When the paparazzi princess disobeys the law, her neighbors suffer. 2,170 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Once news of Venice Hyatt’s arrest hit social media, the paparazzi and TV news vans invaded the streets and crowded the driveways throughout Maureen and Paul’s neighborhood. The gold-diggers had arrived; but instead of picks, rakes, and shovels, they had all sorts of cameras and microphones. Because a picture or a word from the scandalous heiress was worth a fortune on the gossip world market.
A neighbor, Craig, contacted Maureen by phone. He lived up the street from Venice and worked as a nurse at the UCLA hospital. He related how coming home one early morning he had to chase a newsman urinating on his doorstep.
“Now that she has been arrested, the circus will only intensify,” Craig griped. “We need to do something.”
Then came another news break: VENICE HYATT RELEASED FROM JAIL.
What happened was the L.A. County Sheriff ignored the judge’s sentence of 23 days and let the celebutante go free after a mere 72 hours. For an “undisclosed medical condition.” She was to be sent home to serve her sentence while wearing an ankle monitor.
The media as well as trolls on Twitter and Facebook questioned what kind of medical condition it could be since, a few hours before being jailed, Venice was photographed at the MTV Movie Awards. Apparently in perfect health.
Maureen, Paul and Craig agreed that a flyer was the best way to reach as many neighbors as possible and Maureen worked hard at composing the missive. It read: Dear Neighbor — Since the arrival of Venice Hyatt to our neighborhood, we have seen our quality of life deteriorate. Last week was intolerable. We have talked with Lead LAPD Officer Martinez and feel we need to take a united stand. The circus will resume now that she’s exiting jail. If you agree, we have only three days. There is no time to waste. At Craig’s urging, Maureen included a last line on the flyer that read: Per Officer Martinez’s recommendation, we are also investigating hiring counsel. And the flyer included the trio’s contact information: names, home addresses, mobile numbers and emails.
Maureen decided to title the flyer: HEIRESS ALERT! TIME FOR ACTION. She thought she’d hit the jackpot with that headline; Craig and Paul agreed. They printed copies and walked the streets to distribute them until their legs were sore from hiking up and down the Hollywood Hills.
Now that Venice was back home, the neighborhood became bedlam. Even more paparazzi, more TV vans and reporters, more onlookers, endless sightseeing buses. Perfect for a dangerous traffic jam.
Michael, a neighbor, called Maureen to describe the mayhem in front of his house. “It’s a constant flow of delivery trucks trying to cut through the mob of paparazzi. Fresh flower baskets, organic dog food, takeout food trays. Ai saw one young girl holding up a banner that read, ‘VENICE IS FREE!’ while her BFFs were screaming ‘Venice is free!’ over and over. What’s wrong with these kids?”
Maureen commiserated with him and asked if he’d seen their flyer. He had and said he would write immediately to the City Councilman and the Lead LAPD Officer.
“Time for action,” he said.
Good, Maureen thought, my title worked.
She checked her emails. Numerous neighbors had already done the right thing and sent her copies of their complaints to the authorities along with supportive messages like, “We’re all in this together” and “Time for action.”
The phone rang. It was Ben, a neighbor Maureen and Paul knew very well. A few months back, Paul had rescued Ben’s giant tortoise. It had crawled onto their property and, not knowing its owner, Paul had pulled out a cardboard box, stuffed it with lettuce and a large bowl of water, and placed the pet inside. Maureen had watched with delight her guy’s knowledge of tortoise care. Through the maids’ network, the couple eventually learned who the animal’s owner was. Ben had been most grateful.
But now he was on the phone screaming at her.
“Are you nuts? What you’re doing is a terrible thing. For a few loud parties, you want to kick her out of the neighborhood? Don’t you realize that she adds great value to our properties.?”
Of course, Ben lived one street above Maureen and Paul and Craig, which meant he was two levels removed from the racket. He finally became increasingly rude and abusive on the call. Hurt, Maureen hung up on him.
Then came another breaking news alert. The angry judge ordered Venice back to jail after the public outrage over her release and an emergency court hearing.
The barbarians were soon at the gate again. Maureen was startled out of a deep sleep by the sound of an helicopter overhead. She bolted out of bed and ran to the balcony. She counted one, two, three, four, five, six, seven – seven – helicopters buzzing overhead. It was Vietnam on the hillside.
Reporters and paparazzi were running down the street. Houses were shaking. Horns were blaring. Sirens were screamming. Maureen checked the clock. It was only 6 a.m.
She turned on the TV news. Every channel was covering Venice’s return to jail. A city councilman was being interviewed. “I woke up at 5 a.m. to the sound and fury of the Venice Hyatt spectacle. It’s hard to justify that this girl is newsworthy. The world is not better or worse based on what happens to an heiress.”
A lawyer neighbor whom Maureen knew very well replaced the councilman on the TV screen. “People need to give her a break. Some of the angry neighbors are old fogies and jealous of her.” Maureen stopped in her tracks. Was this attorney talking about her? He must have read her flyer.
He continued. “I don’t mind her as a neighbor. I personally like a little spice, a little action, in the neighborhood.”
Maureen began fuming at the TV screen. She would have shouted but she also knew nobody could hear over the din of the choppers.
People began calling the local L.A. stations complaining about the noise from the flying machines overhead. “How long is this going on? How much more can we take?” There would be no sleeping today for Paul, either. When he awoke after a night of TV writing, Maureen told him what the lawyer on the TV screen had said. “That attorney works in an office most of the time doing his lawyer thing, not like us writers who work at home,” Paul reminded her.
