muscle beach


A few months ago, I asked y’all about your next-door neighbors (and got some great responses), but in that time, our own next-door fortunes have changed. What used to be a beautiful English family with playmates for Lucy has now turned into a dark, tattooed repository for twentysomething anger and Venice Beach’s storied underbelly.

Once the English family moved out, a revolving cast of characters showed up, most of them very lovely in quiet daytime moments (they even have their own chickens!) but once the night demon approacheth, there are a lot of guttural, muffled “FUCK”s and broken glass to explain to our daughter, who sleeps about four feet away.

Today, I heard a heated row between two occupants, obviously a boyfriend-girlfriend argument gassed up to a bubbling broil. He showed an encyclopedic mastery of truly hair-raising profanity, and on cue, she stormed out the back of the house screaming into her cell phone.

I happened to be working outside, and while the fences kept me from seeing anything, I heard her as she paced up and down the back alley: “He has no right… I haven’t lived with my Dad since I was 16, but now maybe… [name of boyfriend] is not in control of who I see… when he starts going at me, and touching me, it’s like, I’m THROUGH… I have bruises… whenever I get into it with him, I get it back five times worse…”


So I took it upon myself to be a responsible, caring adult, and went out the back gate to see if I could help. When I saw her on the phone, I realized that she was an entirely NEW resident that I’d never seen. Before I could finish asking “Are you okay?” she held her hand up to me with a punishing glare that said “FUCK OFF, CREEP.”

Still, I managed to say, “If you need help, just come over here, okay?” She shot me one last glance – while still on the phone – that was so dismissive and disdainful that honestly, I was shocked. I’d been ready to call the cops, but her reaction was so immediate and awful that I just shut the gate and stared at the dog.

Because I could see what I was to her. I have finally become “that guy”, some meddlesome twat who is too old to understand her pain, to out-of-it to get it. After all my years of living in group houses, of talking people down from suicide, of starting and stopping fights that could have ended careers, of walking the perimeter of the Pink House with a baseball bat to ward off a certain stalker… now, to this girl, I have the demeanor of “instant know-it-all prissy douchebag who’s impossibly older than me.”

I should have called the cops – hell, if any of our neighbors had heard her phone call, there would have been three squad cars there in five minutes – but instead, there was something not quite right about it. As though her phone call could be a lie, as if alerting the police would have gotten us further entangled in their bullshit.

We live at the beach; you can break into any house with a butter knife and a bad attitude. We rely on a certain détente with the craziness that surrounds us. You can take it upon yourself to be your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper, but you also better know what exactly they’re keeping.

Feeling guilty – or at least unsure – about the situation, I told Tessa about it a few hours later. She thought I’d done the right thing; we can’t know that couple’s relationship to the house, and either way, I’d granted her safe harbor. I’m still perturbed, partly because of my innate protector instinct, but also because she reacted to kindness with such disgust.

In an era of overprotective ninniness and smothering parenthood, Lucy still knows that her mommy and I sleep with baseball bats leaning against either side of the bed. And that they’re not for baseball.

As for you, confusing and profane next-door neighbors, you cackling and shirtless kids who are just as likely to erupt laughing as throw a punch, you can write me off, but my words are still true: you just gotta get through this time any way you can. Just survive, and the ensuing years will thank you for your perseverance.


7 thoughts on “muscle beach

  1. TPQ7

    As frustrating and upsetting as it was to get involved and get that reaction, you can’t not do what you know is right because of someone else’s bad behavior. If you hadn’t tried, and something more serious happens, you wouldn’t forgive yourself for not attempting to help. Now, it’s up to her. And keep those bats handy!

  2. Walt

    It’s a guttural punch when you try to do good and it’s met with dismissive distain. The kind of affront that sticks with you, the way peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth. And it’s hard to shake off — if it ever leaves. Made worse when you try to measure it against a time, place or circumstance when you might have reacted the way the other person did; only to arrive at the realization of, hell no.
    While the 20-something didn’t have a bat, she assailed you with a form of putrid humanity that I hope is short lived in your neighborhood.

  3. T.J.

    It has been this way forever, unfortunately. Watch the beginning of Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality (IIRC) from the early ’20s, for another example.

  4. Bud

    I wouldn’t read too much into her reaction.
    I think anytime you approach someone who’s in a state of rage, no matter what your intentions, they are going to direct some of that rage at you, because, at that moment, that’s all they have to offer. I think this is especially true for young people who haven’t yet learned to step outside themselves. You did the right thing and I wouldn’t be surprised if she appreciated it once she’d calmed down — even if she never admits it to you.
    I’m sorry you lost the neighbors you loved. We’re lucky to have a really cool retired couple on one side and quiet Generation X-led families in every other direction. The closest thing I’ve seen to rage since we’ve been here was one profane exclamation when my older neighbor cut his hand trying to un-jam his snowblower. Even then, he had the presence of mind to muffle it with his coat sleeve.

  5. Bob

    I’m with Bud: I don’t think her reaction had much to do with you.
    It’s great that you were willing to step up and see if you could help, but sometimes–much of the time, perhaps–we have to accept the fact that we are bit players in someone else’s drama, and have no ability to change the arc of their story.

  6. kmeelyon

    I also thought she might be embarrassed or ashamed, like CM. But it still is pretty sucky when you are expressing compassion and care. Hugs to you, Ian, and let me thank you on her behalf since she didn’t have the grace in that moment.


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