Not long after moving into our L.A. apartment, on the ground floor and beneath a town home apartment, we realised we were going to have the neighbours from hell on top of us.
You know the kind. Regular mid-week parties, loud drunken arguments, cigarette butts tossed into our patio, constant banging around upstairs which would begin just as J and I would be going to bed, and an endless stream of visitors. Muffled, shouting-into-phone conversations at 2 am were a regular feature too.
What made this so frustrating is that this couple also had a young child, but due to the layout of their apartment, she slept on the top floor - above their parties and noise - so she wasn't affected. Instead, it was us who copped it. Their front door and staircase is on the other side of the wall next to the Faery's bed. Their living room is above our bedroom.
Our complaints fell on deaf ears. My first few attempts at politely asking them to be quieter at night were met with the old "I no speak English, no understand" card. Yeah right. After that, I went though building management but they took their time to issue warnings to these tenants. It was only after repeated complaints from me that management decided I was a pain in the arse and they appeared to take action.
There is a clause in the lease agreement - something along the lines of three strikes and you're out - about noise levels, and when I'd complained about sixty-nine times and been promised that warning letters had been issued, there was a period of quiet upstairs. Bliss.
It only lasted a little while before they were back to old tricks.
J and I suspected that something wasn't right, and made jokes about the guy being part of a gang. We had reason, though. The rent for these apartments is not cheap, and this guy appeared to not have a day job. We would see him come and go throughout the day, dressed casually. He - apparently - spoke little English. His wife appeared to be a stay-at-home mum. How the hell did they pay for their rent?
The issues with noise became such a problem that last month, we began to badger the building management to find us another apartment in the complex (as much as I hate the idea of moving yet again), or else we would not be resigning our lease. During this process, the management revealed to us that the tenants had just given notice to vacate. Happy days for us!
Only two days after learning this, on February 16, we were woken by an FBI and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) pre-dawn raid on the above apartment. They were armed, the whole shebang. I had to peep out the front window - who wouldn't?
Nothing reminds you that you're in America like witnessing an FBI raid.
I don't know the neighbours' exact connection, but on the same day, massive synchronized raids were carried out and 74 arrests made for people suspected as being part of a gang called Armenian Power. According to the news, there was a long list of crimes committed, but the main ones involved fraud (skimming devises placed at 99-Cent Only stores to gain credit card details and then using these to make about $2 million) and identity theft that was focused on fleecing pensioners from money in their Wells Fargo bank accounts (totalling $10 million in losses).
Ripping off the elderly - charming, yes?
Needless to say, it became blissfully quiet above us. I occasionally saw the wife come and go, but rarely heard anything. The husband had been seen taken away, handcuffed, on the morning of the raid, and later it was rumoured that he'd been deported back to Armenia.
Which brings me to now.
This past week, the familiar banging around in the middle of the night started up again. We consoled ourselves with the fact that these people were definitely moving - very soon - and then yesterday I saw him.
I have no idea whether he'd been in prison, on bail, whatever, but he was back. Along with two old men - past the age of lifting heavy things - and they began moving their furniture downstairs and past our apartment.
The Faery thought this was great entertainment, and set up camp at our front patio's gate, watching the men grunting and sweating as they carried things past.
I thought about making a placard for her to hold: Don't let the door bang on your way out!
After about half an hour of the Faery staring at them coming and going, I came outside to usher her in. At that moment, the wife appeared from their staircase, holding a travel cot which was filled to overflowing with toys, mostly soft.
The wife reached in, lifted out a teddy bear, and asked the Faery, "You want?"
What four-year-old can say no to a new teddy? I desperately hoped she might set a new precedent, though.
No such luck. The Faery's face lit up, and the wife - smiling happily - reached in to the travel cot to start offloading more toys to us... wtf?
I didn't want to be rude, but I didn't want to accept anything from these people. Awkward.
In the time it took for my tongue to scramble and find the right words - "Um, no more toys, thanks, we have too many toys" - the Faery was now ecstatically holding a teddy, a panda, and a jaguar.
All super soft and in pristine condition. Expensive looking. The teddy bear was particularly soft.
The Faery spent the rest of the afternoon proudly carrrying the newly acquired animals around with her, and when left unattended, Miss Pie was pretty pleased with herself if she managed to get hold of any of them. Both girls were smitten, and I felt like I'd somehow accepted blood money.
When the girls were both tucked up in bed, I found the teddy bear in a corner, and picked it up to show J. He lifted up the T-shirt the bear was wearing, revealing a Burberry tag on the bear. I then noticed the bear's T-shirt had a collar made from the trademark Burberry pattern.
A Burberry bear. That's all kinds of classiness, right?
J promptly christened the bear Townie - a bit of lingo we picked up from our years in the UK. Townies love Burberry.
And that's the story of how a gangster's bear came to live with us.