Friday, January 27, 2006


In Which It's Over Sooner Than I Think...

All that is necessary for crazy people to triumph is for sane people (or at least somewhat less insane people) to do nothing. --Edmund Burke (more or less)

Day 9

The sprawling suburban development of Monopolis has five distinct neighborhood watch groups, each with its own head (or block captain or whatever you call it). There should be seven groups, but two neighborhoods--one is yours--lost their block captains and have since gone unrepresented at the meetings of the watch committee. Technically, the groups are required to meet only twice a year, but they meet about every other month, according to the schedule of meetings dictated by the head of the watch committee, a sturdy woman of middle years whose name is Mrs. Bundt (yes, just like the cake).

Mrs. Bundt is also your housing development's official liaison to the beat officer--I believe they prefer the term "Police Area Representative" (PAR)--who is assigned to Monopolis and it is she who has arranged the Friday afternoon meeting between you, her and PAR Officer Peltz.

Mrs. Bundt had a quiet voice on the phone, so you are a bit taken aback by her physical presence when she invites you into her home on the lake side of the development, where all the seriously wealthy people live. Not to put it too bluntly, but Mrs. Bundt looks like a man in drag. She is a full inch taller than you, wearing a brown jacket and skirt that put you in mind of a prison camp matron. Her most arresting physical feature, though, is the enormous wattle under her chin. It's half as long as her face and it sways, whenever she walks, whenever she talks. It has a strange hypnotic effect on you so that you find yourself staring at it for most of your visit.

You sit for a few minutes in her finely appointed parlor with its lake view. She finds out you're a magazine editor, which causes her to become animated for a moment. But then you tell her which one and she simply says, "Oh," and settles her chin down into the comfort of her wattle. You can tell she doesn't like your magazine.

You chat about the neighborhood watch system in the community and she immediately lambastes your neighbors and the residents of the neighborhood on the southeast sides who, in her view "lack the gumption to organize themselves. You know, it is a duty of citizenship, to aid in the safeguarding of your community. In earlier days, when there was a dearth of lawmen, the people of a community policed themselves, taking it in turn to stand night watch and so forth." You're tempted to ask her how she feels about vigilantes and whether or not mob rule and lynching and tar-and feathering should be brought back too. Instead, you point out that part of your reason for being here IS to help safeguard your community and she gives an ambivalent shake of her head, causing her wattle to almost--but not quite--slap the underside of each cheek as it sways back and forth.

Just then a police car pulls into the wide driveway out front, swooping around to park at an arrogant angle that takes up more of the pavement than it should. A short, burly man steps out of the car and promptly stuffs a hand down his pants. After a brief adjustment of his shirttails in relation to his underwear, he strides to the door, but Mrs. Bundt is already crossing the foyer and had the door open when he arrives on the step. You have also risen to follow her.

"Good afternoon Zoltan," she says, then turns and, seeing you, introduces you to the officer.

Peltz removes his regulation sunglasses and stares at you with dry lizard's eyes. "So this is the fella that caught some criminals on video, huh?" he asks, shaking your hand and chuckling harshly. You begin to brace yourself, realizing you're in for a patronizing afternoon.

Which starts off badly enough because after you give him a brief recap of the events up to the night of the Poop on the Stoop, you pop in the video of the surveillance footage you were so Mr. Smirky Smug about. But Peltz is singularly unimpressed.

"You can't really tell who that is, whether it's even a man or a woman," he remarks, watching the hooded figure toss the bag to the porch. When you show him the Handycam footage of the car, including a shot that shows the hooded person getting into it to leave, he does sit up then and asks you to play it back. You do and then he yells "Freeze!" as though the video were some thief he'd caught climbing a fence. He is looking at the still image of the car that shows the license plate. He grabs a notepad from his pocket.

"Don't bother writing it down," you say, opening the folder you brought with you. "Here's a copy of the DMV info on the Belfrys. The car is registered to them."

