I met The-Person-I’ll Call-Marilyn down the street before her moving van was emptied, and she was calling me “Sweetie” within about 12 minutes. She’s a sturdy woman with perfect cafe au lait skin who favors shorts and tight halter tops, and who–judging by the ages of her offspring–has to be in her 40s. Not a line on her face.
Marilyn quickly became notable for two reasons. One, she illegally saves a generous parking space in front of her house–and this is a very crowded street–by placing an orange traffic cone there the minute her husband pulls away in the morning. I’ve only seen someone try to move it once, and let’s just say they’re probably still twitching at the sight of anything orange or cone-shaped.
Second, Marilyn spends much of her day on the small second-floor balcony, which overlooks the street, and conducts her business on a cellphone while puffing one cigarette after another. She checks on various relatives, dispensing advice with a confidence that makes Dr. Phil sound shy. She updates friends on various forays into heath care that either Work Like a Charm or are Totally Worthless Shit.
I can hear her voice over the exhaust fan in our kitchen, which is roughly the same decibel level as a Cessna in need of a tuneup.
I’ve always fumed about loud neighbors–and I’ve had plenty of ‘em, living right in the heart of cities as I tend to do. But Marilyn changed that. She arrived on the scene while I was engaged in a tiresome process with the city/Bank of America/community-police officer to get squatters out of a nearby empty (foreclosed) house. I was dutifully working my way through the maze of agencies and procedures to get this mess cleaned up, and progress was s-l-o-w.
Starting on Day 1 of her occupation, Marilyn watched this house from her command deck, and she did not like what she saw. “I moved here to get my kids away from this kind of crap,” she told me, as we watched a car-full of sketchy looking young guys cruise past the house.
The drug buyers who tried skulking into the place for a quick exchange thought they were hearing the voice of God when Marilyn bellowed at them from above. “YOU DO NOT LIVE THERE! GO AWAY!” was the friendliest command. Sometimes she shortened it to “OUT!”
For months I’d been nagging neighbors to call the police when they saw anything happening at the place–that’s what it takes to get a property on record as a nuisance site. “You can’t be the only one who calls,” our community policing officer told me. “They’ll just write you off as a nut.”
The old-timers on the street were on the case. They remember the days when more houses than not were these kind of squats, and they don’t want it to happen again. Most of the newer folks, and I’m being kind here, are apathetic, chicken-hearted turds. They didn’t care about the squatters (did I mention the two hungry dogs chained in the house and left alone? Or the graffiti so graphic that even HBO would have bleeped it?) until they were personally affected. And then they called me, not the cops.
“They keyed my car!”
“They left needles on the sidewalk and my dog almost ate one!”
When Marilyn came on the scene, this nonsense was history. Along with terrifying the spaced-out druggies, she got the police on the case. She quickly disproved the claim that one person could not galvanize the police or city. I’m guessing that the poor 911 dispatcher who answered Marilyn’s ring just cashed in favors and pleaded with the cops until they handled the situation. (“I can’t fend off this woman again! Please! I’ll never send you to a drunk-vagrant call again!)
I was home when the Perfect Storm hit. A posse of nogoodniks was approaching the door of the squat-house; Marilyn was on duty and one of the now-regular police drive-bys rolled into view.
Marilyn yelled: “OFFICERS: THOSE PEOPLE ARE BREAKING THE LAW RIGHT NOW AND THEY DON’T CARE IF YOU SEE THEM!” The posse froze, the police jumped out of the car. IDs were checked, an oustanding warrant turned up.
Within the week the bank holding the paper on the house had been contacted directly by the police and city. Doors were boarded up, graffiti covered. Now there’s a For Sale sign in front and a lot of families in minivans are showing up for tours.
Marilyn, you’re my hero. If anyone steals that traffic cone, I promise I will lie down in that space until your man gets home.