Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The New Neighbors

We used to have fantastic neighbors. Emily, Carlo, Vic, they lived downstairs in One and were courteous, smart and able to share our weird parking alcove that does take real driving skill to navigate.

Then they got an apartment in Santa Monica, and we were sad to see them go, but hey, they were in a better place.

The downstairs sat empty for months, and we spent endless idle time speculating on who'd move in. The landlords wanted too much, some 1500 plus for a crappy two-bedroom where one of Vic's friends had once plunged through the drywall in a Spongebob costume. It had weird rats and roaches, because of which Emily never used the oven. Even after the landlords put in new fences, it still wouldn't be worth the money. (Though it was fun to stroll through during the three unlocked months.)

But down came the Vacancy sign, and in moved the new neighbors. The first thing we notice, they have an immense, white Benz SUV. And they have absolutely no idea how to fit it into the tiny spot their allotted. We lean over the railing and watch them edge in and pull back, edge in and pull back, edge in and pull back. After five minutes or so, they pull out and leave, and we go back inside.

A brief word about the parking: Anyone who's been to our place knows this, but the parking at our place is a little crazy. We all have assigned spaces, with most of the units getting two, three of us officially getting one, and finally Wayne, the weird college kid in Seven who gets none. Amy and I get one of the two spots that are hooked around underneath our house; the folks in One get the other. To get out of those two takes a three-point turn. Emily and Carlo were eminently able to zip under there with their Honda Fit or Vic's Toyota pick-up. The Benz SUV would be a challenge for anyone.

So, our new neighbors are terrible at that parking—they routinely pull in across the line into our spot, and seem to, even after a month and a half or so, to be constitutionally unable to pull into the spot with any confidence. In and out, in and out, hesitating like middle school romance.

Amy meets them first, introducing herself when I'm off doing something. They're French, she says, Josaine and something. She thinks they're husband and wife.

I meet them a couple of days later, just that perfunctory, Hey, I'm Josh, I live upstairs with Amy. Welcome to the neighborhood. France is pretty great. Oh, you're from Paris? Paris is pretty great. (I omit that all I know about Paris is really art museums and a weird Formula-1 themed hotel on the outskirts of town that was recommended when we failed to get a hostel lined up in advance. It's a bit like saying, Oh, you're from LA? I love Burbank!)

The woman is Josaine, the man something like Eduaward, and they have a kid named Herbert or something. The kid's, like, 25, or something, but the dad looks to be about the same age. I can't tell—the mom just has that frumpy black woman in her mid-40s look, and the kid looks just like his dad only the kid seems perpetually embarrassed and his dad wears work clothes on weekdays (the kid is always in baggy sports jerseys).

The problem with recounting this now is that given the number of stupid interactions I've had with them, I'm not having trouble not remembering the mother having great lolling frog eyes and a thin tongue poking past her wide frog mouth. And I think to myself, but "frog" is such a stereotypical French slur! Is it nationalism coloring my memory? Or worse, racism?

Luckily, every time I start to second-guess myself, they park us in and make me go down there and force them to move. It's either their huge SUV somehow wedged into the driveway so that no one else can get past or some friend they've let blockade us.

They way that we'd deal with this with Carlo and Emily is to walk down there, knock, and someone would immediately leap to and move the car. And if they had friends coming over, they'd ask us, let us know how long they were going to be there, then make sure that they were gone. We would do the same thing when we had friends come over. Like I said, Carlo and Emily, fantastic.

The way we'd deal with it when Wayne's predecessors, the Horde of Apartment Seven, would park us in was to tow them. We warned them a couple times, they ignored us, we towed them, the problem stopped. It pretty much severed any hope of being on good terms with them, but there were seven of them in a one-bedroom apartment without a kitchen.

In fact, and I don't want it to sound like I'm boasting, because I'd really rather not ever do this, we've had quite a few cars towed. But they were always blocking us in, and given that it takes a tow truck half an hour to forty-five minutes to come get someone here, it's not like it's unavoidable or capricious.

But we don't want that relationship with Josaine and Eduaward and Herbert. Instead, we'd like to all be cool, able to mingle at barbeques or whatever, maybe have them over to play board games which we will let them win (but not by too much). Try a Manhattan, Josaine! Play some foursquare, Herbert!

Instead, our interactions go like this: They have parked us in again. Usually I go down, since Amy would just as soon tow 'em. I bang on the door. I wait. Already, with each passing second, they're worse than Emily and Carlo. I check the time—I'm invariably late already—and maybe fiddle with my cell phone. Josaine comes out, head nodding.

"It's very difficult to park here," she says.
"Yeah, I know," I say. "But I've got to get out."
"It is very hard to find a place."
"Well, I usually have good luck up on Charnock, and there are always spaces on Venice."
"No, no, I looked on Charnock."
"Well, OK, but I have to get out. I have to go."
"Oh yes."

Then a pause.

A long pause.

"So, I have to go. You have to move your car now."
"Oh, yes."

"Ok." Then she climbs in and takes ten minutes pulling back and pulling up, pulling back and pulling up.

Not so egregious, but then it happens again. And I have the exact same interaction. And then again, and I'm telling her, Look, you really can't park your car here. I can't have this happen. Then it's her friend's car, her friend who's have through with having her hair braided so doesn't want to move the car. Then the same thing again, with the same exchange about Charnock and Venice. I know there are spaces around—my friends find them all the time. It's not easy parking, but there's parking, and part of living in a city is knowing how to find parking. If you're from Paris, you should either know how to park or know how to leave your car in one spot and use public transit. But no, her friend cannot find parking easily. And they're still parking over the line.

Each interaction I have with this woman, there's that central ambiguity: Does she not understand this because it's cultural or because she's stupid? For instance, is there a language ambiguity? She gives me that nod that I give folks speaking a language I don't understand, when they go too fast. But when I try to slow down and explain things, she brushes me off with a "Yes, yes." And then does the exact same thing again. Does she not understand that it's rude? Does she not understand how parking works here? She certainly picked a gauche car. Is she simply in over her head?

Or, and again I'm remembering her with lolling frog eyes and a weak neck, is she just stupid? She might just be a moron. She seemed genuinely upset when someone who had purported to live in One got some letter from immigration. But it was a name that neither Amy nor I recognized, not one of the folks who had lived there for years before us, not anyone who'd lived in our place, no one who'd lived in Seven… really, no one we knew at all. She just kept repeating that it was very serious, and that it was for someone who lived in One but was not her. Amy told her how to RTS a letter, but Josaine just seemed really peeved that we didn't understand that it was from immigration, and was very serious. Yeah, well, what do you want us to do? I don't know any Mohammed Nguimi. They haven't lived there in years, if ever. Let's just hope they hadn't already been deported.

Josaine bears the brunt of this bashing for two main reasons: That she's the primary terrible driver of the SUV, though both men seem equally inept. They just drive it less. And that she's been the primary conversation point. The men are certainly giving impressing the cliché that it's better to be suspected a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. I'm not sure how much English Eduaward knows, and I suspect that Herbert knows a lot more than he lets on. Helistens to Jay-Z over MC Solaar, so he can't be that alien, and I think it's him and his goofy friend that keep tagging everything.

Ah well. They looked horrified when they saw me coming back from the laundry room shirtless, so maybe they're just clueless petite bourgeoisie who need to have their car towed once or twice in order to assimilate properly.

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