Category Archives: The House Next Door

In my neighborhood in LA, there’s a house which isn’t really a house. At least no one wants to live there, which is why it’s a business. Just what they’re up to, however, is anybody’s guess.

#16 – Spy Games


Rather than wait for Jack–the guy who’d opened the door of the illegal business a couple of days before and my prospective employer– to call me, I decided to knock on the door again to press my case. Dressing in clothes that mimicked those of the laptop-toting employees, I headed out the front door but before I reached the sidewalk, Buddy intercepted me. He bolted out his own front door and stood between me and the Monster house. I suspected he must have a telescope pointed at my house too. Sure it was creepy but it was also sad. Didn’t he have anything better to do?

“Claudia emailed me,” he said.


“Yeah. I wouldn’t go in there.”

“Why not? I might be able to get proof of the business, which is what that Phoenix person at Building & Safety keeps saying we need to shut it down.”

“It’s dangerous.”

“It’s not dangerous,” I said, getting an idea that, if acted upon, would be guaranteed to provide fireworks. “Come with me.” Then I thought better of it. “Actually don’t. You need to go back in your house and watch the camera feeds. Now.” I looked around. “I shouldn’t be seen talking to you. By the way, they know about the telescopes and the cameras and if they see me with you, they’re not going to hire me.”

“They’re not going to hire you anyway,” Buddy said.

“What makes you say that?”

Buddy jerked his head. “Look.”

Behind me, Jack was pulling up in one of the three identical white BMW M5s that belonged to the guys running things at the house. Maybe they got a deal. I waved but he didn’t wave back.

“Thanks a lot,” I said to Buddy, as insincerely as I could.

“I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye on what to do about these assholes,” he conceded. “But going in there was risky at best, not to mention a waste of time. I don’t think they would have hired you even if they hadn’t pulled up just now. Like you said, they know that we, meaning the neighbors, are trying to get rid of them. They’d be idiots if they thought you weren’t in on it.”

He had a point but I wanted to believe I’d charmed Jack into thinking I wanted a job more than I wanted them out. I did need a job, after all.

“Where’s that blog you were going to start?” Buddy asked.

“I guess I’ll go start it,” I said. “I’ll join the millions of other bloggers on the Internet hoping to find people who have nothing better to do than read blogs.”

“Yeah but you’re not blogging about warm and fuzzy feelings, like half of those people,” said Buddy. “Your blog will have a point to it. You’ll be righting wrongs and standing up for justice.”

I didn’t stand up for the warm and fuzzy bloggers as I probably should have. Some days, reading an uplifting blog post had saved me a bout of depression. That was the point.

#15 – The Three Kalindas

Unknown“I found a way into the house,” I said to Stephanie who was out walking her stuffed womb the next afternoon. Her pace was that of a turtle and she looked ready to pop.


Claudia, sans Tom, walked up and joined us. “The monster house? How?”

“Get this—I just applied for a job,” I whispered, even though no one could have heard us unless Buddy was bugging the street in addition to setting up cameras and telescopes. “They say they’re doing marketing and I’m a writer. I should be able to write marketing copy…I think.”

“Didn’t they recognize you?” Claudia asked.

“That’s what’s insane. It didn’t seem to worry them because I said I knew all about the business and didn’t mind the cars.”

“So make us the complaining whiners?” said Stephanie.

“What’s the greater good here?” I said. “One of us needs to get inside and get evidence. You heard what the City said. Stuff online that can’t be verified some other way are considered useless for proving anything.”

“You went over there?” Claudia was incredulous.

“I just thought the neighborly thing to do would be to simply ask them, neighbor to neighbor, to leave, or at least to have the employees park down the street. Though if the city officials already came out to the house and business is still being conducted, they obviously don’t care what we think.”

“They won’t hire you,” said Claudia. “That’s not going to happen.”

I shrugged. “You might be right but now I have a text relationship going on with Jack—he’s the owner or manager or somebody. He’s the guy who opened the door when I went over there. I can ask him things…”

Claudia wasn’t buyin’ it.

“Meanwhile,” chirped Stephanie with a twinkle above her belly. “Troy discovered that the owners are three brothers and get this—they live in Kansas.”

