Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Neighborhood Watch

On Saturday around dusk, our front door was open. We were lounging. Both girls were on a camping trip and I took advantage by reading the paper, catching the breeze with my feet that were dangling over an armrest. From the courtyard that amplifies pebble sounds, we heard a thud, a THUD and the undeniable shatter of a large glass object. Later, Molly told me she believed a glass piano had been tossed off the second-story balcony. We scampered to investigate. Molly and John and Natalie and Drew had scampered too, having heard the crash from their open doors. We looked for fallen glass pianos.

My neighbor directly below was standing outside his door shirtless, barefoot, looking bewildered. He had broken the floor-to-ceiling pane glass window outside of his apartment. He had done it on purpose. I looked over the railing at his face, flushed and drooping, though I mainly stared at his stomach that rounded over his shorts. He said softly and edgy, "I was locked out." The moment slowed then, caught in the cloud of our incomprehension. "You were locked out?" John said. "Yea, I mean, this wouldn't have happened if we had a central office, y'know?" We all thought of our landlord who lived two blocks away. The neighbor's hand left his stomach and ran through black, thin hair. He was high as kite. And I turned around then and went back into my apartment because the irrationality lingered still, too thickly, between we neighbors. I didn't know this neighbor very well before, but I knew enough from a busted window to feel a bit nervous. I heard other neighbors collecting and I sat back down in my arm-rested chair to finish the LA Times Calendar section. My patience has apparently evaporated for users.

Husband told me later that the neighbor walked over the broken mess and tried wobbly to climb into the window with large shards pointing too high at his crotch. John retrieved a blanket to cover the glass blades and the guy straddled it and flopped in. The apartment went quiet and dark -- the window and mess untouched for hours -- until his wife and three young children came home late that night. John later asked if we ever heard him being aggressive from down below us to the children or his wife. We reported that he's the only one we never hear. That detail took on a new curiosity.

I still believe my apartment building is a dream with thoughtful and care-taking residents. It's just that, you never really know, do you? John and Molly had us over for dinner that same night and we gossiped hard and shamelessly. I confessed that I thought one neighboring couple was a swinging one adding the declaimer that it didn't take away from what nice people they are. And the men laughed, but Molly cocked her head and widened her eyes and said, "Y'know, I felt a vibe too." Then we retold the story of another neighbor, also excruciatingly nice, who had been a body guard to an infamous athlete. He possessed guns in his apartment, legally, because of his line of work. Until a ragging and darkly depressed girlfriend intentionally killed herself with one right up there, in that nice apartment of the nice neighbor.

Where I've lived before, secrets didn't keep too quiet. They were out there for everyone to hear through open windows during blistering summer nights. Loud enough even to hear through closed doors and floors, ceilings. Like, when I lived above heroin dealers, and there was that night they got jacked. That sound of someone getting their ass badly beat is so fierce, so startling: Funiture knocked and unintentional grunts, the sound of flesh getting pounded, the muffled yelling. Or, when I used to live near downtown and I could see the parking lot of bar from my fifth-story bedroom window. I was always spying out there watching sloppy fights and slurred conversatons. One night I witnessed someone put a drunk woman in a car. They went back into the bar once they felt she was securely in, but soon the drunk woman opened the car door, puked, and rolled out with her back on the asphalt. She was out cold. Orange street lamps exposed her tiny passed-out body in the near-empty lot. I watched her for five minutes hoping she'd come to, but she stayed there, her foot bend awkwardly behind her. I woke my boyfriend at the time and told him to help me put the woman back in the car. He said, "Hell no. Let's mind our business." I looked out again and I said, "Someone could take advantage." I went down anyway and he followed to help me.

Or from my old living room where I heard gunshots. Or the drunken berating of wives and kids. Or slaps. Or feriousious arguements. Or abandoned dogs howling. Or when I've seen yellow tape marking off an apartment a few doors down. Or every neighborhood car broken into including my own a few times, once with a brick through the window. Or houses ripped off and bikes gone.

From my experience, the division of economic levels determines how well your neighbor's darkness is known. I'm not saying my neighborhood doesn't have any secrets. It's just harder to tell here until one slips and smashes a huge pane glass window over forgotten keys.


Roots and Wings said...

You write with such passion. I love it. I some how stumbled across your page just now, mind if I stay around? Your post reminds me of that old movie with Grace Kelly, Rear Window I think it's called. However, I don't hope you witness a murder.

acumamakiki said...

beautiful story here madness. i loved your descriptions of previous apartments, especially the girl in the parking lot. you're a good soul to go help that girl, someone definitely would have taken advantage.
apparently the town i live in has a big swingers population and this from more than one source.

Marigoldie said...

And, really, we're all so close together. It's hard to fathom sometimes, how everyone's huddled in their own space doing their own thing and it feels perfectly private. Like, there's someone directly underneath me right now doing god knows what! It blows my mind sometimes.

madness rivera said...

Hi Root, yes, pull up a chair and stay a long while. Welcome!

I thought swingers were obsolete, but apparently not.

M, I know, right? Crazy that we really only live a sheet of dry wall away from each other.

Don't Get Mad Get Vegan! said...

we have the luxury of living out in the country (of sorts) with everyone having their own acre (at least) of yard space.

it gives the illusion that everyone with their well-manicured lawns and walked dogs are all balanced, perfectly nice people.

then ya think to check the public records for the neighbors who moved in across the street a few months ago and Poof! convicted rapist right there. ca-ra-zy!

steph said...

Do you mind if I stay for a while, too, madness? I just can't stop at your latest post. And yes, this reminds me, too, of Rear Window.

I grew up in Houston, and your old neighborhood descriptors evoked many hot summernights there, where OUR family was the loud one. ..My mom's Italian. What can I say?

And I hear that swinging is fashionable too, where we live. when I jog through our sedate, vaulted neighborhood I imagine all sorts of cavorting behind the driveways full of cars. It's Saturday night in our little "bedroom community," for sure.

Anyway, I'm so glad I found you! If you don't mind, I'm going to poke around the archives, now. :)