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Where I Live by Yxta Maya Murray

A tale of tribal warfare in the Valley

First, the unkempt Renters down the street broke the peace. Then, the tony Upper Classers followed.

May 15, 2003|Yxta Maya Murray

WHEN my husband and I first set up house on a cul-de-sac in Studio City in the mid-'90s, we fit comfortably within the street's cozy and softly smug culture: Here we all dwelled with our tidy lawns, our glossy Toyotas, our flower boxes, our wee unused porches. Realtors and editors coexisted peacefully alongside a cameraman, a government lawyer and the odd Mexican American professor and writer; antic dogs wandered about in convivial packs; kids wearing gigantic helmets rode around on bikes equipped with six safety wheels.

This tranquillity existed though faint seismic rumblings even then could be heard in the dells and gardens of the street I've come to think of as Shady Lane: These rumblings augured the economic earthquake that would soon occur on our block and transform it from a mixed group of Renters and Middle Classers into a curious community of homeowners, where those who drove Fords and sowed their own gardenias would live cheek-by-jowl with the Hollywood Upper Classers.

But for the time being, the Middles didn't know what was coming and were happy. If we didn't have anything like block parties, we did take the time to chat when we washed our cars or let out said dogs to do their business. Things were very harmonious; our neighbors even tolerated my gently rabid and screaming silky terriers. I also think that the group felt bonded because, in the inaugural year we moved to Shady Lane, most of the Middles had agreed to organize against the cabal of unkempt Renters who lived at the end of the street.

Some of these Renters were Goths; that is, they wore a lot of black clothes and had long streaming black hair and the boys wore bracelets and the girls intense eye makeup and tattoos. Yet I don't think the fact that they were uncloseted members of the Osborne ilk caused the citizenry to murmur dangerously among themselves and gather their weaponry and prepare to rise against the Renters in all their flaming wrath and terrible glory.

The real issue was how two of the Renters, a very dramatic-looking dame and her bracelet-wearing beau, shuffled about Shady Lane with blood in their eyes and pallor in their cheeks and goggled wildly at you because they were apparently on some very fine drugs and having hallucinations. Another of their kith perhaps also had a problem with drink and had a revoked driver's license and so pedaled his bicycle in a very crooked and crashing path from the cul-de-sac toward the other end of the street.

Moreover, there were nervous suspicions that the bracelet wearer made extra money by allowing pornographers to film in his house. These fears were apparently confirmed when two movie stars performed on his front porch, subjecting a helmet-wearing kid to a special kind of class unlikely to be taught in the Los Angeles school system.

After this happened, the tinderbox that was Shady Lane blew up. On a dark, dreary night, one of the cul-de-sac denizens tried to steal a neighbor's car, so that we heard tires screeching, and a woman screaming, and a man hollering something about a gun, and then came the long-awaited calamitous howl of the Middles emerging from their homes and descending upon the dead-end like the Furies. My neighbors, reading this, might perhaps say that I exaggerate when I describe this rout. Yet I still remember the wail of police sirens and the shrieking and the silky terriers' yodeling, and the LAPD helicopter hammering the air with its propeller and beaming its searchlights into our windows as it hunted after the armed suspect.

In the days that followed, the more organized of us Middles laid siege upon the Renters, by calling lawyers and having voluble discussions about Temporary Restraining Orders in earshot of the cul-de-sac, and otherwise expressing our litigious desire to live on a violence-free Shady Lane.

So then the Renters did move out en masse.

And coinciding with this exodus was a sudden spike in Studio City property values: All these rich people from Hollywood started moving in.

In these Upper Classers came, with their new-home construction and amazing film credits and surreally beautiful wives. Some of the shabbier charms of Shady Lane, in the forms of dented Fords and scraggly begonias, soon evaporated; replacing the idiosyncratic pedaling of the intoxicated Renter were the incursions of candy-bright Porsches and astonishing SUVs. Still, all seemed pleasant and peaceful and vertically mobile; despite the jealous turnings of my bowels (my Toyota suddenly looked disgusting), I didn't hear one word of Middle Class rancor.

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