Make Lillian Way Great Again

 

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You know, what is a blog if not an opportunity to air one’s grievances? To share what just happened with a plaintive hope that maybe someone out there will say, “I feel you, I see your point, I get it.” And you know, maybe you will get it. Also, maybe you’ll just think I’m a weepy Vanya.

As I was walking to my car this morning, on the street where I’ve parked my car for the last 18 years, my neighbor and friend Mark waved and said he had something to tell me. Long story short, he told me that there had been an initiative to implement permit parking and that the majority of the street had been for it and it went through. The change will go into effect shortly.

So, I live on one street, which is a major street with little parking and apartment complexes with little or no parking garages. So most of us who live in my building, as well as the other buildings of my street, park on another street enchantingly named Lillian Way. Lillian Way is a verdant, lush, old-fashioned street lined with 60-80 year old homes, houses built at a time when Los Angeles was neither old nor young, just hopeful.

I have lived in my neighborhood, on my street, for 18 years. And mostly, every day and night, I have parked my car on Lillian Way. Through the years, I thought I had built relationships with my seemingly friendly, devoutly Democratic neighbors. There were friendly exchanges. My compadres knew, if not my name, at least the names of my dogs.

Many years ago, I read an article in Los Angeles magazine about how when people love living in LA, it’s because they live somewhere where they feel like they are living in a small town. And if you know LA, you probably know that to be true. There are all these villages here, like Larchmont Village and Brentwood Village or Valley Village that say, “Hey, we aren’t a metropolis, just a few hundred cozy hamlets all cobbled together.”

And for 18 years, I certainly would have echoed that sentiment.

But now, suddenly, shockingly, permit parking has come to my abode. I will never again be able to park my car overnight or longer than 2 hours during the day. And most of the other folks who live on my street are in the same position.

I interrogated Mark for details. When does it start?  Who spearheaded all of this?  How long was this brewing? He said that the decision was mostly unopposed. So basically, all (or most) of these people who I thought I had an amicable relationship with had been plotting to prevent me from parking the way I have parked for the last, yes, 18 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that for the people who live in houses on Lillian, having the “apartment dwellers” invade their curbs and walk on their lawns gets annoying. Day after day, year after year. I see trash or dog droppings that litter homeowners yards and while I don’t do things like that, I suspect there are some without my staunch (that’s for you, J.J.) values.  I do get it. And please do not get me going again about people running the stops signs.

BUT, I do think it’s revealing that all these people who put Hillary and Obama and John Kerry and Al Gore (that’s how long I’ve lived here) signs on their lawns have now built their own wall, not unlike Donald Trump’s plans for America’s borders.  They are going to make America GREAT again, by taking away parking for people too poor to own a house.

The line has been drawn and it’s icky and I am well aware of where I fall.  All those people I thought were my friends, as it turns out, were not my friends.  We were not Grover’s Corners of Bedford Falls or Mayberry after all. Since I found out about this earlier today, everyone I talked to about it, and there were a few, all those people said, “Ray, don’t take it personally.  It’s not personal.”

But wouldn’t George Bailey take it personally?

Maybe it’s not personal.  And maybe when the sting wears off, I won’t care.  Maybe parking won’t be as troublesome as I fear. But right now, while it is still fresh, I don’t know if I will stay on this street or in this town or in this state.  Because home is no longer home to me.  That might not be the worst thing in the world, but in this breath, as I type these words, it’s really not a welcome feeling.

For Whom The Bell Tolls

bell-tower-viewIf the rumors are true, there is a woman dying in my building. She is neither an old lady or a young girl, rather a woman roughly my own age. She has been ill for a while and, from what Eric heard, is being attended to by hospice. For the sake of this story, I will call her Callie.

Callie was here when I moved into this building. She introduced herself in my first few weeks, nearly 17 years ago. She was a constant presence in the building, often doing laundry in one of the building’s two washing machines, often smoking cigarettes on the stairway, her smoke emanating throughout the building. She always had a hello, even if it was followed by a complaint about other tenants. Callie was a modern day Gladys Kravitz and I should know, it takes one to know one.

