Thursday, October 13, 2011

Straight Outta Compton

This is the LA everyone wants to think they know.

I heard a story on NPR a few weeks (days? months?) ago, about how Compton is not really as bad as, you know, COMPTON. How people use "South Central", or "Compton" as a euphemism for the worst, of the worst. People will be looking at a house in say, oh I don't know, MY neighborhood, and say, "I mean, it's not COMPTON!". The story was about how there's actually a large agricultural center there, with horses, and goats, and people making their own cheese. IN COMPTON. The point is, Nipper and I find, that when we tell people outside of LA, that we are from LA, often, they bring up the LA Riots, or NWA, or some other thing that has absolutely nothing to do with our life here. I want to say "yeah, we get shot at all the time, but you know, the weather is like, so, so, great."

But really this is the LA most people know. 

Admittedly it is a city divided, just like any big city. There is incredible wealth, and devastating poverty. I've seen things here on both ends of the spectrum that have knocked me out. Stuff like, people throwing a $50,000 birthday party for their 1 year old; and two grown women fighting in the middle of a street, one of them wearing nothing, but a make-shift diaper. We live somewhere in the middle of that, but definitely closer to the diaper than the party.

I feel extremely fortunate, to live and work in a city that allows us to enjoy so many great things, the ocean, the mountains, one of the country's largest city parks (Griffith), beautiful local canyons for hiking, skiing an hour away from the beach, outdoor malls in December, Night blooming jasmine in winter, Orange blossoms, and the Disney Symphony hall, Zankou chicken, the movies (I mean it, I love them), spooky old theaters in a downtown that looks half like NYC, and half like Mexico City, gourmet food trucks that make everything from waffles to portuguese sushi tacos, and Scientologists in their natural habitat! And this is like the worst list, of the best stuff. How can you top that?

I know that many, many, people are born and raised here and never see the good parts of LA. I knew a guy in college, who had grown up on Portrero Hill in San Francisco. He had never seen the ocean. San Francisco is 7 miles wide at it's widest. He had never crossed those seven miles, because of poverty, not apathy. But there are a lot of people who move here from other places that never see the good stuff either. These people make me crazy. The transplants who endlessly feel the need to talk about how much they hate LA. Nipper Knapp and I have one word advice for these people "leave". No one is begging you to stay, and frankly, you're just making traffic worse. No other city in the world is such an easy target for people's disdain, people looooove, to hate LA. It's like the anti-Paris. People who have spent 3 days here, like to expound on all the terribleness that they encountered in their travels. "It's not for me", they'll say. Fine, then go, back to wherever it was you escaped to come here and complain. I'm sure they've been missing you.

But I'm not gonna lie, LA is vast, and I think it takes a long time to get to know. A long time to be able to take a deep breath and call it home. My first year here, I didn't know anyone, for A YEAR. I didn't know how to begin to meet anyone. I spent looooong days walking in the Hollywood Hills, smelling the canyon air, getting dusty, seeking shade, reaching the top, staring incredulous at the grid, hoping there was a life for me somewhere out there. Some weeks, there were days when I didn't speak to anyone except the checkout girl at the grocery store. It can be a lonely town, until you find your place, your people, your way. But it's that loneliness that alienated me in the beginning that has held me here for so long. You can be anonymous in this town. You can do anything you want, any way you want, and be sure that while you may be doing it differently, you are not doing it alone. I used to hate that. I wanted someone to tell me what the rules of life were. The older I get the more I love that LA lets you make your own. It's a sleepy town hidden under a crazy traffic jam. It's shy, and stubborn, and it has a funny face. You could very easily write it off as city gone wrong. But you'd be wrong. There are a million different ways to live in this town, and if you can't find one that fits you, you haven't looked hard enough. But for some reason, it's more acceptable to hate it, than to love it. I LOVE LA. I might as well have just shouted "I love syphilis". That's how much people love to hate LA.

The street I lived on when I first moved here. 

That stearn love note was a long preamble to what happened here two nights ago. You guys know my mom moved here a few weeks ago to help with the kids.  She is not in the "LA haters" club, as a matter of fact, she gets around really well. In her visits over the years, she has found her favorite places, and sometimes goes off on her own to get "that salad from that place we went that one time". She is making a nice little life for herself down here. My mom is bold, brave, different, and generally dives head first into most things. In many ways, she's a born Angeleno. I like to think I got a lot of my courage from her.  She is however, a mom. So you know, she worries. Sometimes she expresses her worries out loud. And because I'm you know, her kid, I roll my eyes, and say "ok WHATEVER". Then I make a note to myself that when Jack and Charlie are grown, I will still feel the way I do about them as babies, and they, being grown men will roll their eyes, and say "ok, WHATEVER", and that's the way it should be. All moms have the crazy crazy. All of us.

