When a paparazzi princess moves in, there goes the neighborhood. 2,075 words. Part Two. illustration by Thomas Warming.
Maureen and Paul lived a peaceful productive life on a small winding street five minutes above Sunset Boulevard.
Early mornings at their house were particularly glorious: the chirping birds, the chittering squirrels, the basking sun all contributed to the tranquil bucolic mood, as did the magnificent view. But it was especially the quiet street that made Maureen and Paul’s living environment the envy of all their friends. “You can work here! You can create here! You can sleep peacefully here!” they exclaimed again and again.
Maureen and Paul felt privileged. They earned a good living writing for television but were not rich. Paul was toiling on a second-grade broadcast series. After Maureen’s series was canceled, she was finally trying to write that novel she has been talking about since her glory days in the creative writing program at at Columbia University. They’d acquired their house quite a few years back when prices were still affordable. Today only rich people could build or purchase a home there. The location was so desirable that Maureen and Paul’s neighbors were cashing out by selling their homes to the voracious developers, contractors and flippers eager to buy up any and every property.
One day Maureen heard from her friend Rob, a long-time resident like herself, that the house right below her on Trasher Avenue had sold. Rob walked his dog everyday; dog owners love to chat and keep their ears to the ground. So Maureen got all her neighborhood gossip from Rob.
A week later, he delivered a gold nugget.
“Venice Hyatt bought that house below you.”
“The Venice Hyatt?”
Now, Venice Hyatt was one of those celebrities who was famous for being famous. She had a sex tape, a reality show, and not much more to add to her Hollywood resume. But she’d perfected the art of being famous for being famous by calling the paparazzi to record her every movement. Being the heiress to a large fortune and having a name known around the world didn’t hurt.
Because of her fame, she was often asked to promote products and launch events all over the globe by just showing up at parties. She made millions annually parading her body and face and fashion down Red Carpets for the cameras.
Maureen didn’t have a great opinion of the trust fund baby then or even a few years back when the celebutante was still unknown, at least to Maureen. The TV writer had gone to a Hollywood party in the Hills with a semi-famous actress and Miss Venice had made a beeline for the celebrity. At that time, Maureen thought Miss Hyatt was overly skinny and pale not to mention a world-class phony. During her entire exchange with the actress, Venice did not throw so much as a single glance at Maureen who as it happened couldn’t have cared less about this horribly rude girl. Then came the sex tape and Venice’s fame blew up.
When Rob told Maureen and Paul and the other neighbors about Venice’s purchase, they were perplexed. Why would an heiress who presumably could buy a huge mansion in Bel Air instead purchase a smallish house at the bottom of the canyon with only parking for one car and no view? On the other hand, the home had a pool and was located a short hop from Sunset and its clubs. “Maybe that’s why.” Rob speculated.
The next rumor to sweep the neighborhood was that Venice’s house was decorated like an old Hollywood movie star’s with gigantic paintings and photographs of the celebutante everywhere. That gossip circulated through the maids, the second best reliable source of neighborhood info besides dog owners.
But a dog was how Maureen and Paul first encountered their new neighbor. A missing dog.
“Princess? Princess?” Down on the street one day, two young women’s voices could be heard screaming the prized purebreed’s name.
Paul and Maureen ran to their balcony to see what the commotion below was about. They clearly saw Venice. She looked distressed.
Being a good neighbor, Paul rushed downstairs to help while Maureen watched from above. He immediately located the pet chihuahua hiding in their yard. Gently, he approached the tiny canine and murmured. “Princess?” Responding to her name, Princess stayed put. That’s when Paul grabbed her. He walked down the street and called out to the young women, pointing to the small dog in his arms. Shrieking, they ran to him, took Princess and, with barely a thank you to Paul, started to walk back down to Venice’s home.
“Hey, what about my reward?” Paul joked.
Replied Venice, “I’ll think about it,” without even a look back.
“You ought to be more careful,” Paul warned her. “Somebody might steal your dog and demand a ransom.”
The pair laughed as they disappeared around a corner.
Paul stared up at Maureen and made a face. For that was all the thanks he received for rescuing a dog worth thousands of dollars. Maureen and Paul could only conclude that self-promotion queen Venice Hyatt was not interested in building a good relationship with her plebeian neighbors.
It turned out that Venice’s dogs kept escaping and the search for them became a fairly common occurrence in the neighborhood. But Venice was never seen again doing the chase. Instead, it was led by different members of the Hyatt household. One older woman was seen crying. Another arrived for the hunt in the latest Mercedes model. Maids followed.
Watching from above, Maureen and Paul knew when Venice had returned to town just by following the mayhem below day after day, night after night.
Thumpa! Thumpa! Thumpa! Maureen one early morning was startled awake and jumped out of bed. What time was it, she wondered? Paul emerged from his office angry. “What the fuck. It’s two thirty in the morning!” Paul wrote at night so he knew precisely what time it was.
They opened the French windows and once more stood on the balcony to see what the commotion below was about.
“Venice,” they said in unison. “Shit!” they added.
The bottom of the canyon was one big echo chamber. So when music played at full blast, people had to scream over it to be heard. The resut was that women sounded shrill and men loud, their laughter overpowering every other noise.
