Fiction by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Posted on Mar 22, 2007 in Blog, home town | 3 comments

Crystal Meth House (last post, I swear)

So, one of my other neighbors finally called the cops on crystal meth house. Everyone on the block is sick of them, but everyone’s afraid of them, as well.

The fine gentleman who called the cops finally got fed up with them cranking their car stereo in the middle of the street. Their car was cranked up and the bass was shaking the neighborhood, so my portly senior citizen of a neighbor goes outside and shouts over the racket, “You need to turn that down!”

The response from Crystal Meth Boy: “We’re just testing the stereo!”

Senior Citizen: “It works! Shut it off.”

Crystal Meth Boy: “What’s your problem old man? I can kick your ass!” (familiar refrain?)

Senior Citizen walks back to his house, with Crystal Meth Boy trailing, shouting epithets. Senior Citizen gets onto his own property and closes chain link gate behind him. Crystal Meth Boy continues to rant about how he “can kick your ass, old man.” Then ups the ante to, “I can kill you!”

The Senior Citizen faces Crystal Meth Boy and says, “I’m a crazy Vietnam vet. If you come on my property, I’ll blow you away.”

Crystal Meth Boy is momentarily shocked to silence and backs off.

Meanwhile, the crazy Vietnam vet’s wife is inside, calling the cops.

I’ve come to the conclusion that civil societies depend on active participation. We do plenty of flag-waving about protecting our rights and freedoms, but when is the last time you called in a noise complaint on a party, or reported a neighbor for letting their dog run loose in your neighborhood?

I’m beginning to think that ratting your neighbor to the cops for the above sorts of infractions is the line in the sand you draw so that other, more anti-social behaviors don’t take root.

If a society doesn’t collectively demand that its citizens be civil, and doesn’t define a core code of behavior that everyone is aware of and has to adhere to, then it’s basically like raising your kid without any time-outs. Crystal Meth Boy has obviously grown up in a society where most people are either too polite, or too afraid to confront him. So, like the spoiled brat that he is, he tramples other people’s rights.

More and more, it feels like American society is losing its grasp on what common decencies its citizens should expect from one another. Everything seems to be up for grabs. And when no one is quite clear what the rules are, it means that the people who are the most insensitive and loutish will dominate the civil space.

Crystal Meth House now dominates the cultural landscape of my neighborhood. The fifteen other houses on the block that are quiet and unassuming don’t define the space. They don’t even stand out. They hunker down and quiver while the one bad actor redefines the codes of behavior. We’re slowly coming to grips with this fact and trying to change it, but it’s worrisome how a few bad actors can absolutely define your world. And if everyone else on the block doesn’t work together and set aside their fears of repercussions and push back hard, some very bad actors win the day.


  1. Wow.

    Of all things for someone to tell that guy while standing up to him, saying he’s a crazy Vietnam vet was probably perfect.

    You hit on so many truths in this post. I read it right before leaving to work, and I kept thinking about it, wondering when exactly the turning point was in society when we got “too polite” and “too afraid”. I was born in 1980, and when I was in school, there was a lot of stress on fear: fear of strangers, fear of being left alone at home, fear of railroad tracks, etc. I know I was talking about it once with a co-worker, and he told me that it was like a light switch was snapped somewhere between the 70s and 80s, from leaving your doors unlocked all the time to holing up in your home.

    It’s a huge, fascinating issue. I saw ZODIAC a couple weeks ago, and I couldn’t help but wonder if crimes like that (and their coverage in the media) were just one of the many things that’s turned American society into what it is today.

    Sorry, I’m babbling. ;)

  2. People want things to work themselves out. Who wants to call the cops? Who wants to cause trouble? Some people don’t seem to care. The rest of us need a bit of prodding before we realize that they just don’t play by the rules.

    “Crystal Meth Boy” is a scared kid that doesn’t know how to deal with confrontation without violence. His immaturity is obvious. The scary fact is that he really doesn’t know better. “Crazy Vietnam Vet” got through because he spoke the same language, only better.

    When I walk by Crystal Meth Boy’s house I am nervous. It is like walking by something from another planet. The normal rules of behavior just don’t apply. I really don’t know how to be. My version of English just doesn’t fit. My unassuming stride is probably taken as a sign of weakness, rather than a sign of decency. My friendly smile is met with suspicion.

    Lately, I have been trying new methods. Squaring the shoulders, quirking a confident smile and nodding, nets results. The normal people that I spend my time with would probably take me for an arrogant jerk. Crystal Meth Boy simply nodded curiously in response and went back to yelling at his friend’s kid. Something cyclic in that.

  3. —-A Fantasy of Coordinated Neighbor Action—-

    “Knock, knock.”

    “Yeah, what you motherf*****s want? What you all standing there for?”

    “We’re your neighbors. All thirty-five of us. Standing together on your front lawn. We’re here to negotiate.”

    “What you talking ’bout, negotiate? I should kick y’all’s ass!”

    “We want you to keep your dog on a leash. We want the noise turned down. We want (etc.)”

    “Yeah, well I don’t give a goddamn what you all want, you can go to hell. I’ll kick your ass!”

    “We’re asking you nicely now. If you don’t listen now, we’re going to get serious.”

    “Yeah? What you gonna do, huh?”

    “If that’s how you want to play it, then you’ll learn the hard way. If you change your mind, we’ll be ready to talk.”

    (All turn and depart as one.)