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Speaking Out

Some Fears About Living in L.A. Are Fruitless

October 02, 1994|ALAN LAPOINTE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Alan Lapointe is a free-lance writer who just wants to be a good neighbor. and

It was an ominous sign. "Last night, 'Mija' and I were sitting right here and we saw a man come out of your front yard." The kindly Mexican woman, with 5-year-old daughter in tow, was telling my wife and me exactly the kind of urban downer I live in fear of. "You should be careful with the casa, " she said with a smile.

Since we had made arrangements to install a fence before hearing this unsettling report, my trepidation was tempered. Slightly.

So this is home ownership in Los Angeles. The affordable dream, as any glad-happy real estate type will ooze. My wife and I took the plunge last fall. Interest rates went so low we felt we had to at least look into it. And it looked OK. After the usual drama and heartache, we, yes we, settled into a two-bedroom, two-bath Craftsman in, well, uh, let's see, where exactly is it?

It's not Atwater, but the intersection of Riverside and Glendale is only minutes away. It's not Echo Park, but the "EXP" graffiti is just a car chase from the front yard. Now, some would call it Elysian Heights (Dodger Stadium's lights glow beyond the hills opposite our back yard), but I think they say that because any neighborhood with "Heights" in it sounds better than it really is.

It is sort of Silverlake. Silverlake Hills is what one neighbor calls it. Uh-huh. When you add "Hills," I think you're just going for the "Heights" effect.

I feel out of place. I toil at a mind-numbing dead end office job and my wife's county position is only slightly more palatable and yet we own this thing. Lawyers own houses. Actors, doctors, business people, but us?

Now my "Teach Peace" bumper sticker seems quaint. "Vote Republican" might be a better fit. That's what happens when property taxes and trash pickup service become more of an issue to you than when U2 tickets go on sale.

Then there's the funny feeling of being somebody's neighbors. In my renting days, neighbors were the Peruvian woman who brayed incessantly in the place above mine in the Wilshire District. Or the Armenian family who loudly embraced life in the Los Feliz building we lived in for six years.

But the folks we live around now aren't just fellow apartment dwellers. It's as if we're all threads in the same quilt. One new neighbor came by to pick up a rabbit cage that was left behind by the previous owners and casually made mention of his boyfriend. I acted as if such a statement was common to me (it isn't) and calmly continued the conversation. No, I haven't lived in a cave for the past 31 years, but such a matter-of-fact approach to gay life does take me by surprise. Whatever. The rabbit cage guy and I wave when passing in the street.

My daughter likes to kick her Big Bird ball into another neighbor's yard. It gets faithfully returned by the elderly woman who tends her fruit trees there. This sweetheart likes to chat when time allows. I've heard that she's been living in the house behind ours forever.

And I've traded phone numbers with a guy down the street who keeps a loaded shotgun handy. We share a concern about the shadowy guys in baggy pants who occasionally slink around the parked cars that border the nearby Glendale Freeway.

The fear of a break-in is the worse thing about this new life. We do have a security alarm, and the fence went up the other day, but returning home always brings with it that certain uneasiness. It's a feeling my wife doesn't share. Of course, it was the same in apartments. And I imagine people in all neighborhoods feel that way.

"The prowler" re-appeared a day after the Mexican woman warned us. While celebrating a neighbor's daughter's birthday, my wife spotted a guy creeping around our front yard, despite there being a car in the driveway.

I put down my cake, crossed the street and found him in the neighbor's yard. He had used our yard as an entry way. "Can I help you?" I asked.

He was surprisingly timid. His balding head glistened with sweat. "I, uh, I lost a pen here and I'm looking for it." We stared at each other, but I honestly wasn't threatened. There were no signs that he had molested my property. "I guess it's not here. Is it OK if I cross the front yard to go away?"

"Yeah, it's OK," I said, trying to be tougher than I am.

He loped off crookedly as I watched him disappear.

The following day our fence went up. I draped myself over it and watched our elderly neighbor harvest her plums. She talked of urban farming's downfalls: "These are ripe this time of year. Last year, someone came and stole them!"

I felt a surge of relief. The mysterious prowler was evidently a fresh fruit thief looking to make a score.

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