“So that’s what the realtor meant when he told me the house had been sold to some brothers,” I said. “The brothers, however, had never moved in!”

“Scandalous,” said Claudia.

“Not really scandalous,” smiled Stephanie. “But now Troy’s digging into who those brothers are and what other kinds of businesses they might be into.”

“Can Tom and I help with that? I want to nail these suckers SO bad,” said Claudia. The attitude was way out of proportion with her diminutive put-together appearance.

“The more the merrier, right Steph?” I said.

“Sure. Troy is my very own Kalinda and I’m happy to share. He’s really good at finding stuff out; he just can’t tell me when this baby is going to appear. But all this has been a great distraction while we wait for him or her to show up.”

“We’re all kind of like Kalinda,” I said. “Though without her wardrobe and somebody writing our script. She knows what’s going to happen so we actually have to work harder.”

“Where’s Buddy?” asked Claudia. “You’d think he’d want to know all this.”

We all glanced over to Buddy’s house where I thought I could see the lens of his telescope through the drapes.

I sighed. “He has his methods and we have ours.”

#14 – A Knock at the Door

imagesThe car situation only seemed to get worse, if that was possible. Our little residential neighborhood, once the kind of place you could shoot a canon through and not hit anybody, was now overrun with bad driving, laptop carrying, dreary looking, droopy drawered youths and their vehicles. And no one who cared seemed to be doing anything to stop it.

The day after Buddy and I talked about the recent proof I’d found online, I marched up the big ugly cement steps with the imposing statuary of the monster house and knocked on the equally ugly front door. There was no fear involved; I just figured I’d go to the source. Whatever they were doing in there, I was reasonably certain it did not involve meth or the shipment of arms to rebel groups. Perhaps I could address the problem head on by simply asking the manager to have his or her employees park somewhere else or to carpool…. we didn’t care how they got to the house so long as we didn’t have to deal with the cars.

“Hi,” I said once the door opened. “I live next door.

“Hi,” said the attractive young man who had answered it, holding a can of Monster. He offered his hand. “I’m Jack.”

Of course; his drink matches his house.

“Hi, Jack. I’m here because I was wondering if anybody in the neighborhood has told you what’s been going on around here.”

“No,” said Jack, taking a slug of Monster.

It had seemed like a good idea when I’d decided to walk up and knock. Now, however, I felt like a fool. Of course he had to know we wanted him gone. I changed the subject in my mind, since I hadn’t yet mentioned it out loud.

“What all are you guys and gals doing in here?”

“Marketing,” said Jack.

Marketing?… That was one thing no one had thought of. I realized that marketing involved writing and writing is one thing I knew how to do. Here was an opportunity to get some paid work and do some espionage. I just had to get inside.

“Are you all still hiring? Because I’d like to apply,” I said.

He looked at me curiously. “The other reason I’m here is to tell you that there are some people in the neighborhood who are a bit upset…”

“You mean the big guy across the street?” said Jack taking another slug.

“Buddy, yes. I guess he is one of them.”

“I see him over there, staring and looking pissed off. I think he has a telescope pointed at us.”

“Anyway,” I continued. ” They’re really freaked out about all the cars in the street every day and some think your employees look like gang members. But there’s another group that’s less freaked. Like me. We think having you here makes the neighborhood safer.  And as far as I’m concerned, you’re quiet. And that’s more important.”

“Have you done Internet marketing before?” asked Jack.

“A little,” I lied. “But good marketing involves writing that grabs people. I’ve done that.” I told the truth.

He put his hand on the door, ready to close it. “Bring your resume by. Or email it.”

“At the Red Rhino email address?” I asked, inserting myself into the closing distance between door and jam.

His eyes narrowed. Probably shouldn’t have told him I knew. “I hear that’s the name of the company,” I said.

“Sure,” said Jack. Then the door closed, sending me home to compose a resume that would get me on the other side of it.

# 13 – Red Rhino

rhino_eraser“I haven’t been able to find out what FFF stands for but I think I’ve discovered more evidence of a business linked to the monstrosity,” I told Buddy a few days later.

Buddy had just accosted one of the employees (or video gamers if you believed the folks at Building and Safety), telling the black-clad, messenger bag carrying guy to park somewhere else. The guy cowered, got in his black Honda and drove further down the street. We could see him making his way back up the block but he’d crossed the street to avoid further confrontation with Buddy and his big stick. Who wouldn’t?