Maureen was having none of it. “Let’s call the police right now. This is illegal. It’s 2:30 in the morning!”
By then, of course, it was more like 3 a.m. That’s when Maureen and Paul realized they didn’t know Venice’s exact house number on Thrasher Avenue to report to LAPD They contemplated driving down to get it but since it was now 4 a.m., they decided against that.
The bacchanal ended at 5 a.m. The music shut down. More noise followed as the crowd said their goodbyes. Car doors slammed. Motors started and screeched away.
And finally, silence.
First thing the next morning, after reading the newspaper and eating breakfast, Maureen drove down the hill on a reconnaissance mission. When she reached the heiress’ home, Maureen slowed down — not too much since she didn’t know who might be watching — and wrote down the exact address: 1385 Thrasher Avenue. “Got her!” With that, a car horn startled Maureen. She put her foot on the gas.
As Maureen drove back up the hill, she crossed paths with a sightseeing bus filled with tourists. On a loudspeaker, the guide pointed to Venice’s house. The world now knew where Miss Hyatt lived, and it seemed to care. They snapped their pictures.
Maureen’s spine tightened. “Where is all this going and when is it going to end?” she mused.
She flashed to General John Augustus Sutter, who throughout the 1800s had fought hard against the gold-diggers from invading his northern land during the California Gold Rush. But after he was rendered powerless to stop the encroaching masses, he unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Congress for the restitution of his property. According to the novel Gold published by French modernist Blaise Cendrars in 1925, which Maureen had read, Sutter supposedly was driven mad by the Gold Rush frenzy. There’d even been an attempt to film the book, which had not ended well either.
When the phone rang inside Maureen and Paul’s house, she ran to answer it. One of their most engaged neighbors was calling, the kind who never missed a community meeting. He knew how to get in touch with their city councilman as well as the name of the lead LAPD officer.
“You must contact them both immediately before it gets out of hand,” he warned Maureen.
She was sure that Paul and she were not the only people who had been awakened by last night’s commotion, but the community activist wanted them to take the lead. She thanked him and hung up the phone. She called Lead LAPD Officer Martinez, left a message and waited for a response.
Reflecting on last night’s racket, she realized that L.A. clubs closed down at 2 a.m. so that’s why Venice had brought her posse back to her home. It also could mean that all of Venice’s house parties would begin at the same ungodly hour. The thought was so upsetting to Maureen that she wanted to go share it with Paul right then. But he was still under the bedcovers and would not appreciate being awakened after last night. So Maureen smoked a joint instead, the image of General Sutter and the gold-diggers coming back into her consciousness.
The next weeks were eerily quiet because Venice was traveling a lot. Maureen and Paul had almost forgotten about her until one night Maureen was awakened by what sounded like hundreds of cars parking right outside.
A few years back, the neighborhood had contemplated implementing parking permits like all the other streets. But a few people had adamantly opposed them. Their most engaged neighbor had personally led the protest. Because of that, Maureen helplessly watched as dozens of Venice’s partygoers ran up and down the street laughing and screaming as they parked or departed. Maureen felt anger toward the recalcitrant neighbors because she and Paul now were bearing the brunt of their decision. Everybody could park at any time of the night and nothing could be done about it because what they were doing was legal. Because, irony of ironies, Venice’s street had posted “No Parking” signs on both sides and always enforced it.
So began Maureen and Paul’s regular routine of interrupted nights. Their calls to the police had so little effect that the couple began to wonder: was she paying them off? Lead Officer Martinez told Maureen that, to be more effective, the LAPD needed Venice’s neighbors to complain en masse.
One night, a neighbor rang Maureen and Paul’s doorbell. “Sorry to bother you, My name is Michael. I live on the other side of Venice Hyatt on Thrasher. I can’t sleep. I’m going nuts. Can we talk?”
Maureen invited the distressed man in to talk. “Would you like a glass of water?”
“Flat or bubbly?”
Michael seemed to have it worse than them. Maureen and Paul suffered at night. But this poor man was bothered at all hours. He told Maureen that there were often four or five cars parked illegally on the street and in neighbors’ entranceways. Make-up artists, hair stylists, limo drivers, bodyguards, and the dreaded paparazzi blocked the road. A near accident had happened yesterday when a paparazzi’s van coming down Thrasher had nearly hit a homeowner getting out of a car. The screeching of tires and the screaming of voices had made Michael flee his home.
“It’s a zoo down there. I don’t know how long I can take this,” he complained as he gulped the entire glass of Pellegrino. “Our quality of life has totally deteriorated.”
Maureen wondered why he was coming to her and Paul. Could the entire neighborhood sense how upset they were?
She gave Michael the names of the lead officer and the city councilman and suggested he contact them both. She repeated what Lead Officer Martinez had said: if enough neighbors complained, then they might see some results.
A few days later, the news was blasted all over the TV and Internet and social media: VENICE HYATT ARRESTED LAST NIGHT FOR DRIVING WITHOUT A LICENSE. Accompanying the articles was a picture of the heiress exiting an LAPD patrol car. She was known for going commando, and Maureen was sure Venice’s crotch was clearly visible. Other people agreed.