Not everyone deserves grace, but…
Before you get the wrong idea, this is not about people on either side being without sin. We’re all human. Nor is this a humble brag or a cry for applause. Evil was discussed.
Evil still may prevail.
The night is young…
People don’t need an excuse for having a short fuse nowadays. But there are plenty of them: the economy, unemployment, lack of sports, the heat, what is written on social media, the cops, politicians, the freaky unease of death lurking quietly on every doorknob and surface. How a sneeze and a cough sounds like a gunshot and a ricochet.
Thank God the fireworks are over. But still.
It’s easy to be nice to people when everything is going well. It’s tougher to be a better angel when we’re on edge. The good news, though, is that it’s possible.
Allow me to share with you what I have learned from my neighbors who have been dealing with a particularly nasty neighbor from a different block.
We live in Hollywood, in an area where parking is usually easy to find, but at night it can be difficult. Perhaps it’s like that in your neighborhood, too. Sometimes after midnight, you have to park a block or two away from home, but it’s pretty safe, so the walk isn’t bad.
But during the first lockdown, parking was tough. Everyone was home, stayed home, and few cars moved. Added to that, the mayor ended street cleaning rules, so you didn’t have to move your car once a week.
And that’s when the Bad Neighbors pulled a dirty deed.
There is a parking spot near our building that can accommodate two cars if you are mindful. Over the years, we have had to put a note on a car or two whose owner didn’t scooch all the way to the top of the spot, or back up so their bumper was just at the beginning of the red.
Eventually, people figured it out and it was a great spot for two cars.
But these neighbors did the unexpected. Something that in all my years I have never seen.
They intentionally parked their first car in the middle of the spot, thus hogging both spots.
Then, when another vehicle of theirs needed a spot, they would move the first car up properly, hop into the second car, and park that one right behind the first.
At first, we didn’t see what was happening. When one car was doing the hogging step, one of us would put a nice note under a wiper blade. Then another one.
But then we realized what was happening when both vehicles soon sported congratulations messages to their daughter.
Happy Graduation Betsy 2020 was scrawled in white washable soap. Suddenly, it made sense.
“Can you believe this shit Betsy’s family is pulling?” One of my neighbors wrote in our small building’s group text and included a photo.
“WTF!” a young scientist replied. Her company makes COVID tests and also happens to be working on a vaccine.
“Pure horseshit,” the first neighbor wrote. He rebuilds classic cars in a garage in DTLA. He explained the shenanigans to the others.
The person in the group text who was most upset was a nurse at a hospital across town. She gets home late and really doesn’t appreciate having to walk those two or three blocks at night, even though it’s safe, because is anywhere in L.A. safe at night when you’re a young woman?
Immediately the plotting began.
We could paint the curb red so only one car could fit. Nah, parking enforcement knows two cars go there.
What if we let the air out of the tires? Turns out that’s vandalism and could get you a fine of $1,000.
What if we did reverse psychology and erected a sign that says “Private Parking For Betsy’s Family Only. Not for Nurses.”
What if? What if? What if?
The suggestions were funny and rude and entirely illegal. But it let people get some steam out. But every day that we left our building either one car was hogging the spot or the two cars were there.
Both congratulating Betsy for what exactly? Is graduating high school really all that hard? Really?
One day, Betsy and her mom were doing the old okey-doke when the nurse just happened to be walking her dog. Shouting ensued.
“I PAY FOR A PARKING PERMIT JUST LIKE YOU! I CAN PARK HERE TOO!” Betsy’s mom belted out while putting a sunscreen up on her dash.
“WE DO TOO. WHY DON’T YOU PARK IN FRONT OF YOUR OWN CRAPPY APARTMENT?” the nurse asked in a tone I had never heard from her.
“WE LIVE TWO BLOCKS OVER, THERE’S NO PARKING THERE. EVER.”
“EVER? I seriously doubt that,” the nurse snarled.
Betsy, meanwhile, was shouting too but mellowed it out as she took her baby from the back car seat.
I remained silent. Early on, my girlfriend made me agree to “ignore” the situation since we don’t know Betsy’s family’s situation. They could be very poor, she said. Be nice.
“WE HAVE FOUR CARS AND YOU CANNOT STOP ME FROM PARKING THEM ANYWHERE I WANT,” Betsy’s mom screamed at the nurse. And since I can read minds, what the nurse thought at that moment was: Challenge accepted!
Several more shouting matches occurred over time. Each neighbor tried different tactics: reason, threats of karma, threats of police activity, levity. Nothing worked.
Sometimes, the dad would park a car there, but he played it smart. He ignored all conversations entirely. He knew what he was doing was wrong.
Each altercation was followed by updates on the group text. More plotting soon followed.
Then, a great idea rose to the surface. Hard to remember who thought it up, but I believe it was the handsomest man in the building.
“You guys ever play ‘Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board’ in junior high?” this dashing gentleman texted. And then he explained how kids at parties would magically lift one of their classmates up several feet with just their fingertips.
“If we all worked together, we could wait for just one car to be there, and then all lift it and move it 3 feet forward and park one of our cars behind it. After that, we could pull the same bullshit of hogging the spot and moving it when another one of us wanted to park,” the genius of the building suggested.
We could just keep pulling a Betsy until street cleaning comes back.
“Fuck that,” the classic car guy texted. “I’ve got wheel jacks I use to move dead cars.”
He then uploaded a photo, and you could almost hear everyone gasp.
It was perfect.
The next day came and went.
And the day after that.
A week later was the Fourth of July, and there were some ridiculously loud explosions which got everyone outside. We gathered around Betsy’s family’s two cars.
And did nothing.
We just looked up at the fireworks. Satisfied, knowing that something could be done.
But also happy to know that sometimes lowering oneself to a shameful level can become a slippery slope.
Next thing you know you’re accepting bribes (allegedly), lying badly about silly things and being a bad influence to your kid and grandson.
“Don’t be like Betsy” has become a funny line among the group text when talking about picking up after ourselves or moving the garbage cans, or any number of offenses.
There will be a day when street cleaning resumes, and they will be forced to clear out. But until then, schemes involving fish heads, bananas and/or the newly learned-about wheel jacks occasionally rise to the surface, but now only in fantasies.
Will Betsy even know the mercy being quietly shown to her mom and dad? Nah. And it doesn’t matter.
But the handsome one knows.
And the nurse.
And the scientist.
And the rest of the building.
And now you.