“What did you find?” he asked.

“There’s an ad on Craig’s List looking for developers.”

“Developers of what? Hopefully not housing, ‘cuz look at that thing. If they want clients to think they have good taste, they shouldn’t be operating out of that.”

“Software developers,” I said. “And there was another ad for copywriters.”

“So do they build websites? That would fit,” Buddy said. “I don’t really care. I just want them gone.”

“They could be building websites but I just took it to mean they’re doing something online. Maybe coming up with a new way to spam us. Or maybe all the employees are hackers, stealing our credit card information. The parent company is called Red Rhino and they’re based in Colorado.”

Buddy snarled. “If they’re responsible for killing rhinos, they not only need to be shut down, they need to be shot.”

“If they’re selling rhino horn to rich, misinformed assholes who  think it’s going to turn them into great lovers, we’ll take ’em all down. But I bet they’re just trying to capitalize on the strength of the animal by creating an Internet brand name.”

Buddy growled.

“Anyway, if it’s an Internet company, that would explain why it’s so difficult to prove what’s going on in there. It also explains why the employees are carrying messenger bags; they all have laptops.”

“Can you print out what you found?” Buddy asked. “You know, something that lists the address with the name Red Rhino?”

“Already did that but is it enough evidence to shut them down? We’ve already learned not to expect logic and reason from the boys at Building & Safety. Just when we think they can’t get any stupider, they do.”

Buddy sighed.

I smiled back at him. “But if they don’t shut them down this time, I’m going to start blogging about the whole thing. Maybe we can embarrass our elected and appointed officials into doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Another car pulled up, right in front of us and a 25 year-old young woman got out, messenger bag in tow.

“Park down the street,” said Buddy. “Your boss should have told you not to park in front of my house.”

The girl looked frightened, got back in her new red Juke and drove off.

“You’re very effective, Buddy. Maybe you should just scare them all into never coming back.”

A small smile formed on his lips. “Don’t think I haven’t thought of it.”


#12 – The Doofuses at Building and Safety

Unknown“What’s the point of having laws if they don’t enforce them?” I said to Claudia (sans Bob) and a new and very pregnant neighbor, Stephanie, the following day as I brought them up to speed on recent events. “Plus, if it’s the bureaucrats’ job to enforce the law and they’re not doing it, can we get them fired?”

Stephanie wailed. “Oh, I hate hearing there’s a problem. I don’t think it’s good for the baby.” Stephanie was taking her belly out for a late third trimester walk. Like a lot of mothers she believed a negative thought could permanently damage her unborn child’s psyche.

“Theoretically we should,” said Claudia. “If the City of Los Angeles was a publicly traded stock, these fools would have been fired a long time ago. I mean, who’s looking out for shareholder value?”

“Whatever illegal business is being run out of that house is not helping our property values any,” I agreed. “It’s obvious to everyone that something wrong is going on in there but rather than deal with it, they claim they have no proof—as if people admitting they’re employees and all the cars isn’t enough. I mean, can’t they look up a license plate then cross reference it to bank accounts and see who issued the checks that get deposited on a regular basis? Don’t tell me in this age of Net footprints and facial recognition software, they can’t do that.”

“Buddy told me he’s going to start spying on them,” said Claudia. “He’s putting up cameras and has a microscope pointed at the house.”

“You mean a telescope?” I asked.

Claudia hesitated. “Yes, that’s what I meant. All this activity has me not thinking clearly.”

“Don’t worry,” said Stephanie. “I get things confused all the time. Do you notice how the employees all wear black and carry laptops? Do you suppose they work for the government?”

“No,” I said. “They’re too smart.”

“Well, I’m glad Buddy’s doing something,” said Claudia. “Somebody has to.”

There was that “somebody” again. What we needed was a dedicated investigative type who had nothing better to do than find the evidence the city claimed they didn’t have. Buddy could have been that guy but he had a screw loose.

“I think we’re going to more than pictures of people going in and out,” I said. “I mean we already have pictures.”