If Callie and I were friendly, we never became friends. I have thought so much about her in the last few weeks. She is too young to die; she is my age. What haunts me, I guess, is how, we have lived steps away from each other for the last 17 years, saw each other daily or weekly, known certain details about each other’s lives, and yet, there was not much of a connection. If I were to be honest, I would have to admit that I didn’t like Callie very much. I do feel guilty about admitting this, but it is part of the story, it even adds an extra layer of sadness to it all.

I will say this about Callie. She loved my first two dogs Lucy and Mandy. When both of them passed away, within a few months of each other, she offered condolences about each and I didn’t doubt that she meant them. My current two, Millie and Ricky, are not as friendly to people in the building as Lucy and Mandy were and I sometimes wonder if it’s related to the fact that I don’t like most of the people in my building either, now.

One of my first blog posts was about my building, this big, old brick building with hallways like the hotel in The Shining. Before I moved in, I dreamed of living here every time I drove down the street. And I felt so lucky when my friend Ted, who lived in our friend Russell’s old apartment, told me there was a vacancy. And then I got the apartment and then I adopted Lucy and then I moved to a bigger apartment, with french doors in the bed room and views of my historic street. And then I adopted Mandy. And the three of us would go for leisurely, amiable walks, we had leisurely, amiable relationships with all our neighbors. Some of my best friends were people in this building, maybe you are reading this now and you know I am talking about you.

But, for many, Los Angeles is a transitory town. Apartments are by nature transitory too. People move away, people die. In the last few weeks, I made a rough count of the number of people who lived in this building who have passed away before their time, and it’s been jarring, haunting actually.

And speaking of haunting, when I first moved in, I was told by several sources to be on the look out for ghosts. One neighbor once told me that she woke up in the middle of the night to the feeling of someone sitting on her chest, attempting to strangle her and that when she came to, there was no one there. For 17 years, I have been waiting for my ghost moment or moments.

As I said, people move away, people die. Also, though, some people move away, and then they die. My friend Ted, who is the reason I am here, passed away after an illness several years ago. I know it was several years ago, because I remember waking to the phone ringing in my old studio apartment and answering it and one of our mutual friends calling to say that Ted had died. And I remember him telling me that the thing about folks being at peace at the end is really not always the case, that even in his last moments, Ted was clawing and screaming for more life. Which makes me sad, but a little comforted too, that that is how much he still wanted to be here.

It’s silly, but I’ve been tempted in the last few days to run up to Callie’s apartment and knock on the door and ask if I can come in, to spend a bit of time with her. Maybe thank her for always being nice to Lucy and Mandy and patient with Ricky and Millie, to acknowledge what we shared. We lived, not identical, but parallel lives, for 17 years. Of course, I will not and should not do that. I would only be an imposition, an annoyance.

I wish I weren’t so narcissistic. You don’t have to be a therapist to know that part of the reason Callie’s illness has burrowed into me is that I am eternally cognizant of my own mortality. I know that Callie had more things she wanted to see, do, accomplish, as do I. This town is full of people who transition from renting apartments to owning homes. Did Callie dream of a house, with or without picket fence? Is there something wrong with me, is it my failure, if I live in an apartment for the rest of my life?

I do wish Callie peace in her transition from this world to whatever is on the other side. I know she loved her family, she loved her friends and I know that she was loved in return. I hope that love is a comfort to her and to them.

As for myself, I don’t know why I say that I’ve never experienced ghosts in this building because that couldn’t be further from the truth. The dead are still with me, the friends I made here who’ve only moved away to just below Pico or a house in Echo Park, are still with me too. Lucy, Mandy, Ted, I think of you three every day. Every day. You are all my ghosts, you all haunt me. But I want you to know that while there is sadness in your absences, there is a grace, a solace in knowing that how lucky we were to, for a time, at least, roam these halls together.