The idea of raising a child with my neighbors has crossed my mind. Going off of what Oprah said—that bit about a village raising a child— I recently assessed my neighbors, my village.
There are between six and seven of us that would comprise this village. The floater is named Ted or Theodore. I’m not sure if he actually lives in the building or if he just hangs out on my porch and asks for beer. Ted, who may or may not live in apartment 201, is friends with a man who does whose name I do not know. I’m not even sure if they’re friends, but they’re both black and Ted spends his days sitting in front of apartment 201 so I assume he knows the person who lives there.
I’ve never been inside apartment 201, but in the time I’ve lived above it I’ve come to hate all of its residents. First there was a harem of Romanians, aged sixteen to sixty. They were loud and they moved to Temple City. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were in jail or dead. I never knew any of there names. We were neighbors for about a year. After the Romanians headed east a Korean-American girl from the Bay Area moved in.
She worked at Petco and had a Pomeranian. I’ve never considered myself a violent man, but I often thought of throwing that little dog off of a building to get it to shut the fuck up. The Korean-American girl with the terrible dog was gay, in a very closeted way. She had a black girlfriend from Richmond, which is the most dangerous city in California. Her black girlfriend liked to sit on the porch and sing Dave Matthews songs. She once asked if I was a musician, and when I told her I wasn’t, she scoffed and went back to singing about rain or whiskey or South Africa. Or maybe all three.
Then apartment 201 was dormant, which was great because I have hardwood floors and love to tap dance. I never practice my tap dancing when I’ve got a downstairs neighbor; I’m far too courtesy.
After the dormancy, came the man who lives there now. He burns incense and watches Law & Order all day. He’s either a veteran or disabled or just has a really nice hustle, which allows him to drink beer and smoke blunts all day. He doesn’t own a car. I’ve never seen him go farther than the porch. He has a lot of guests, like Ted, who I think might be his friend or roommate. His guests must go to the grocery store for him. They must buy his beer and his weed. They must do his laundry. I once peeked into 201 and amidst the plumes of incense I saw a McDonalds trash can and an arcade era Pac Man. This nameless man would probably have to take on the bulk of the babysitting for our village since he doesn’t have a job and he doesn’t leave his apartment.
Next to 201 is apartment 202, which has a rotating list of tenants. At the helm is John. John is from Florida. He used to be a teacher, but he cashed in his pension at fifty and moved to Hollywood to pursue the dream of becoming wildly rich and famous. That was about nine years ago. He’s currently working on a novel, which he wants to adapt into a play. He’s also writing an album.
John spends his days at the library on Ivar where he has become friends with the local transient population. One local bum is named Nancy. Nancy is his girlfriend. Sometimes she comes over to “watch movies” with John. Nancy spends her days hobbling around mind-bendingly drunk. I once saw her pee on my lawn the way a dog would. A female dog. She just squatted and peed while I was checking my mail. She wanted to know what I was looking at and I told her, I’m watching you pee on my lawn. It was difficult to ignore. I apologized for watching her pee on my lawn in the middle of the day.
She pulled up her sweatpants and hobbled down to Pla-Boy liquor for another fifth of vodka. John knows how to pick them. Or maybe Nancy does. Either way, they’re the oldest and only couple in the village so they’d be the grandparent figures to the baby. If no one else was around—which is impossible because 201 never leaves—Grandma Nancy and Grandpa John would watch the baby. They’d probably spoil the baby with things the rest of us “village parents” disapproved of like bananas dipped in mayonnaise, and moscato.
Above 202, and across the hall from me is the lady with the painted face and her son or grandson. The lady with the painted face is a very sweet old lady who sometimes wears a Carlos Gardel hat. She does not have a job, but she manages the recycling for everyone on the block. She’s not afraid to jump into a dumpster for a few of Nancy’s bottles of vodka. She’s also not afraid to tell other recycling hunters to beat it. She’s very territorial.
