Monday, August 20, 2012

Life on my street

I was going to properly introduce my neighbor Melvin to you tonight. He’s an alcoholic, and he’s in love with me, and he’s kind of a character. But as I was avoiding the blank page by watching Breaking Bad and drinking watered down Chardonnay, I heard men shouting outside in angry, panicky voices. Loud voices aren’t unusual on my street; I usually ignore them. But something about the quality of tone caught my attention this time. I paused the TV and listened closer.

“Get down on the fucking ground! Get down on the fucking ground! I said get down or I will shoot you! I will shoot you!

Definitely not the normal domestic brawl. I thought about running upstairs and looking out my bedroom window, but the urgency compelled me to open the front door and step out onto the porch, prepared to run back in if anything resembling a gunfight between the drug dealer down the street and anybody else seemed eminent.

I peered around the corner of the porch and saw one of the city bike cops, legs spread wide, handgun pointed at some people who were face-down on the street. I could see his bike standing near him, red blinkies blinking, and what looked like a pile of bikes around his feet.

“I said stay down!” he shouted and motioned toward the middle person on the ground, who looked like he had tried to stand up. The person said something and the cop responded, “You pulled a fucking gun on me. I will shoot you if you don’t stay down.”

The cop reached up to his collar and shouted into his radio, “I’m at the corner of _____ and ______. Suspect pointed a gun at me. Suspect pulled a gun.” He still had his gun trained on the them, arms straight out just like on TV. Maybe I heard fear in his voice along with anger and adrenaline. Or maybe I simply projected how I would feel, waiting there outnumbered in the dark, praying I wouldn’t have to shoot anybody or get shot myself.

I could see a patrol car had come up the street on the other side of the gate, half a block to my left. I live in a gated community – but not that kind. Back in the 90’s the city put locked gates two blocks apart on most of the streets in my neighborhood to prevent high-speed chases and drive-by shootings. It makes getting to my house a little confusing, but also keeps the drive-through traffic down.

Within a couple of minutes, the cruiser appeared at the other end of the block and turned down the street. Two officers got out, and the bike cop walked around to the other side of the suspects, his gun still pointed at them. I could see now that there were three people on the ground. They looked like young men.

The one in the middle said something to the bike cop, and he said, “Don’t you swear at me.” He moved closer with his gun.

The middle suspect said, “You swore at me first!”

Really? You pointed a gun at a cop and now you’re going to argue with him about who gets to swear at whom? I would already have peed my pants. Especially when one of the two cops who got out of the cruiser pulled out his gun and stood over them pointing it at them too.

By now I was standing on the steps watching. They were across the street, a couple of houses down. The cruiser was parked in front of the drug dealer’s house. He was probably cowering in the basement the whole time. Close as I was though, it was hard to hear what they were saying. Between the crickets chirping and the neighbor’s fucking air conditioner, I couldn’t hear much at all. FML.

The cop who didn’t have a gun out put handcuffs on the suspects, led the middle one to the car and put him in the back. They were all calm and businesslike. They had one of the other suspects sit up on the curb and let the third one sit up in the street while the bike cop searched a bike bag in the street. He pulled out what looked like a bottle of beer. It was a bottle filled with gold liquid, in any case. Ooops. It’s illegal to drink and cycle.

My next door neighbor Linda – the one I suspect wrote “bitch” on my windshield a couple of weeks ago because she didn’t like where I was parked in front of my own house -- turned on her porch light and came out. I glanced over but otherwise ignored her. That’s what bitches do.

Finally she asked what was going on and I told her what I knew. She said they’d been hearing gunshots more than usual the past couple of weeks. I agreed. She said she listened to the police scanner on her computer. I said I didn’t know you could do that. And I thought, Nothing would make me crazier than listening to a police scanner in addition to what I already observe around here.

Finally she said, “Aren’t we the nosy neighbors? I guess I’ll go in.”

