June 6, 2022
THE DAY ROE v Wade fell I was preoccupied with the climax of a years-long feud between the residents of the only duplex on our street. Movers anxiously carried boxes and furniture into a truck under the apathetic watch of three or four cops who stared blankly at nothing in particular. It was the libertarian freelance computer repairman and his family who were moving out. They’d lost.
The guy was a scrawny edgelord in his thirties with an unfortunate goatee. As he took down the security cameras flanking a tattered American flag his wife stood in the street shouting at the cops, “YEARS of this and you’re STILL on her side. You people never DO anything!” You’re so close! I thought to myself as I passed by walking my dog, Just a few more steps and you’ll be a police abolitionist. Their now-former neighbor, Judy, sat on her porch smoking a cigarette, resplendent in her victory.
My roommates and I knew Judy as “The Woman Who Knocks.” Shortly after we moved in she pounded on our door and informed us that her neighbors’ autistic son was a deranged menace prone to flying his toy drones into cars. By the time we arrived on the scene the libertarians had posted several cardboard signs and laminated docket sheets on their porch detailing every petty dispute they’d ever had with Judy (trash thrown in the backyard, harassment of their son, an alleged bag of piss lobbed onto their porch in the middle of the night) as well as their failure to remedy the conflict through the courts. There was speculation that Judy was close with the landlord and occasionally a sign would pop up in front of the (white) libertarians’ unit that read “BAO WANG: RACIST SLUMLORD”.
When the rest of us on the street didn’t immediately pick up our torches and pitchforks to run Judy out of town, the libertarians started a Facebook page where they posted “video evidence of targeted harassment,” proof that her real name is not Judy, and court records of a few past DUIs. Then there was the aggressive flyering campaign up and down the street for a half-mile calling on passersby to scan a QR code and join the fight. There was even a sign with a gross message suggesting that Judy was running a massage parlor out of her house. To her credit, Judy only ever posted one sign: “This is my forever home. I pay no mind to haters. God will ensure the truth is known lol.”
A few other voyeurs were out that morning, watching the show. I made eye contact as we passed and there was a brief, electric acknowledgment between us: finally, it’s over. I never talked much with my other neighbors on that street but there was something bleakly communal about the way we watched all that rancor unfold.
When I got back to the house I tried to tell my roommates what had happened but they were already bowled over by the Supreme Court decision, ranting about the abject uselessness of the Democrats and the insulting theater of a distraught Elizabeth Warren stumbling through a parking lot with weeping aides in tow. I joined in for a bit (“They knew it was coming, that’s the thing that gets me. They knew it was coming and they did NOTHING”) but my heart wasn’t in it so I decided to make a grocery run.
An ominous pillar of smoke rose from the center of the Giant Eagle parking lot as I arrived so I pulled into the spot nearest the point of origin. Someone had clearly dropped a lit cigarette butt into the diamond-shaped tree-planter and the desiccated mulch was now nursing a small orange flame. I stamped it out as best I could but the dry breeze revived it over and over. I flagged down an employee on cart duty and told him there was a fire that needed to be put out. He glared at me as if I’d accused him of something. He was older with shaggy gray hair down to his shoulders, the kind of guy who might have worked in the mills back when the Steelers were still good.
“I just put that out,” he said, “someone else must have started it again.”
I tried to explain that it was likely the same fire, that additional malice wasn’t needed for it to reignite, but he just repeated himself, “Someone else must have started it again,” and marched a line of carts back inside.
By the time I finished my shopping and came back outside the fire was threatening to swallow the sad little twig of a tree in the planter. I jogged back inside to flag down another employee, this time an older woman.
“A fire?” she said in disbelief, “Like a call-the-fire-department fire?”
“I mean, if someone doesn’t do something about it soon, yea, you should probably call the fire department,” I said. “I tried to put it out myself but it needs to be doused with water.”
She looked around nervously as she massaged her wrist compression sleeve.
“Could you show me?” she asked. So we walked together to the vestibule and stared at the smoke through the window.
“Yep, that’s a fire alright,” she said. We stood there together for a minute before she sighed and walked away. At a loss myself, I walked back to my car and watched the fire for a moment more before driving home.
The only spot open on the street was just outside the duplex. The libertarians and their cameras and their flag were gone but Judy had taken it upon herself to put up a new sign on the front door: “After years of harassment, verbal abuse, and NINE MONTHS OF UNPAID RENT, 816 Lavender have been EVICTED. This is justice! Cheer for peace, sweet Lavender St. for GOD’S TRUTH has prevailed!”
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