When we bought our house, I'm sure our entire family was worried. Is that neighborhood "ok?", (mezzo mezzo), is that mortgage "too high?" (YES), will they be "ok?" (sure). But it's a mom's job to say these things out loud, and sometimes to say them with a little added color, that makes their children want to scream, kick their mother in the shin, and then take a nap (see it never changes). So for years, my mom would ask about the neighbors "pit bull", (a chow mix), and about the tagging (it was tagging), and gangs (closest thing we have around here, are these really pushy Waldorf moms, "Oh you are raising little Azalea without screens? How brave". You know stuff that living in a city, we ignore, don't see, don't think about, because you can't. You have to keep your eyes on the prize, and live your life, because oh my god couldn't you get lost fast. Louis C.K. has a bit on bringing a girl from a small town into NYC through Port Authority for the first time. She sees a homeless man in a terrible state, she bends down to see if he's ok, and Louis and his friend, grab her and say "oh NO, we don't do that". As if she's wrong. But when he tells it, it's funny. Jesus, I've just made Louis C.K. unfunny. Now I want to die.

So for years, I've just rolled my eyes when my mom talks about all the dangerous or terrible things she sees in and around LA, because hey, I live in my pink man cave, with my macbook, and my eames rocker, and my organic yogurt, and my kids wear bamboo socks that don't chafe, and you know, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! LOOK AT ME! I'VE MADE HEAVEN RIGHT INSIDE OF HELL AND YOU CAN'T EVEN SEE IT!

My friend Paul told me about moving here from Rhode Island. He was going to stay with a friend. When he got in from the airport, the friend wasn't home, so he waited on his front porch. I can't remember exactly where it was, Beverly Hills, Brentwood? Somewhere swanky. While he waited he called his mom. He told her what he was doing, and she said, in a concerned tone "well don't be a target". Oh god, this is going to happen to me someday. I'll be saying something like that to Jack or Charlie. They'll be having lunch with someone in the Hamptons, and I'll say "watch out for land mines!"

You know where this is going right? Do I even need to write anything else?

Two nights ago, Nipper and I went on a date. Well, we went to see a movie, that's a date, right? We came home, and my mom was upstairs in Charlie's room. He had just woken up, and she was rocking him. Jack was asleep. Awesome. My mom gave me a kiss on the cheek, passed me the baby, and said good night. I was thinking "see how well this whole arrangement is working?! I might even get a little time to make out with my husband on the couch. We have kids people. The window for getting lucky is very, very, very, (very) small. But when I came down after nursing Charlie, my mom was still there in the living room, watching a movie. Uh... mom please don't read this next sentence. Goodbye lady boner. Uh... I'd like to take back that last sentence. Ick. But seriously, nothing makes you want to have sex with your husband, less, than your own mother watching Tangled in your living room. It's true, you can wikipedia that shit, because it's a fact. Night time babysitters need to make like a tree and leave as soon as people get home. But she's my mom, so how do you say that? (you write a blog for 2 years, and then slip it in casually) I decided I'd curl my hair, so I wouldn't have to do it in the morning. Back to reality. 20 minutes later, the movie ended and she headed home. Good Night and Good Luck.

Three minutes after leaving our house, my mom was in a traffic altercation with several young men, who tried to ram her car, then jumped out and waved a gun at her. Right in front of my house. Good. Night. I watched the whole thing happening out my front window, where I was standing curling my hair. We live on a curvy hill street. Only one car can go up or down at a time. There are impasses 20 times a day. Someone backs up to let the other past, and life goes on. At first I thought this was what was happening. I heard them rev their engine, she was going down, they were coming up. I said "ok, easy, she's an old lady" (sorry mom). But then they revved the engine again, and again,and squealed the tires. As I pulled back the curtain, I saw a man emerge from the car and run at her, his arms in the air. OH SHIT.

Buy the time I got out the front door, shouting at Nipper Knapp to call 911, she had driven down the dead end below our house, and they had (I thought), trapped her, in her car, I heard a crash. OH MY GOD THEY ARE TRYING TO KILL MY MOTHER. This is what my brain must have thought. I don't know, because I was too busy saying "oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck" and calling the police, to know what I was thinking. I called the police too, because sometimes they don't pick up 911 from a cell phone for a very long time.

I ran out into the street, the men were still in front of the house, but then, I couldn't see what was happening, as they followed my mom down the hill, below our garden wall. I knew one of them was out of the car, and so I started shouting "THE POLICE ARE ON THEIR WAY", over and over. I guess I wanted them to leave, to drive off. I wanted to get them away from my mom. When I got past the wall, I saw that my mom had pulled into a tiny driveway, and the men had driven past her and were now blocked in by a big grey truck. A good samaritan? My mom was getting out of her car. wtf. "RUN!" I yelled at her. "GET BACK IN THE HOUSE!" she yelled at me. Nipper said that when she came into the house she said "he has a gun". I didn't hear this because I was too busy being nonsensical to the 911 operator. She kept asking for my address and I kept saying "please send them, they have my mom". Oh, I hope Jim Rome doesn't play that tape ever. Mortifying.

Miraculously, both my and Nipper Knapp's 911 calls went through, and the police arrived within minutes. For reasons unknown to us at the time, the men stayed down in the dead end, out of their cars. As if they hadn't done anything wrong. We could see them down there. What was going on?!