I said, “Next time you write ‘bitch’ on my van, you’re the one who’s going to be talking to the men with the guns and flashing lights, asshole.”  I ignored her.

One by one, three other cruisers, each with two cops riding in them, pulled up. I was sure the drug dealer had gone over his back fence and was three miles away on foot by now. I saw Melvin’s brother’s pickup come down the cross street, slow down almost to a stop, and then turn the opposite way. I’m sure they were full of gin and juice and didn’t want to get involved. Besides the street was blocked with cruisers.

It’s been one of those weekends here on my street. Friday night I went to a play with some friends. When they dropped me off here, a young woman was knocking on my neighbor Art’s door. According to Melvin, since his wife left Art’s been kind of a player. He certainly does seem to entertain a lot of women. Melvyn says he can’t tell them apart; they all look alike.

This one was knocking. Knocking, knocking, knocking over and over and over. And she was talking while she was knocking. And pacing. Knocking, talking, pacing. Art wasn’t answering the door.

My friends were reluctant to leave me, but I said go ahead. The crazy girlfriend didn’t have anything to do with me. I came inside to change so I could go downtown and meet up with a friend for the second half of the night.

When I came out, the crazy girl was over on Melvin’s steps talking to him. He called out to me, “Where you goin’, baby? You goin’ back out?”

I said, “I’m just going downtown to hang out with a friend.”

”Can I go with you?” he asked.

“No, I said, and then I walked over to make sure he was OK. That young woman wasn’t acting normal.

“I still love you, baby. You know that, right?” he said. “Oh, this here is Shayna. She’s looking for Art.”

She came down the steps and said hi to me. I said hi briefly and then asked Melvin if everything was OK. I don’t trust crazy-acting girlfriends hanging around in the middle of the night – or any other time -- knocking and talking and pacing. She could be a bunny-boiler.

Melvin said, “We OK. You go on and meet your friend, baby. I love you.”

So I got in my van and left them talking on his porch. As it turned out, I was only gone for about 45 minute. When I got home, Shayna was back over at Art’s front porch, knocking and talking and pacing  over and over and over. I could see the glow of her cell phone, hear her voice rise and fall as she railed at Art inside and at somebody on the phone.

Melvin called to me, so I went up on his porch. He offered me his paper bag, but I declined. I said, “What the fuck is that crazy woman doing still knocking? Obviously Art isn’t home.”

Melvin said, “He was at the bar when I Ieft. Some guy came and picked him up, and he left his car here. I told that girl I didn’t want to call the police on her but I would.”

“Call them,” I said. “I don’t want to listen to that shit all night. I don’t want to listen to her another second.”

“If I call the police they’ll just say, ‘What you want now, Melvin? What kinda trouble you in now?’ They might not even come out.”

“Then call Art and tell him to come home and clean up his front porch. Go on. Call him right now,” I said. I can’t even describe how annoying the knocking and ranting was. The woman’s persistence would have been admirable if she hadn’t been so maddening.

“Baby, you missed the gunshots a little while ago. They came from back there.” He pointed back behind his next door neighbor’s house.

“I heard gunshots from back there a couple of weeks ago,” I said. “Art thought they were fireworks, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

“Long as they not shootin’ at me, baby, I’m not going to get involved. I’ll just sit here and drink my gin and juice. Thank you very much.” He was looking on his phone for Art’s number. He found it and hit the button. Over his speaker I could heard the voice mail pick up and tell us the voicemail box was full.

“I’ll bet that crazy bitch has been calling and leaving him messages all night and filled up his mailbox,” I said.

Eventually I talked Melvin into going over and talking to her again, but she refused to leave. She said, “I got just as much right to be here as he does. I have my mail delivered here. That means this my house too. He has my son’s TV. It’s not my TV, it belong to my son. I’d leave if it was my TV, but he’s not keeping my son’s TV.” She went on for a while about how her mail was delivered there so she had every right to be there on the porch annoying the hell out of me.

