Monday, October 26, 2009

If the sidewalks could talk

Patty here…

I live in a quiet neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles. My neighbors are TV producers, architects, psychologists, and lawyers and at least one out-of-work construction worker (more on that later). My neighborhood has its own newsletter, annual dinner, block captains, and community council. We stop to talk to each other as we walk our dogs and sometimes we have parties and invite each other. Living in my neighborhood is not unlike living in Small Town Anywhere except it's in the middle of a city of 3,849,378 people.

When you've lived in an area for a while, you learn that the neighborhood closet has skeletons, too. Bad things happen here as they do everywhere. Burglars broke into my neighbor’s house some time back. I didn’t even know until we were out in our front yards chatting recently. An elderly man down the block committed suicide with a handgun several years ago. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very good shot because it took him several tries before he succeeded, which sent the woman next door diving under her kitchen table, dodging bullets. A teenager who lived three doors down from me attacked her father with a knife. The previous owner of the house in which I live hung himself in the room that is now my closet.

About a week ago, I was driving to Hollywood to attend the screening of The Messenger starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. I had just turned on a side street a block from my house, when I noticed several black-and-white police cars blocking traffic. There was a small white tent on the lawn of a nearby house. I knew immediately that under the canvas was a dead body.

The next morning, I found a small article in the newspaper describing the incident. A construction worker, distraught over his inability to find work, called the police to say he had killed his girlfriend and was about to shoot himself. Officers arrived at the scene and for hours, they tried to talk him down. During that time, he walked in and out of the residence numerous times brandishing the gun and threatening to kill anyone who came near. At some point, he exited his house and pointed the gun at officers. Not a good idea.

As it turned out, he lied. His girlfriend was not dead inside the house. The truthful part of his story was that he wanted to die. He just couldn’t pull the trigger. For that, he needed the police. It’s called police-assisted suicide or suicide by cop and it happens more frequently that we can imagine.

A February 2005 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin reports:

A 1998 report by the American College of Emergency Physicians examined all deputy involved shootings that occurred in the Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff’s Department. The findings revealed that suicide-by-cop incidents accounted for 11 percent of all deputy-involved shootings and 13 percent of all deputy-involved justifiable homicides. The report concluded that suicide by cop constitutes an actual form of suicide and defined it as “an incident where a suicidal individual intentionally engages in life threatening and criminal behavior with a lethal weapon or what appears to be a lethal weapon toward law enforcement officers or civilians specifically to provoke officers to shoot the suicidal individual in self defense or to protect civilians.”

Here's another article about the phenomenon.

I suppose it's too much to ask these people to consider the officers who are forced to shoot back. To kill someone over a lie. To find out that the gun wasn't loaded or that it wasn't even a real gun.

On second thought, maybe my neighborhood has one too many skeletons in its closet. Before I go for any more walks in the ‘hood, I think I’ll go shopping for a new outfit.

What about you? Got any skeletons in your neighborhood closet?

Reflective Monday!


  1. from Jacqueline

    This is a really good post, Patty - what goes on behind the picket fences, clipped lawns and leafy sidewalks. There's a tendency to think that the only neighborhood where drama lurks is the one with a rusty automobile elevated on bricks outside each residence, and old sheets up at the windows. The truth is that, wherever you find humanity gathered, you find the full measure of life; the good and the not-so-good, the uplifting and the tragic. And in the story of suicide by cop, there is compassion for both the man who feels pressed to such a measure, and the copy drawn into his plan. It is a tragedy. But there will be another neighborhood block party, the passing of days and a chance to greet the dog-walkers. Life goes on - and your post speaks to the way in which we are connected one to the other, for better or for worse. Thank you for your "reflective Monday."

  2. A fairly well known porn star rented this house before I bought it. She left town without telling the landlord and disappeared for about a year, leaving nearly all her belongings. These included a nicely equipped small gym, numerous outfits (size zero and two) and many personal photos that did not include shots at Disneyland.

    (She turned up later -- in Japan, I think -- fine and dandy).

    The incident is the inspiration for my new Jake Lassiter novel, in which a young porn actress goes missing for 17 years. More about that in 2010.

  3. I agree, Our J, that if you scratch just below the surface of anyone's life you will find drama.

    I love your porn queen story, Paulie. I bet you have some unconventional ghosts because of it.

  4. An estranged husband shot and killed his wife three doors down from us, then ran to the house across from ours and killed himself. Meanwhile a woman a couple of streets down kept a young girl locked in a room and regularly beat her; after the girl had jumped out a second-story window and escaped, officials found the bodies of two other girls in the woman's freezer.

    Yet the skeleton in our house is the laundry room gremlin who keeps stealing my socks. Go figure.