“You’re right,” said Claudia. “Unless we get some major proof or more likely a lot of major proof, those doofusses–doofi?– at Building and Safety will go on saying the people getting out of all these cars are playing video games inside that hideous house and do nothing.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m doing a little investigating of my own. Last night I Googled the address of the monstrosity and found a business with that address.”

“Really?” said Claudia. “What is it? Is it porn like we thought?”

Stephanie gasped. “Okay, I’ll see you guys later. I’m gonna get going. But I’ll mention all this to Troy. He might have some ideas.”

We waved goodbye and watched Stephanie waddle down the street. I was quite happy not to be expecting the arrival of a newborn, adorable as they can be. I had no energy for anything more than what I was already doing.

“I don’t know if it’s porn,” I said. “It’s called FFF Enterprises. My brain instantly went to the F-word but that’s just the way my brain works. It could be some kind of front.”

“A front for what?” asked Claudia.

“That’s what I still need to find out.”

#11 – Buddy Calls the City

Employees' cars
Employees’ cars

“Claudia said you told her somebody should call the city about the cars,” Buddy said the next day at Lily’s Library.

“Well I didn’t issue an edict or anything but I sort of think at this point, we–or somebody, should.”

“Done,” he said. “You know what they told me? ‘We have it covered.’” End air quotes.

“What does that mean?” I asked, sensing from Buddy’s demeanor, that he planned on milking the story dry.

“The guy said they came out and spoke with one of the owners and then he says, ‘Thanks for your call,’ and was going to hang up on me. He thought he was done.”

“But you weren’t,” I chided.

“I said to the guy, some bureaucratic maroon named Phoenix or something, ‘Okay you talked to the owner and what did he say? When are all the cars going to be gone?’”

“Did he give you an answer?” Buddy was not getting to the point quickly enough.

“This Phoenix guy tells me that the owner told him he’s just having friends over to play video games.”

“To play video games . . .?”

He put his hands up to stop me. “So I say to the guy, ‘They’re playing video games In the middle of the day, every day and you believed him? What about all the cars? There are, like, 40 cars parked on our street every day. What about the fact we’ve asked people going into the house what they’re doing and they say they’re having job interviews?’ Then this Phoenix or Xanax—no that’s the drug—whoever, says, ‘We don’t know those people are there for a job interview. We don’t know they’re not there to play video games. Do you have proof?’ All they could see were kids with laptops sitting around the big room (the one I always thought would be good for a tracking shot in a porn film) and it looked like they were playing video games. So he claims there’s nothing the city can do.”

“There’s nothing they can do? Use their eyes, why don’t they?” Bureaucrats…

“That’s what I told the guy. There’s no way the owners of all these cars are here to play video games,” said Buddy. “He didn’t care.”

“So, even though it’s their job to shut down illegal activity and we pay their salaries, they’ll do nothing for us?” I asked.


This was crap. And the collective “we” wouldn’t stand for it.

#10 – Millie licks my Clogs and we start talking tough

images“Somebody should call the city,” I said to my neighbor, Claudia, one morning as I encountered her out walking her dog and husband. I wasn’t too keen on making that call myself but my perception of Claudia was she had a lot of free time and was the perfect person to dig through all the bureaucracy involved in “calling the city.”

“Somebody should,” she said, putting the suggestion back on me. “And the most important thing, is to make clear that the occupants of that house are in violation of the zoning laws. Millie, no!”

Claudia pulled Millie her French Bulldog off my clogs, which the little beasty was licking  like they were covered with meat juice.

“She can lick,” I said. “It’s actually kind of nice. The attention, I mean. Who, other than a dog, will lick your shoe?”

Claudia pulled harder on the leash and resumed her legal argument. “So, the rule is, you can only run a business out of your house if you have one employee. That means one extra car—not thirty—and you can’t have deliveries all day long like they do. It’s one delivery.”

Not only did she have time to call, she knew the law.

“The occupants of the house would seem to be in violation on both of those counts,” offered Claudia’s husband, Bob unnecessarily. At least I think his name is Bob.

“You got that right,” I said, agreeably.

But there was one thing I hadn’t mentioned and now seemed like good a time as any. “I’m annoyed with all the cars, sure. But I have to say they’re quiet inside that house. That’s the one good thing. Whatever is going on in there, in a way, it’s better than the all-night porn-shooting parties that we thought were going to happen. At least I can sleep.”

