Sunday, December 23, 2007


We see them from our dining room window, watch as they drive past our house, turn around, go the other direction, circle back, detour up the side streets.
Our kid sings out, "Loo-oost," and we make up the conversation we imagine taking place in the car: "I'm sure this is the wrong street." "No, this has to be it!" "But we've driven past this same place twice! I'm calling them -- " except, and this is the kicker, there's no cell phone service here. Just one of those weird things. So then we imagine them saying, "Oh my God, that's just perfect, I don't have service here! Now what?"

Taxi and airport delivery van drivers are the worst. They screech their tires as their frustration level grows. The pizza places have all pretty much figured out the neighborhood, or maybe they just have better mapping systems. Furniture and appliance delivery drivers can get downright ugly -- they both screech their tires and knock branches off trees when they turn around. Sometimes they knock at our door. The polite ones tell me they're lost. The infuriated hiss that they've tried to find "this effing address on this g.d. street, and am I even close?"

"Why, yes," I say brightly. "It's just up that way." And I point.

A couple of the street signs sit catywampus, and give a completely understandable false reading to the uninitiated. It threw us for the first couple of weeks, but eventually we figured out what everyone else in the neighborhood knows -- if you belonged here, your host/client/customer would given you directions that helped. And since you clearly don't belong here because you're lost, well -- you're on your own unless you give it up and ask a local for help.

And we'll help. You just have to ask.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Feral Children

10:30 on a Friday night. It's blacker than black outside, since streetlights are few and far between on the stretch of road where our house sits. It's a road that winds up and down with switchbacks where the canyon walls demand them. Cars roll down, gaining momentum and speed as gravity takes over, or, conversely, as drivers stomp the accelerator to gun the engine for the uphill climb.

Feral children play in the dark on the edges of the road, sometimes darting out to cross, paying no attention at all to oncoming cars. These aren't Jodie-Foster-in-"Nell" feral children; no, these are products-of-wealthy-parents-who-mostly-ignore-their-offspring feral children. We call them "the ferals" for short.

Their parents like to socialize at one another's homes, and that's cool, but their kids are outside screeching and running in the dark street until all hours. I'm not talking about ten-and-twelve year-olds, either. These are seriously little kids -- first-graders. Third-graders. Little kids, playing on a dark street where drivers are winding and weaving and speeding. Nice.

On one memorable occasion, I witnessed a baby -- walking, sure, but still a baby -- following a group of pre-and-elementary school aged kids. The baby was a good quarter-mile from home, wandering in the street at six in the evening. I whistled down the kid who looked like the baby (a girl who was maybe five) and told her she should take the baby's hand and then take the baby home. The little girl did it willingly enough, but Jesus! Did the mom or the babysitter ever wonder where the baby had gone?

And that's the Snotty Suburb mindset for a lot of the parents here -- it's a "what could possibly happen? We live in a Snotty Suburb!" -- as though their address will protect their kids from the driver, distracted by a cell call or the sun blasting through the windshield -- as though an eight-thousand-dollar-a-month mortgage is insurance against every bad thing that could happen to an unattended six-year-old.

The ferals. Expensively dressed, beautifully housed victims of their parent's benign neglect. Feh.