Watching You Watching Me


I live up in the hills, in between the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory. It's a quiet neighborhood, where everyone waves hello. It's the type of neighborhood where friendships are made to withstand a move to another zip code.

In the last few weeks we've had incidents that has brought us closer. Break-ins, a motorcyclist under the influence and one fervent fan who has put us all on hyper vigilance. We live here with the slim chance of our homes being broke into, but the trade-off is living in one of the best neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

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One incident affected me personally for three long weeks. In the house across from me, lives a celebrity, she is quiet and keeps to herself. I might have seen her once in the two years she has lived across from me. Late last May, I was working at my desk when I heard the hovering of a very low flying helicopter. As the house shook, I made my way outside and it was a LAPD helicopter making slow circles above my house. I stood there looking up at them, in my sweats; the only thought going through my head was "maybe I should go change into something nicer." My phone rang and it was my neighbor up the street, "ARE YOU OKAY? THERE ARE 3 SQUAD CARS OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE!"

The next day as I left the house for my daily 7 a.m. spin, I noticed a man sitting in a car across the street. When I got home an hour later, he was still sitting in his car. He was parked by the celebrity's door, facing my house. He sat there for the next 12 hours.

Later that night, another car rolls up and the man in the day car leaves. I look out my window and see a man staring at my house. He is still there when I go to sleep at midnight. This changing of the guard repeats everyday. Two weeks later, I finally walk the 30 feet to the night car and say hi. I have an offering of peace in a thermos of hot coffee with me.

He is friendly enough (and armed) and I believe he was thankful for the break in monotony. The next few nights I learn about what my neighborhood is like when the lights go out and everyone falls into a collective sleep. He tells me about how one night he sees a coyote running up the hill followed by a large deer. One night I hear a man banging on my fence gate. The next night I learn that the night guard (my new friend) asked that man to leave the area after he sees him banging on doors. Before he asked him to leave he asked him why he as banging on all the doors in the area. The story there was that the man was looking for his deceased father's clients, he was a gardener that worked here a decade ago. He wanted money that he thought his father was owed.

One night I bake cookies for the guards. As I walk across the street, he jumps out of his car smiling. That night I hear his critique on the piano playing of another neighbor and how she always made a wrong key change at the same place in each song.

On one chilly night he told me how quiet it was here, so quiet that he could hear a pin drop. I looked at him and thought, what could he hear from my house? He already knew when I left the house and when I got home, he saw me in workout gear and evening wear. He was a sentinel that through happenstance saw my life from 30 feet away. I made a mental note to keep the volume down when I watched Hoarders. I also became more aware of how I behaved. It felt like I was back home with my parents.

After the security detail left, I breathed a sigh of relief; I felt free to roam about unwatched, but I did appreciated the feeling of being safe at night with a guard at my door. But what I miss the most are the stories of when the lights go out.

Image: Ophelia Chong / "Please God"

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