I said to Melvin, If she’s still knocking when I’m ready to go to bed, I’m calling the police. I want that crazy bitch to go away now.”

“That’s OK, baby. You need your sleep. Say, could you do me a little favor and I’ll give you some money for gas? I’m about out of gin and juice….”


“That’s OK. I still love you, baby.” I left him on the sidewalk and went inside.

By the time I went to bed, she was gone – or at least not knocking. But she was back the next afternoon. I had ridden my bike over to Elvira’s and come home just in time to shower and change before I went to a party. I heard several people shouting out there in the street for a while, but I didn’t even look. When I went outside to leave, Melvin came down his porch steps to the street.

“Baby, you see all the police here a little bit ago?”

“No, I was getting ready to go. I didn’t even look out.”

“What? You didn’t see all that? You missed a good fight. That one (he motioned toward the drug dealer’s house) came out after they left and asked if they were looking for him. I said ‘they comin’ for you next!’ Where you goin’?”

“To a party.” I opened my van door and threw my purse in.

“Can I go with you?”


“That’s OK. I love you anyway, baby. Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not. I love you too.”

I never know what’s going to happen on this street. One day there will be a guy playing jazz trombone on my neighbor’s lawn or the gay couple across the street will be grilling steaks and they’ll invite the elderly woman who lives in the 4-plex with Melvin over. A group of kids might get together an impromptu game of football in the street or run foot races. Or the family at the end of the street will be digging in the garden they put in the vacant lot next to them.

Or one of a number of angry, persistent girlfriends might be shouting at Art or the drug dealer, usually the same words over and over, “You see what you did? You see what you did? You see what you did? You see what you did….” Or a couple of gunshots will pop from one of the other nearby streets. Or a bike cop will have three young men face-down in the middle of the street because one of them pointed a gun at him.

The suburbs were rarely this interesting. Except that one time a drunk driver ran into our neighbor's tree in the middle of the night.

Eventually tonight the cops took the cuffs off the two who hadn’t pulled a gun, but not until all 9 of them examined something that may or may not have been the gun with their flashlights and the lights of the first cruiser. They offered the bottle of gold liquid to the two suspects who were let go, but one of them said, “Not if it’s illegal. Just dump it out.” The cops laughed.

They were allowed to leave on foot, pushing the three bicycles, with the bike cop following them, shouting, “Get out of the middle of the street!” The other three cruisers raced off, maybe to another crime scene. Maybe just because they can. The one with the gunman in it backed out slowly and glided away.

They were remarkably calm, the cops, given one of their own had been threatened with a gun. I didn’t actually see a gun, but I know the bike cop believed he’d been threatened, and they all found something interesting that eventually was put into a paper bag and sealed.

Then when they were gone, and the street was quiet again except for the crickets and the sound of the freeway in the near distance, I came in and watched the last few minutes of Breaking Bad before I sat down to write this post.

Tomorrow night I’ll give Melvin a proper introduction.


  1. Too much excitement for me on your street. Back in my youth I would have thought it exciting. Now, I'd just want to move.

  2. I suppose if any of it really affected me -- other than being an annoyance sometimes -- I'd feel different about it. It really just keeps me entertained though. I can look or not look, listen or not listen.

    The odd thing is that I feel safer than I did in the suburban neighborhood I lived in because people were so detached there. Here people say hi to strangers. Kids even say hi to adults. It'a a more passionate atmosphere, and I get some good stories to tell.

  3. I keep saying, there's a book in there about Melvyn and your neighborhood!!

    1. Melvyn told me somebody already wrote a book based on him -- the sister-in-law of one of his good friends. He's going to try to get me a copy, but I doubt it will happen. He knows I write about him. The other day I had to take notes!

  4. Reminds me of living in Chicago, where unhappy grade school students waited with knives in the school parking lot for the teachers who had contributed to their unhappiness. (Back then everybody didn't have a gun.) Definitely more vibrant than suburban life...

  5. Vibrant can be good or bad, that's for sure.