The Day The Neighborhood Stopped

It could happen here, it could happen anywhere.

UNITED STATES—Yeah, it really stopped. Dead still. A whole little world, the block on Fountain Avenue west of Fairfax.

As I walked by the liquor store that cloudy afternoon, I could hear the lunatic ravings and quickly determined that the storekeeper’s Sri-Lankan English erected a barrier between him and trouble, thus shielding him from the fear that something was dangerously amiss with this guy.

The guy came out of the liquor store and onto the sidewalk. I felt that danger had narrowly been averted. The guy peered at the shoes in the shoe repair window, and he went in to talk to the shoe repairman whose good soul and Armenian English helped keep things low key, but did not make the shoe repairman impervious to weird grumblings like “Don’t look at me that way” and “I am going to kill you.”

I waited outside on the sidewalk. Sure enough, the guy was quickly turned away by the shoe repairman, who said firmly, “You must leave my store.” The guy complied. And then he headed straight my way, as I stood in front of the cafe. He was unshaven and had foggy, glazed eyes. He chose me to rant to about a political sign planted on a streetcorner across from the liquor store. Black-light orange ink on a purple background. The guy ranted against the political signs, riveting his gaze on mine. He had something against those signs: so did I.

He stepped back and I did not know for sure if he was going to kill me or kiss me. He could have been carrying a weapon in the palm of his hand. Then he hugged me, and tears came to his eyes. Hot, sweaty and deranged, the man went off, he went into the laundromat.

Meanwhile, I slipped into the café. There was not much that shook Tolga, who owned the café, and by the way he stood and spoke, I knew that he was calm, despite the block under seige. I wasn’t shook up either when I got the essence of what was going on: this guy was an OK guy who was having a serious mental chemistry problem, probably related to meds.

The sheriffs had been called two hours ago but hadn’t shown up. The rampage started about three hours earlier, down the street, when the guy broke a glass door to the apartment building where his ladylove holed up when he pounded on the door, demanding to be let in. “I need to see you, I love you!!!”

After that he went up the street sowing terror and speaking the things that hide in the unmedicated heart.

Tolga eased my fears, but the sheriff’s slow response was extremely troubling, I was on edge, nonetheless, riddled by having not known if he was going to kill me or kiss me. I stepped into the laundromat; there the guy was stalking the machines. A regular came in, Jan with her dog, Sherlock. The guy lay down on the laundromat’s industrial cement floor and frolicked with the furry cheerful ball. The guy said to the mutt who licked his face and wagged its tail, “You love me, don’t you.” Then he turned to the dogs owner:

“He doesn’t love you. You dog loves me more than you.”

“Get your fucking hands off of my dog.”

“Shut up, bitch.”

The woman rushed in to pick up Sherlock and lift him away from the troubled man. That’s when I stepped in and said that’s enough, you don’t talk that way to anybody. On the way out he had threat for me, threats involving getting cut up and death. Jan and the dog left, the feverish eyes of the man glared and the woman and her dog exiting

I slinked off up the street, the sheriffs came an hour later after two young guys stalled him in conversation. I few weeks later the guy who unleashed an afternoon of terror came around, and it was clear he had completely forgotten. The shoe repairman told him he needed to find friends and reminded him of the threats he had made. He wanted to sell me a nice shaver, I was happy to get it. And when he took the money, no flicker of recognition.

He had forgot what he had done, that was better, perhaps. Not to know you were guilty of destroying a community’s peace just like that, in a split second. A single man off the rails. That blood fear and all the terrifying headline-grabbing things got smuggled in that afternoon and for one second, we were to know just how brittle and perishable it all is.

Graydon Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood” (on Amazon) https://amzn.to/2HJKNPf

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Hollywood humorist Grady Miller grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon). His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)