But Maureen still felt betrayed. She had stuck her neck out for the good of everybody in the neighborhood, and look at what snakes came back to bite her. Paul pointed out that she was taking all this way too personally.
Meanwhile the helicopters were still buzzing. Maureen sensed the onset of a major headache. But instead of laying down in her bathrobe, she put on some clothes and clambered down to the street. Maybe one of these reporters could tell her what time Venice was being picked up by the Sheriff’s office so this nightmare could end.
“It’s supposed to happen at 9 a.m.,” a journalist said. But it was 9 a.m. already and the helicopters were still hovering.
A few hours later, the choppers finally flew away. An exhausted Maureen turned on the TV. She saw Miss Hyatt being taken back to jail followed closely by the paparazzi. The circus was moving on. Calm had been restored to the neighborhood. Maureen collapsed. Blissfully, she fell asleep.
The phone woke her up. Groggily, she answered her cell. “Hello?”
“How could you attack somebody when they’re down? Why are you singling out this poor girl?”
The caller’s voice was heavily accented. Maureen asked, “Where are you from, sir?”
Maureen immediately hung up. Why would someone from Gabon have her mobile number? She rushed to her laptop and checked her emails. Dozens of concerned pals had written to warn that a screenshot of the neighborhood flyer had been published in toto on a very popular gossip blog beloved by Venice’s fans. With their names, their addresses, their emails and their cell numbers clearly visible for all the world to see. Maureen thought, how dumb can I be?
Craig also received threatening phone calls. Several people suggested contacting the webmaster of the site and asking for the personal info to be removed.
Maureen’s phone was ringing of the hook.
Text messages were piling up.
The front doorbell was buzzing. Paul went down to answer it. A full ABC news crew stood at the ready to interview Maureen or him. Firmly, Paul sent them away. There will be no interviews. Craig agreed. No interviews.
From their balcony, the couple could see other news crews hovering around. They were now trapped in their own home. Maureen’s emails contained dozens more requests for interviews, either by phone or in person.
German TV. German TV?
Maureen screamed “GERMAN TV?”
There also were Clear Channel, Inside Edition, KTLA, Radio Vancouver, CNN, KNX 1070 Newsradio, SKIPRAID.COM, Your Daily Dumpster Dive – Maureen paused to ask Paul, ‘What’s that?” — New York Daily News, CBSNews, NBC, Radar.
She listened to the messages on her phone: Fox News, Keith Olbermann, Showbiz Tonight, Magazine Closer from Paris, The Hit Music Channel in Kansas, Canal Plus, E! News.
And the topper: someone pretending to be from the Hyatt Family left a threatening messag.: “We do not appreciate you harassing Venice. Stop. You’ve been warned.“
Maureen guzzled a glass of red wine before facing the tweets. They could’t be good.
“Why don’t you move to Iowa or somewhere if you don’t want helicopters overhead?”
“What goes around, comes around! You pointed a finger and now ten are pointing at you.”
“Some people don’t have a roof, don’t have food and don’t have the money to pay for heat in winter. You have absolutely everything and still you need to complain?”
“Ms. Hyatt is no danger to society. Get a life. You obviously have money so you can move if you don’t like the traffic.”
“You give Americans a bad name. We help people when they are down, not kick them! I guess you’re jealous because the spotlight isn’t on you.”
“You are truly the lowest form of scum on the planet. I hope all of you rot in hell. While you’re at it, kindly take that petition, roll it up, dip it in oil and shove it up your asses! Have a nice day!”
Night fell. Imprisoned in their own home, thank god Maureen and Paul had enough food to last a few days. They wondered if tomorrow would be better: it couldn’t be worse.
The following morning Maureen and Paul woke up to a miracle. Overnight the gossip website had been dropped by its main web host. Apparently, it had been warned many times against using copyrighted celebrity images. Several lawsuits had been filed. The site had been dark for hours and when it finally returned to the internet with a different host on less than full power, the flyer screenshot with the personal information was nowhere to be found. And the site’s archives couldn’t be accessed.
Craig was particularly relieved, because his husband was threatening divorce over this snafu.
On TV, their city councilman was giving a statement: “This feeding frenzy was not L.A.’s finest hour. The day the Sheriff released her, he in effect sentenced the whole community to home confinement. I hope that when Hyatt is released she decides to go on a long vacation and not straight home.”
“Wouldn’t that be great,” Maureen said aloud to the TV screen. She went on her balcony and looked down. The streets were deserted. No trace of yesterday’s mayhem. The neighborhood had experienced its fifteen minutes of fame and had not much liked it.
In the following weeks, in preparation for Venice Hyatt’s return, the Los Angeles Police and transportation departments converted all the roads around her home to “Tow Away/No Stopping” zones. “We will have a legion of tow trucks at the bottom of the hill gathered like vultures,” one official warned.
The paparazzi agencies promised they’d find a way around the restrictions, even driving vans full of photographers up and down the hillside if necessary. “We are going to do whatever it takes to get the pictures,” they vowed.
But the battle between law and order and paparrazi never took place. After serving her full sentence, Venice Hyatt was released, and her parents picked her up and took her to their home in Bel Air. She was never seen again in Maureen and Paul’s neighborhood.
Sitted on their balcony, enjoying the view and the quiet once more, The couple wondered why they didn’t feel any guilt. Should one person’s freedom have more value than that of an entire neighborhood? No, they agreed. The gold-diggers had been pushed back, the intruders vanquished.
“That flyer was really something. Maureen thought.