Peltz snatches the paper from you and sneers, "What'd you do, run a background check on them?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," you say.

Then you tell him about the incident the day before, of Mrs. Belfry driving her car up onto someone's driveway (and part of their lawn) to cut Her Lovely Self off. As a coda to this recent incident, you give him the copy of the DMV form that shows Belfry's license was suspended once before for reckless driving. You also hand him a sheet of paper containing a list of names and addresses.

"What are these?" he asks.

"Those are neighbors in our community who have had encounters with the Belfrys. The top one, Dana Doohickey, witnessed the reckless driving incident and is more than willing to file a complaint of her own, if you need it." You point to a group of three names spaced closely together. "These are people who were threatened by Mrs. Belfry when she told them she was a police officer or with the police."

"Huh," is all Peltz says, looking from the papers in his hand to the file on your lap. "Well, that isn't much of a deal. I'm sure they didn't believe her."

You grab another piece of paper from the folder and read aloud from the copy of a certain page of a state law book (emphasis mine): "Those who attempt to pass themselves off as law enforcement can draw a charge of first-degree criminal impersonation, a felony. The charge applies not only to those who show off badges or dress in uniform, but can also be used against people who suggest they're officers or say they work for a police department."

"Really?" says Mrs. Bundt, sitting forward, her wattle quivering with excitement. "I had no idea. So just saying it is a crime. Well, well..."

Peltz has gone from patronizing to irritated. "I know what the law is, son. Are you really wanting to make a case out of this? You're asking me to arrest these people for impersonating police and driving to endanger and what-not. What have you got against them?"

"Look, I don't even know these people," you reply. "But I'm a journalist. I talk to people for a living. A majority of my neighbors have had bad experiences with these people and it seems to keep escalating because no one confronts them to stop it. I can't get them to return my phone calls and they don't answer the door. But they come to my house and yell at my wife. My family goes for a walk and this woman drives a car up to within a foot of my daughter and my wife, scaring my family and other residents. She bullies people by representing herself as a member of the law enforcement community. If I were a police officer, I would find that unacceptable. But I don't want them arrested. I want them to understand that this is not the way to treat your neighbors. I want them to understand that what they do has not escaped the notice of the law."

Peltz looks at you, his smirk gone. "So you want me to go over there and warn them."

"Yes, please," you say. But you think Ba-doi! What the hell are we doing here?

"Oh! Well!" he says. "That I can do. I thought you were serious about pressing charges and that's a whole other kettle of fish." He pops the surveillance DVD out of the player. "Okay if I hold onto this?" he asks. You nod. His eyes narrow. "I don't need you media types putting it on TV and making a stink about it."

"Well, I work for a magazine, not a TV station. But don't worry. I would never do anything like showing the video around. Not even still shots or anything," you assure him.

"Because this could be evidence," he says, waggling the DVD importantly. "No need to be showing it around and stirring things up."

"Absolutely. I totally agree," you say.

You all stand up. Mrs. Bundt is regarding you quietly, as though she wants to ask you a question. You all move to the doorway.

"So, when do you think you'll talk--?" you begin.

Peltz scratches his head under his cap. "Oh, I'll probably stop by tonight right around supper. Or else come around tomorrow." He stops and looks at the list of names you gave him, then looks at you. "So if I were to call each of these people, they'd be willing to come forward with their stories. Even the ones about impersonating an officer," he says.

You nod.

He shakes his head. "You don't get that very much. People pulling together that way. Sounds like you've got a neighborhood watch group already set up and don't even know it." And with that, PAR Officer Peltz clambers into his car, then laboriously backs it up from where he has blocked in Mrs. Bundt's Mercedes. Then he's gone.

You turn and thank Mrs. Bundt for her help. She clasps your hand tightly.

"It was my pleasure. I hope this puts and end to the problem," she says.

"Me too," you say.

