I got home late and saw my girlfriend outside our bedroom window shining a flashlight around.
“Oh what now,” I thought. My girlfriend is prone to hearing ghosts and noises and murderers. She shouldn’t have been outside in her underwear in the middle of the night.
“What the hell are you doing,” I asked.
“Look,” she said.
There was a chair pulled up in the alley to give someone a perfect vantage point to look into a crack beneath the blinds on our bedroom window.
“There was a man sitting in that chair watching me,” she said. “And he was touching himself. The dog heard the noises and I looked out the blinds and he ran off. I heard the noises too,” she said.
“Jesus Christ,” I said.
The next day we asked our neighbors about it and Jorge, one of the gay guys who lives upstairs, said that he saw a white guy about 6 feet tall, athletic build, leaving the driveway. Jorge was walking his dog and smoking a cigarette. He said that he had practiced reverse racism.
“Because the guy was white, I just assumed he was someone’s friend, just visiting somebody,” he said. “If the guy was black I would have known he was up to something. But the guy was white.”
I told our other neighbor Roberto what happened. He used to be a Sergeant in the Guatemalan army during the brutal civil war there. One night when he was drunk off Bud Lites he showed me a photo of his army days and told me that he had killed plenty of people during the war. His troops slept in the jungle and used giant palm fronds as umbrellas at night when it was raining. I took him around the side of our apartment and showed him the chair the peeping tom had pulled up.
“Hijo de la chingada,” he said. He told me in Spanish that if the guy showed up again to call him. He would run out and help me beat the guy up. He muttered some more obscenities in Spanish and kicked the dirt in frustration.
I went to the hardware store and bought some things. I wanted to make some booby traps. I kept thinking, What would Kevin in Home Alone do? What kind of booby traps did Kevin set up? I bought some nails, some fishing wire and fishing bells, barbed wire, a few small cacti, a motion sensor light and even found an infrared camera that is triggered by movement and body heat. It was $100 for the camera and I couldn’t afford it but I bought it anyway. My money had almost completely run out but I had stuff to make booby traps.
Underneath some ivy in the alleyway I hid dozens of crushed aluminum cans. The noise would alert me to the prowler. I put a Louisville Slugger baseball bat by the side door and gave my girlfriend a can of mace to put on her bedside table. I unscrewed a table leg and had it like a club on my bedside table in case I needed a second tool for bludgeoning. Across the alley I put strands of taut fishing wire with bells attached. I left the chair in the exact same place and hammered nails through the bottom so that they were barely visible above the surface of the seat cushion. If the peeping tom sat down again he would be in for a surprise. I told my neighbor Roberto about my nail idea and he laughed hysterically slapping me on the back. He liked my nail idea.
I set up the infrared camera. I tested it at night and then plugged it in and saw myself but I didn’t recognize myself. I looked like a blurry dark indistinguishable creature. The damn camera probably wouldn’t work. I later used the camera to film some footage of my girlfriend and I having sex but I didn’t tell her about it. I watched it when she was at work and it wasn’t bad.
I was getting off track. I came home from work and hauled the box of barbed wire to the side alley. Our neighbor had put black plastic garbage bags full of extra gardening mulch all along the alley. No one could get by, they’d be stymied by gardening mulch. Ah, fine with me. I got a beer from the store.
I began to look at everyone in my neighborhood as if they were the suspect. Was it the six foot tall white guy? Or was it a teenage Mexican kid? Was it a slow walking Filipino guy with a moustache and a limp? Was it one of the homeless black guys? Was it a young Armenian man wearing Adidas? Was it one of the Thai delivery boys, coming back to peep in the window after he delivered food? Was it a mentally deranged Hollywood street person? Was it one of our neighbors we knew? Everyone was a suspect and through dark sunglasses I surveyed the street and took note of all of the faces. There were too many faces and too many people were weird and erratic and it could have been any of them.
At night if I heard a noise I’d throw the side door open and charge out with a baseball bat in my boxer shorts. I never saw anyone. My fishing line got broken but I wasn’t certain if it was the prowler who broke it.
We almost forgot about the whole thing and a couple of months later I was backing her car out. We were going somewhere and were arguing as usual. She was telling me not to scratch her car. I was annoyed as hell. From around the back of the apartments I saw a guy walking out I didn’t recognize. I pointed at him.
“Who’s he,” I said. “Follow him!”
My girl followed him down the driveway and asked if he was visiting anyone.
“None of your business,” he growled.
“It is my business, I live here,” she said.
“I’m a tenant,” the stranger lied.
He matched Jorge’s description, white guy, 6 feet tall, normal looking.
We followed him slowly down the block in the car. He flipped us off.
“That’s it,” I said and jumped out of the car. I started chasing the guy. He had a white mini van parked on Sunset next to the El Pollo Loco.
He got into the driver’s seat and closed the door. I motioned for him to roll down the window. He fired up the mini van and drove down Sunset Blvd. without looking at me.
“Son of a bitch,” I said to no one in particular.
I memorized his white mini-van’s license plate number. Then I repeated it aloud so many times that I was certain I got it wrong. I had my girlfriend call the Hollywood Police Bureau. She got the answering machine. She called again and put a cop on speaker phone. He had a condescending tone as L.A. cops always do.
“You should have called 911,” the cop said. He sounded like a black cop, despondent that he had to work the phone shift instead of catching bad guys. You could tell he was an actual cop because he spoke the cop language, cop-ese.