They both stared at me like I was the rudest, most inconsiderate person they’d ever met. Millie went back to licking my clogs.

“Of course, that’s not the point,” I said. “They’re breaking the law.”

“Right,” said Claudia. “So the next thing is to contact the city and tell them we have some law breakers. They’ll shut ‘em down.”

Bob nodded his agreement.

“I’d like to think it could be that simple,” I said, looking at them both with a mix of admiration and skepticism. Their enthusiastic optimism and belief in the effectiveness of government officials doing what was right was endearing but I couldn’t help feeling they were delusional if they believed our elected officials would do anything at all.

The House Next Door #9

imagesSo much has happened with the house next door, I barely know where to pick up the story. Last time I told you what was happening, we the neighbors—well Buddy mostly had discovered that the occupants of the monster house next to me had installed super industrial high speed bandwidth cable with the capability of a Google server farm, which to Buddy meant there was no question that illegal business activity was being conducted inside that needed fast, reliable Internet. The house looks like an office building and has looked like one ever since it was built so giving the owners the benefit of the doubt, maybe they just wanted to complete the package; now it really was an office building. The only problem is, it’s an office building in a residential area that isn’t zoned for office buildings.

The number of cars arriving at the house every day at exactly at 11 a.m. was increasing. First it was ten, a few months later it was twenty and then thirty and still growing. Even people who lived a few streets over were starting to notice the number of cars. A retiree stopped me one day coming out of my house and asked why he never got invited to the party. I filled him in on what I knew, which wasn’t much and I realized we still had no clue about what, exactly, was going on inside the house.images-1

At one time, we thought they were streaming live porn over the Internet but the day when I would get to perform my rehearsed call to the cops never arrived because the signs that it was happening never occurred. Okay, thinking we’d hear fake orgasms coming from the back yard might have been optimistic but we also never saw anyone we’d call “porn material,” going into the house so had nothing to go on with respect to what was going on inside. One day at Lily’s library, our neighborhood plastic storage bin for borrowing and lending books, aka our conference room, we decided enough was enough.

The House Next Door #8

Unknown“Did you see what’s going on at the monstrosity this morning?” Buddy asked me one overcast day, stick in hand, as we converged upon Lily’s library.

“Why—what’s going on?” I asked, completely unaware of what he was talking about.

Buddy always seems to think “something” is going on at the monstrosity, something that shouldn’t be. The thing is, Buddy knows everything that’s happening in the neighborhood and most of it, in his opinion, is not good so when he says something’s up, I hesitate to believe him. And since he started saying there was an illegal business operating from the giant monster house, the entire ‘burb of Woodland Hills had become a Hellhole as far as he’s concerned.

From my perspective, right next to the eyesore, the house and its occupants had been quiet, even if it had remained atrocious to look at. And that’s despite all the cars arriving every morning, at 11 a.m. for “work.” Then again, maybe the reason they’re so quiet is precisely because they were doing something illegal. Ugh, now I was thinking like Buddy.

“Go look,” he told me. “Anyway, you’ll pass it on your way home. There’s one of those huge Time-Warner trucks parked half on the driveway and half in the street in front of the place.”


“Yup. Really,” he said, nodding.

“Is that odd?” I asked. There was some hidden meaning in his demeanor but I couldn’t discern what.

“Yes, it’s odd.”


“Because it’s so big!” said Buddy, like Clifford the Big Red Dog might upon waking, realizing he no longer had a backache and discovering the reason: his doghouse was finally the right size .

I paused to consider what this meant. I hadn’t seen any truck—big or small—when I’d left for my walk but certainly one could have arrived while I was out. But even if a big truck had shown up, I couldn’t have figured out what that meant.

“I meant why is it there, Buddy? What’s odd about it?”

“Well,” he started, “when has a residential servicing required ‘the big truck’?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think I ever noticed the size of truck they send out.”

“Never, that’s when,” he said with authority. “That’s your answer. There’s no need for it. They send vans to residences.”

“What if all the vans are being serviced?”

“Would never happen,” he said like I was a six-year-old. “And if it did, the overseas operators from Time-Warner would call and reschedule your appointment giving you another giant, inconvenient window of time when their technician is supposed to show up at your house.”