  5. Paul, I thought your next book was going to be about a m/s which was absconded by a balloon?

    When I lived in a house which was converted into 4 "flats," I had to use the backdoor fire escape like staircase to take the trash out to a dumpster. One day, my downstair's neighbour was found hanging from the handrail, right off the landing halfway down the ladder.......There never was any clear cut answer: did she kill herself or did her in-and-out-of-jail "husband"......always wondered what the "sidewalk" would say.


  6. Jon, what a gruesome find. Maybe you solve the mystery using your intuitive powers.

  7. What I meant was maybe you COULD solve the...

  8. Sometimes I think that I'm the skeleton in my neighborhood's closet. Firstly, it's a pretty new development, and secondly, spending all of my free time writing, I'm the "hermit" that everyone looks at funny.

    Patty, I'm pretty sure that outfit works for you. Of course, there's only one way to be certain...

  9. Jeff, I think all writers qualify as skeletons in the neighborhood closet. We're the people talking to ourselves as we walk to the mailbox and creeping around at night to learn first-hand what it feels like to run into a spider web in the dark.

    Howz the writing coming?

  10. Wonderful post, Patty. In our neighborhood the dilemma continues to be whether or not to speak to the WIFE of the elementary school counselor now convicted pedophile. I feel perfectly comfortable treating him as if he were invisible. Is that okay? But what about her?

  11. Mims, I bet we'd all be shocked to find out how many convicted felons live in our neighborhoods. The pedophile's wife is still standing by her man? EEEUUU! I'd talk to them both. What great research for your next novel.

  12. Oh, becoming involved in our quiet suburban town's band boosters program has exposed me to many skeletons in our closets.

    But then again, maybe I knew that before. A year or so after we moved from Lake Orion (Michigan) to Oxford (MI), we read the report that one of our former neighbors had a meth lab in his garage. So I think there are skeletons all over the place.

  13. Patty, that's such a sad story on all counts ... for the unemployed construction worker, for the cop, even for the still-alive girlfriend.

    I don't know about any local crime dons here in the neighborhood, but we do have our share of crazies. Like the naked 40 year old striding down the street the other day ... who stopped to wait for the "Walk" sign at the corner before proceeding.

  14. Patty, that's such a sad story on all counts ... for the unemployed construction worker, for the cop, even for the still-alive girlfriend.

    I don't know about any local crime dons here in the neighborhood, but we do have our share of crazies. Like the naked 40 year old striding down the street the other day ... who stopped to wait for the "Walk" sign at the corner before proceeding.

  15. Oh no, Mark. Weird stuff happens in Michigan? My hopes of one normal place have been dashed.

    Louise, a Naked Guy in your neighborhood? Hope he survives the winter.

  16. James O. Born10/26/2009 4:57 PM

    I like my neighborhood which does feel like a small town. I've had a couple of neighbors tell me about relatives they have in jail like they thought I would check upon them. I never care about stuff like that except with my relatives. I even had to limit that to blood relatives then just to my brother and sister.

    I like Paul's story.


  17. Jerry, those laundry room gremlins are murder. Where do all those socks go anyway? Somebody must be holding them somewhere.

    And James O, Paul's story is every male's fantasy.

  18. Thanks for that post, Patty. Until now I'd assumed it was just MY neighbourhood where that kind of thing happened!

    I live in a quiet English village. "Stockbroker belt", they call it. Like you, we're lucky enough to have friendly, chatty neighbours. Neighbours who have informed me of a murder and a double murder both in our little cul-de-sac, and an incident of arson which explains why MY house looks so much younger than the others!

    Keep it up!


  19. Thanks Rob. I think murder is far more sinister in those quiet little English villages where we least expect it.

  20. patty, you made me realise what a dull neighbourhood i live in...... and i love it. oh wait a minute, about a year ago the place three houses down at the end of our road burned down. the woman who lived there was only slightly injured. but what a show it was. the whole village seemed to gather round and the boats on the river slowed down to get a good look. as it was a warm autumnday i felt like getting some tables and chairs out and serve coffee and cake - that's the king of scenery it was, awful really.

    the house i grew up in must have a great many stories to tell. unfortunatelly i don't know any of them. it was built in 1672. my grandad bought it in 1922 and turned it into a guesthouse. i could kick myself for not listening to the stories he used to tell us. i just remember that they scared the hell out of me.

    great post. it sure kickstarted my brain.


  21. Well, Sybille, I think you should investigate that fire. It sounds awfully suspicious to me. Maybe the residents started the fire to cover up a more sinister crime.

    And as for your family home!!!! How impossibly exciting. It must have ghosts. Right?

  22. welol patty, now i know why you're the writer and i'm the reader. i would have never suspected anything sinister about that fire, but now i see that little old lady with different eyes.......

    as for our family home, i know it has ghosts, i heard them.

    ooooh, and all this on the eve of haloween. good job it's a bright sunny morning.


  23. Sybille, I have only one bit of advice for you--start writing!

  24. good one, patty!!!