Well, it turns out they were suuuuuuuuper stoned. The guy with the gun, had waved it in the face of another neighbor as he ran past, and shouted at him to get back in his house. This neighbor, a young guy, asked the police if they were on pcp or something. "Nope, just pot". REALLY? Who gets high and acts like that? And you make fun of us for pms? Testosterone is a bitch. Ok, so the police come, they interview everyone. They arrest the guys for attempted carjacking, and assault with a vehicle. Are you kidding me?

As soon as I could ascertain that my mom was ok, once she was in the house, once the police where there, here is what I thought: "I am NEVER going to hear the end of this". That's how fast it happened. Within 5 minutes of being TERRIFIED,  that some guys were trying to kill my mom, I was rolling my eyes, saying "ok WHATEVER". I was still shaking. My bones were shaking, a sign from my body that it was time to run, but my brain had gained back control, and that's when the shit show really began. Carjacking? Meh, throw down between me and my mom? ATOMIC.

Nipper went down to get my mother's car. She was watching out the window, and I was pacing back and forth babbling like an idiot. Don't you wish you could tell me to shut up right now? She was telling me what happened, but I couldn't even really hear what she was saying, because all I was thinking was "how can I keep her from what just happened?" " How can I minimize this, so that I don't have to hear about how this city isn't safe FOREVER." "Why did this happen to HER? Why couldn't it have happened to me?" I would have taken it as a secret to my grave. "Nothing bad EVER happens here!" "We live in PARADISE! LOOK AT MY BAMBOO SOCKS!"

 "Of course it's not safe!" I was shouting in my own head, "it's a city!" But this is what came out of my mouth: "in 14 years of living here I have never had anything like this happen! Nothing!" And then: "I just find it amazing that you are here 1 week, and of course this happens to YOU". She walked right out the front door. Nothing like blaming the victim, while their still at the scene of the crime. Don't worry, Nipper Knapp informed me immediately that I am in fact the world's biggest asshole, and I apologized. But you know I was in fight or flight baby! I had to excise my demons! Had to dump the adrenaline on someone! Had to try to shape the current events to match my world view. Had to keep my mom from saying "I told you so" AT ALL COSTS. Whoopsy tootsie!

In the last 24 hours, my mother has heard every different side of the story from several neighbors. My neighborhood is super gossipy, I can't imagine what they say about us, and I give them NOTHING. I'm convinced, we'll never know what really happened. One side says that the guys had smashed into the guy in the grey truck on their way up the hill and they were trying to escape his wrath, when they met my mother's car coming down the hill. Which explains the engine revving, tires squealing, panicked escape from vehicle, and gun waving (no it doesn't explain that, but...). They weren't trying to car jack my mom, they were trying to get past my mom. But then why'd they follow her into the dead end? They were super stoned. The crash we heard was not them smashing into her car. They smashed into something else. I don't actually know what. Or maybe the grey truck crashed into them. They were super high. Did they even see my mom?  Apparently when the cops asked them in they were high, they were just like "uh yeeeeah". Again this from a game of telephone amongst my neighbors.

When I ran out on the street shouting "the police are on their way" the grey truck apparently drove off, maybe had something to hide. But today, the other neighbor who called 911, said the driver of the truck pounded on his door and said to call 911, so why then, did he leave before they got there. I didn't see him drive off, because I was in my dining room, hugging my mom, shaking, and about to say something really regrettable.

So that happened. But then I had a glass of wine, and the next morning, the neighbors who also called the police, brought my mom a very nice bottle of Cuban Rum, with a note reminding her that "LA has lots of nice people". My mom and Charlie went for a long walk, they had a swing in the breezeway. We've turned the whole thing over and over, pulling out every detail to debate it's merit. I'm ready to let it pass. Our life is busy, and I have things to do. Everything keeps going, the sky is so blue, and the mountains are so clear. Why are some of the most beautiful days the ones before or after disaster. So yeah, someone waved a gun at my mom, the neighbors talk about you behind your back, and there's a T-mobile billboard at the bottom of the hill that just says "SIN" in big pink letters because it's en español. But hey, say it with me "IT'S NOT COMPTON!


  1. oh wow! what a blog. i cannot believe this happened to your mom. crazy. my mom was out here for 3 weeks when monty was born. i found every opportunity to demean and belittle everything she was doing to help me and always felt like shit after. i think that is our job as daughters. make our moms feel like crap and then feel guilty about it. aren't you glad you have 2 adorable boys? :) lori

  2. First, I want to say how much I admire your ability to be both brutally honest and funny. Impressive. (OK, first is that everyone is okay!! Whew.)

    I was really touched by the fact that, at the moment of truth, both you and your mom were trying to protect the other.

    Also, I just have to commune for a second. If you replace "carjackers" with "people on the autism spectrum," you essentially have my marriage--a car wreck my mom saw coming from a mile away. I told her she just didn't want me to be happy. DAMN I hate it when she's right.