The lady with the painted face has a long face with meticulously drawn eyebrows. Her eyes are enormous and brown like a horse’s. Her hair is has a slight wave to it and because she’s black, I think this means that she either wears a wig or she has “that good hair” which I’ve heard so much about from black comedians and rappers. Yes, the lady with the painted face has that good hair. She also has a son or a grandson.
The lady with the painted face looks to be about one hundred so I can’t imagine anyone knocked her up recently. Besides the kid’s only about three and we’ve been neighbors for four years. At no point was she ever pregnant, but one day there was a child. Of course, there were men. Men who wore wife beaters and stared me down as I unlocked and locked my door. But these men never stuck around or introduced themselves. This was fine by me. I’d hate to include one of them in our village raising group only to find out they can’t really commit to child-rearing due to previous obligations.
I think the painted lady will be the crazy aunt. I mean, she is crazy. She’s into voodoo and has tarot cards tattooed on her forearm. She also occasionally dresses up as a geisha or in a power suit. She doesn’t have a job and she is reliable… I think. Her son or grandson will be the brother to the baby. It’s a big commitment, but he has no say in the matter because he’s three or so and he couldn’t be reached for comment at the time of printing.
I reside across the hall from the lady with the painted face. I will teach the child many things, but I will not be around often because it’s important that the most important person in any baby’s life is less of a person and more of a caricature of one. That way, the baby will not know how deeply flawed I am and will instead strive to be impossibly perfect. Every couple weeks I will swing by to take the kid skydiving or teach it how to order bull testicles in Japanese. The child will think I’m perfect.
However, I will make one mistake during my time living and raising the baby in our village. I will seek the hand of a Filipina mail-order bride name Bouri. Bouri will hate the child because my love for it will be strong and predate the credit card transaction which brought Bouri to America. Bouri will be a very jealous woman.
One day, while I’m out planting avocado trees in Alta Dena, Bouri will steal the baby from right under John and Nancy’s boozy noses. The man who lives in 201 will see all of this happen, but he’s sort of like Rapunzel, trapped in his first floor apartment with no way out. He’ll yell to Ted for help, but Ted won’t help because there’s no beer in the deal. The lady with the painted face and her son or grandson will watch from the window as this happens.
The lady with the painted face will pull from her drawer a stolen lock of Bouri’s hair, her passport, a pillowcase and nail polish remover. The son or grandson will boil onions with mangos from Manilla and cough syrup.
Bouri will run with the baby to Studio City. She will end up across the street from Universal… so maybe she’s technically in Universal City not Studio City… there’s no way to know. But there is a bridge and it looks down on the L.A. river. Fifty feet below water will slowly trickle in an eastward motion. Just a couple of inches boxed in by graffiti and concrete. Bouri will raise the baby above her head.
And suddenly, out in the avocado fields I’ll have this weird sensation that something’s wrong. “The baby!” I’ll say. Everyone around me will look at me like I’m crazy, but I’ll take off running. I’ll run like Zola Budd or some other famous Kenyan runner. Barefoot, fast, without passion.
The lady with the painted face will fill the pillow with Bouri’s hair and passport. Her son or grandson will spoon the onion, mango, couch syrup concoction into the pillowcase.
On the bridge, Bouri will be struck by a small shower of acid rain. It will sting then burn, finally melting her skin.
The lady with the painted face will ask her son or grandson for more, Bouri will be drenched with the voodoo elixir.
The baby will fall to the ground, wrapped in whatever Moses was wrapped in when they sent his ass down the Nile. Bouri will melt into a puddle like the Wicked Witch of the West. This is will eliminate my need to have to pay her alimony. This will eliminate the need for the man in 201 to come forward as a witness for the prosecution in the People Vs. Bouri St. Germaine. Next to the puddle formerly known as Bouri is where I will find my son or daughter, which I will raise to be the next John Roberts or Richard Brautigan or Michael Phelps. We, as parents, don’t really have much say in this matter, do we?
In thirty years, John and Nancy, Ted and the guy who lives in 201, the lady with the painted face and her son or grandson and myself will go on talk shows telling harmless anecdotes about the time a village in Hollywood raised a child. Another All-American success story.