“Sir, you could have been in danger. We could have called a helicopter and apprehended the perpetrator.”
“A helicopter,” I mouthed the word helicopter to my girlfriend without making any noise. She covered her mouth so the cop on speaker phone wouldn’t hear her laughing.
“Well, okay, but we’re calling you now, is it okay if we report the guy and give you his license plate number, I asked.
“Sir, again I would like to reiterate. You could have been in danger and you should have called 911 immediately. For all we know he could have been in police custody and we wouldn’t have to have this conversation.”
“Do you want the license plate number,” I asked again, out of frustration.
“Go ahead and give me the plate number, but be mindful that there is a very low chance we can find him at this given time because you didn’t dial 911 immediately.”
I gave the cop the license plate number, said thank you then hung up.
“Jesus Christ,” I said. Then we got rear-ended by some Latina party girls wearing hair extensions and high heels. There wasn’t any damage besides a scratch so we didn’t bother to call the insurance people and certainly not LAPD. They’d tell us we should have called 911 so that they could get a helicopter to see if anyone was fleeing the scene of the accident. Then they could radio a squad car and they could open fire on the perpetrator and then unleash a canine on the victim to bite him as he lay bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds. True story. I didn’t make that up. They did that to somebody.
A few weeks later my girlfriend was out to a work dinner and I was enjoying sitting in my underwear eating Thai Food delivery out of the box.
I got a phone call from my neighbor Jorge, the out of work gay actor who lives upstairs with his husband, another actor.
“Could you do me a big favor,” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Would you mind staying in your living room?”
“No, not at all, I said.”
“I’ll explain later, well, we have this house guest and he’s going crazy and I have to throw him out,” he said.
“No problem,” I said, flicking on the living room lights and the front porch light.
I saw a man with an umbrella and a duffel bag leaving and heard my neighbor’s door slam shut. I heard the man with the umbrella say, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck.”
A few moments later there was a knock on my back door. It was Jorge.
“Come in,” I said. “Do you want any water or juice?” We didn’t have anything besides water, juice and milk and I didn’t think he would want any milk.
“No thank you,” he said, sitting down at our dining room table. He was wearing a black leather jacket, a new-ish one, and had hair gel in his hair. Gay guys are always so well put together. I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, mismatched socks and a dirty pair of blue jeans with burrito stains that I hastily pulled on.
Jorge began to tell me the story, “We have a houseguest. He was in a play with my husband Francis last year. He seemed normal and we heard he was living on the street in Hollywood so we said he could stay over for a little while.”
He showed me a photo of the crazy guy. The crazy guy looked very gay. He had a big femmy smile and a lot of hair gel. I think they call this kind of gay guy a “twink,” even though I don’t really know what a twink is or what that classification of gay really constitutes.
“On the couch he’ll just sit there staring straight ahead. Even if we talk to him he just stares straight ahead. At night we lock our bedroom door.”
He rubbed his hands together out of nervousness or lack of warmth.
“We went to the grocery store and there was this pretty girl working at one of the cashiers. He went up to her all close and starting hitting on her. She clearly didn’t want anything to do with him. I said, ‘Joe, come on.’ And he didn’t listen. I walked over to him and he said, ‘I just got out of jail, I haven’t had a woman in a long time, leave me alone.’
‘Oh MY God,’ I thought, Jorge said in an affected way that made him sound like a teenage girl.
“So we walked back and he started yelling, ‘Fuck fuck, you fucked it up. You fucked it up. Since Francis and I are from Chicago we hide knives all over the house for protection. Just in case, I mean this is L.A. I found one of the knives and put it in my jacket pocket.”
He pulled the knife out of the inside breast pocket of his newish black leather jacket. It was one of those military style hunting knives that’s in a black leather sheath. My dad used to have one like that with a compass screwed on the end of the shallow handle. It was called a survival knife I think. It had a snakebite kit inside the handle along with some other basic survival tools. I remember hoping that I wouldn’t get bit by a rattlesnake. My dad said he knew how to cut an X on the snakebite and suck out the venom but I didn’t believe him.
I found my mind wandering and Jorge was still telling his story.
“So I got his duffel bag and put it outside. He left and took his umbrella which he always carries around for some reason and a suitcase. I don’t know where he got the suitcase or what he has inside of it. I don’t know if he’s shooting up or on drugs or what. Anyway I can’t have him in our house around our dogs. So if he comes back, don’t let him in.”
Jorge went out the back door. I drank a beer and let the dog out to go to the bathroom and then watched a documentary in bed. I was drifting off, so I shut it off and went to sleep. A few hours later my girlfriend stumbled in reeking of vodka tonic. She woke me up and told me that a man had tried to kiss her in an elevator. When she pushed him away he bit her on the nose.
“What,” I said. “Where was the can of mace I bought you? You should have kneed him in the balls,” I said.
“I know, but all I could think of doing was to push him away. He tried to put his tongue in my mouth. He was calling me a prick tease and I said I didn’t know what he was talking about, I didn’t know him or recognize him. There was an old man in the elevator too.”
“And the old man didn’t do anything,” I asked.
“No he just asked the guy what he was doing. And then the elevator got to the bottom floor and I ran.”
“Why didn’t you complain about the guy to the restaurant,” I said. “They might have cameras in the lobby there, you could have pointed out the guy.”
“I know, I’ll call them tomorrow,” she said.
I twisted and turned in bed angrily. There is never a dull moment in Little Armenia.