That much was true. Those companies loved giving giant windows during which they kept customers housebound with threats that the “next available appointment” was over three weeks away. The last time they came to my house, they were late after failing to make the five-hour window they’d given me and had left a DVR for me to try as recompense. I still hadn’t set it up a year later. Maybe I needed to watch more TV.

“So what does that mean?” I asked. I wondered why Buddy needed to be so—so—Buddy.

“It means”, he said, smug-faced, “that they’re putting in industrial cable, able to handle huge streams of data at one time.”


“I’ve seen it before,” said Buddy. “The good news is, a big industrial cable means they’re definitely running a business.”

“Isn’t that the bad news?” I asked. “I mean we don’t want the business, right? It destroys property values and is in violation of zoning laws—that’s what you said.”

It was then that the first of the cars, driven by one of the “employees” drove by en route to the monstrosity. Buddy stood up straighter, ready to reveal how I’d so perfectly let myself be drawn into his web when he could have just told me what the big truck meant from the get-go.

“Yup. And this will prove there’s a business going on there, get it? Now we can get the city to shut ‘em down.”

Note: This is the true story of the house next door in my corner of the city of L.A. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.


The House Next Door #7

HouseNextDoorAs cars upon cars continued to invade our quiet residential street, the neighbors started convening at the plastic storage bin down the block, well out of view of the occupants of the house next door. Actually, I shouldn’t call it a plastic storage bin, even if that’s what it is. Someone had slapped a laminated picture on the front and started calling it “Lily’s Library.” In reality, it was a place for people to drop their discarded books, while out walking Tank or Buster, rather than troubling to take them to Goodwill.

I probably shouldn’t be so negative. It’s true one might find something to read in the bin while getting pulled around the block by her canine companion but up ‘til now, all I’ve ever found inside were four month old issues of Westways Magazine and dog-eared copies of Dianetics. I picked up “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking,” one afternoon, thinking it might be a mediation book along the lines of “Getting to ‘Yes’” or “When ‘No’ is NOT an Option”—you know, something relevant to my alleged line of work. Though, at this stage of the game, work has been so intermittent I’m more aptly called an Unmediator rather than an actual Mediator.

The book, as it happened, turned out to be not a mediation book, but Mel Gussow’s biography of Darryl Zanuck—an early king pin of the movie business and if not exactly a purveyor of porn, as were the residents of the house next door, certainly a keen observer on the finer points of using sexual innuendo to sell movie tickets. For those of us who look for signs in life, I took it as a sign. Of what? This was as yet unclear.

Soon after the comings and goings of the multiplicity of cars, a pattern began to form. The cars that appeared every weekday appeared to be the same cars and they remained parked from 11 a.m. until roughly 7 p.m. We all took this as a sign that whatever was going on at the house next door had reached the next step. There was the black mustang, the beat up Nissan and the brand new Toyota in a peculiar shade of green—the very shade one might select for a duvet on a round bed on a porno set. All tolled, there were upwards of 22 cars on our residential street every day.

Some of the neighbors who had real jobs (and were therefore never able to join us at Lily’s library) liked the cars. They felt their presence gave the street a “happy feeling” where “people wanted to be,” and that burglars would therefore be less likely to come around while they were not at home. Others, namely Buddy, hated the cars. He began patrolling the street in front of the house next door glaring as the occupants got out of their cars and disappeared inside. Often he would make it appear as though he was simply out doing yard work, and so assumed it looked natural for him to be wielding a large stick. And as Buddy had a job that took him away from the street for long periods of time, his patrolling seemed to consist of these intense weeklong vigils where most of us indifferent types thought he was going bonkers.

He tried to get us all on board with the idea that whatever was going on in there, must be stopped! He warned us all that our property values would be negatively affected. “There’s a business going on in there—porno, illegal gaming; doesn’t matter—and that’s against zoning laws!” he said with fervor to several of us who nodded our heads in agreement as we scanned the old People Magazines, noting (some of us) that Lindsay Lohan was arrested for drunk driving—again—and that Elizabeth Taylor had died. But wait, wasn’t that years ago? Then we looked at the cover dates. Anyway, Buddy said we had to do something. He told us he would come up with a plan. Then he snapped his stick in two and put it in somebody else’s recycle bin.