There was a domestic disturbance in my neighborhood last night.
“LAPD, open up!”
It was like something out of a movie, with sirens and cops and the kind of shouting that sounds like regular people trying to sound ferocious to scare someone else off.
Only no one cared.
I don’t mean “no one cared” in the Tracy Chapman a capella protest song sense, or the Lifetime movie – “Won’t somebody help me?” sense. It just didn’t register at all. Most people just went on about their lives as if nothing was happening. Maybe you need to know a little about where I live.
My apartment building sits on a residential street in West Hollywood, which is known as the gay part of town but which, for my immediate surrounding area at least, is mostly home to a lot of Russian immigrants. It’s easy to recognize the diversity just by walking around. Go two blocks from my apartment in one direction and you’re on trendy Melrose Avenue, where you can comparison shop for an Academy Award dress or a body piercing, depending on your scene. Go two blocks in the other direction and you’re on Santa Monica Boulevard, home to countless pawn shops, nail salons and lots of windows with flickering neon signs reading “Bail Bonds”. In that direction, you’ll also see a lot of signs written in Russian, as well as some clothing stores that sell outfits you could certainly NOT wear to the Academy Awards, but which will make you fit in just fine among the husky Muscovites on Spaulding Avenue, my street.
At every street corner in my neighborhood, there are signs advising motorists that making any turns after 10PM is illegal. I learned recently that these were put up to discourage people from cruising for prostitutes. Hugh Grant was picked up not far from where I live. At the end of my block, in the pawn shop district, you’ll also find the Tomkat, Los Angeles’ gay porn theater. The Tomkat’s marquee always reminds me of the great unappreciated wit of gay porn producers, whose movies have titles like “Homo Alone”, “Gang of Thirteen” and my personal favorite, “God, Was I Drunk”.
Despite the seedy, low-rent feel of Santa Monica Boulevard in this part of town, my neighborhood is a pretty safe, quiet place to live. I’ve never heard a gunshot, never given a second thought to walking alone to my car after midnight, never seen anyone hanging around who made me the least bit uncomfortable. About once a month, I’ll be woken up in the middle of the night by sirens, but it’s always an ambulance coming to the aid of one of the many elderly Russians who stroll endlessly back and forth up the sidewalk by day and have heart attacks, strokes and seizures by night. For some reason, whenever someone passes away on Spaulding Avenue, it takes at least two firetrucks in addition to an ambulance to respond, and the churning of their engines will reverberate down my block for an hour or more, but I’ve learned to ignore the noise and go back to sleep. My neighborhood reeks of death sometimes, but not in the way Compton or “the LBC” does. If NWA had started on Spaulding Avenue, they’d be singing about paramedics and not police.
None of this is to disparage my neighborhood, which is a rare find in LA, safe and centrally-located but also mostly unpretentious and very affordable by LA standards. It’s still very much Los Angeles, though, and people don’t generally take the time to get to know each other. I don’t know anyone in my building by name, though the language barrier definitely contributes to that. I’m the only native English speaker in any of the seven units and a “Hi” now and then is about all most of them can handle from me. Young, mostly gay professionals and old, mostly Russian retirees may not mix well, but they don’t clash well either. Gays and the elderly both tend to want to avoid conflicts with other groups, so everybody just kind of ignores everyone else. I feel like I live in Rodney King’s Los Angeles, as if when he said, “Can’t we all just get along?”, my neighborhood replied, “Okay, sure.” And that’s what we do. We JUST get along.
“I’m not doing anything illegal, why should I open up?”
So it was a little jarring last night when I was woken up by what sounded like Spaulding Avenue’s first injection of real drama in ages. It was 11:58 PM when I got out of bed to see what was going on. Normally, I would still have been awake, but I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, so I went to bed a little early. I walked to my living room and parted the slats of my blinds to see if I could get a look at what was going on. About halfway up my block, through the trees blocking the driveway of an apartment building, I spotted the flashing police lights and saw some shadows moving around, which I could only imagine was two or three police officers looking for a way into the apartment.
There wasn’t much to see, but what amazed me most was that no one was looking. Sure, it was late, but nobody came out of their apartments to gawk. You might think they were just frightened of what was going on, but as I said, it’s not a violent neighborhood, and besides, I didn’t even see anyone else looking out their windows. There was exactly one man I could see outside on the block, this young long-haired guy who I’ve noticed before. He sits outside on his front stoop every night after midnight, with his German Shepherd at his side, reading a book by the dim walkway light outside his apartment building. And there he was, sitting in his usual spot, reading his book, undisturbed. Even his dog didn’t seem interested in the activity.
“LAPD, open up!”
I realized that my car was parked at the curb directly in front of where the disturbance was taking place. I imagined that somehow the fight might spill out into the street. “Oh, yeah, well if that’s how you’re gonna be, you son of a bitch, then I’ll just smash up this Nissan!” Or maybe one of the people involved would hotwire my Altima and peel off to try to elude the cops, and within minutes, helicopters would be tracking my car all over the city and broadcasting it live on FOX-5. They’d run the plates and announce that the car was registered to me, and that I was considered armed and dangerous, and everyone in the city would think that I was a fugitive from justice. People who knew me would call in and talk to the reporters live on the air. “I always knew it would end this way for Jerry,” they’d say.
But after a few minutes, the noise just kind of stopped. The flashing lights got turned off, and what little movement I could see through the trees had come to an end. I didn’t even see the police cars drive away; they must’ve gone the other direction.
As I stood there waiting for some confirmation that the scene was indeed over, a neighbor walked by my window, trying to get a look at what was going on. It was the first person I’d seen besides myself who thought this was worth getting out of bed for. He couldn’t see much either, and he turned around to me as if to inquire whether I had any information I could provide. As soon as he made eye contact, I closed the slats and backed away from the window. I was in my underwear. Besides, I didn’t know anything anyway.
And then I walked back to my bedroom and about five minutes later, I was asleep.