina's personality displayed her caring and giving nature, and her enthusiasm toward volunteering her time and efforts toward causes she deemed worthy.
   That's how she became a SRHT Ambassador representing the Las Americas Hotel. Lovely Molly came to one of our monthly resident meetings last year and explained what the Ambassador Program was all about and left applications for those who might be interested in volunteering.
   What is the Ambassador Program? Glad you asked.
   It is essentially a year long PR program for SRHT residents, approximately two from each of the Trust's 22 hotels, who represent the Trust, and are sort of on-call to attend community events, dinners, lunches, speak to media officials, be interviewed, conduct tours of some of the hotels, wash Molly's and Patryk's car when needed, etc., etc., etc.
   I'm kidding about the car washing, but really you two... throw some water on those things.
   I was also selected to be an Ambassador for the Las Americas. I don't know why.
   Ambassadors attend special training sessions about once a month, maybe twice. We get to learn how to lead tours, tell our story to audiences and how we came to SRHT, and about the Trust itself, and the Shelter Plus Care Program (I'll get back to this at a later date). We got our pictures taken and had video interviews.
   I feel like a rock star.
   In fact, the last time I saw Tina was during one of these sessions, last March 30th to be exact. The meeting began at 9:00AM, and we both exited from the Las Americas at the same time.
   "Hello, fellow Ambassador," she said to me.
   "Hey Tina. Are you going to the meeting?"
   "Are you walking?" The session was to be held at the Abby Hotel because everybody likes the Abby, and it has a nice big day room, and is located about five or six blocks west of the Las Americas, near the corner of San Pedro and 6th, just behind the Midnight Mission.
   "Oh no," Tina said. "I'm taking the bus."
   "Okay. I'm walking. I'll see you there." And we parted.
   I wish now she had walked with me, or I had taken the bus with her.
   I did see her at the meeting where I learned all about how not to re-traumatize myself by telling my story.
   Fat chance of that.
   And that was the last time I saw Tina sadly. She was scheduled to be a speaker at a Community Dinner on the night of the tenth that I also attended in a local Italian restaurant, but she didn't show. So she was looked for the next day and found.
    I'm told she was very nervous about being asked to speak, but was also eager to do so, because that's how she was.
   And it's all so very sad... as life can be at times. So young... so young.
   We don't know what the cause of her sudden and completely unexpected death was, and may never know. I've never learned the exact cause of my friends Robert Bray and Jose Montoyas' deaths either.
   What do we learn from all of this death. The easy answer is to live each day as if it were our very last, because it may be.
   And some day will be.
   This is not a solum or very traditional memorial because Tina was not a solum or very traditional woman, and would have, I believe, enjoyed this brief depiction of our encounter at this exceptional period of her life.
    And perhaps she enjoyed sit-coms from the late 60s and early 70s as did I.
   She was a wonderful lady who I will miss and remember for the rest of my life, however long that is.
   We all love and miss you Tina.

Tina Renee Castellaw
April 22, 1962
April 9th, 2012
Mother and Friend


  1. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful tribute to our friend.

  2. As another New Year passed and I lay on my couch thinking of all the wonderful people I'd encountered over the years Tina's name ran through my head. I decided to google search her when I came across the saddening news of her death from your blog. Tina was without a doubt one of the most memorable people I associate with my Los Angeles experience she taught me so much about myself and life in general. In the very short time of knowing her she treated me like a daughter of her own. I also came across the article in the Las Americas newsletter about her, to hear the struggles she endured before her passing saddened me because of how beautiful of a person she was...I thought to myself no one like her should have to go through that, but Tina definitely could handle lows better than anyone I've met in my entire life. This blog post warmed my heart to know that she continued to touch people's lives the way she touched mine. Thank you.

  3. I knew Tina when she was a young girl. She loved Rod Stewart and was so creative and imaginative. She lived in Dallas, Tx with her mother and I knew her brothers, who lived in Fort Worth. I ran across this on a google search of the name Castellaw. She was so beautiful when she was a girl, very exotic looking and her pic above still looks like the beautiful girl I remembered. Her spirit was just as beautiful too, even though her childhood was extremely tough and at times, unbearable. God Speed Mi Bonita Amiiga!