Mrs. Bundt us still holding your hand. "I wonder if you'd be willing to come to the neighborhood watch committee meeting next month and talk about this experience. I have to say, I'm impressed with the efforts you made to gather information. Zoltan had no choice but to warn these people or arrest them. That was well done. You were very meticulous."

"Thanks," you say. "I guess I read too many Hardy Boys books as a kid."

She smiles, and suddenly she doesn't look so mannish. "I was partial to Nancy Drew myself." She lets go of your hand. "Zoltan will call me when he's spoken to the neighbors. And I will call you about the next committee meeting." She casts about, suddenly realizing something. "Do you not have a car?"

"Oh, I walked the path around the lake. Cold, but I thought it would be good exercise," you say. She nods as you look at your watch. "Well," you add, "guess I better wattle--I mean waddle--I mean toddle! Toddle off home. Nice to meet you." And before she can say anything, you wave quickly and head back to the lake path, your file tucked under your arm.

Once again, you feel that strange mixture of relief and annoyance when these sorts of things come to an end. You did right by you family and neighbors, and you busted your ass gathering information. But in the end, someone else who doesn't act the least grateful for your help will end up lowering the boom on the Crazy Neighbors. And you won't even be there to hear it.

No way around it: anti-climax really sucks.

So it's a good thing this story isn't quite over yet...



You can't do that!

Stinky boy!

Finish the story!

Finish it NOW!


Veruca Salt
Yup, we need a "Paul Harvey" moment here, MM. (I'm glad you didn't do what Tony Soprano would do, btw.)
Heh. "Veruca" cracked me up, because I feel exactly the same way. It's VERY good thing there's more to the tale, because I just HATE not knowing the rest of it!!!
WHAT?!?!?! This is worse than when you left yourself dangling precipitously from the roof, fixing the gutter!!!! You said "it's over". You said that!!! Indian giver..... (meant without any malice or lack of PC)
COOL!! I love those Sonic Sleuth things! Hubby and I used to always take them out of the box at Wal-Mart and play with them in the store. Inconspicuous they are not...but wow, they're fun!!
You're going to eavesdrop on the whole thing, aren't you? I want one of those!
" I would never do anything like showing the video around. Not even still shots or anything," you assure him."

I have to admit, I laughed so hard my lungs hurt when I read "I would never do anything like showing the video around. Not even still shots or anything," you assure him."
Cue the MacGyver music.b
Mini security cameras, eavedropping sound guns. All you need is a utility belt and red phone from commisioner Gordon.

Been loving the quotes. Here's one for you:

"Where does he get these wonderful toys?"

I bet you know where that's from.
I'm picturing Magazine Man singing a piano-bar version of "Weird Al" Yankovic's "One More Minute" with Mr. and Mrs. Belfry putting Chihuahua turds into his oversized brandy glass cum tip jar.

And, yeah, I realize that I just typed that last term in the last paragraph. Sometimes life serves up chocolate in your peanut butter.
"So you want me to go over there and warn them."

"Yes, please," you say. But you think Ba-doi! What the hell are we doing here?

"Oh! Well!" he says. "That I can do. I thought you were serious about pressing charges and that's a whole other kettle of fish."

Yeah, I mean, he might actually have to work or something...perish the thought!

Looking forward to seeing where this audio surveillance thing is going...
Ooh! This is getting good. I SO love the follow-through.

I have it! Your secret identity! You are, in fact, McGyver.

(we fully expect to hear a story about the shit-bag -- literal shit, not evil neighbor -- doing something extraordinary when combined with, say, a shoelace and a lemon)
Tell us who you are and where you are we will finish it for you. A catapult I think? YES!! We shall build a catapult and launch roadkill at the Belfry's domocile!!
Auugghh! When are you going to post the last bits?!?!?!? Come on come on come on . . .

It's been said that it's not over 'till the fat lady sings. I don't want it to be over. So if I just hum, that's not singing is it?
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