A few weeks later, Cop #2 elaborated. He was on the scene for another disturbance. Cop #2 told me that the people in the Bad House were meth dealers. I almost looked around to see if I was being punked. Me talking to the police about meth-dealing neighbors? Wasn’t meth a hillbilly thing? Out in Oklahoma or Arkansas, places where people live in trailers and love Walmart? I’d heard there was a funny cable TV show about a meth dealer, but I can tell you, in real life, I wasn’t laughing.
“Are they making it there, in the house?” I asked, horrified. I had read about meth-lab explosions. “Who knows?” he said. “Don’t worry. If there’s a meth lab in there, the whole street will smell it.”
Cop #2 said I should keep an eye on things. Write down descriptions of the regulars and the license-plate numbers of cars that came and went. Note the times of activity and the busiest days of the week. Could I take some photos?
Maybe, I said. Maybe I could do some of those things. I asked Cop #2 about the woman who lived in the house.
“Her?” Cop #2 said. “She’s a sweetheart. She always helps us out.”
I had seen him and his partner outside the Bad House laughing with her, the woman who had stood in the street and vowed murder. I wanted to believe that underneath her hard-bitten exterior and pirate’s laugh she might have a heart of gold. But by now I’d gotten to know her well enough on the street, by sight and sound. My morning runs were jump-started by her husky voice barking orders to an assembled group of men. Rumor had it, this collective who clocked in every morning at the same time was there for the day’s briefing. By the time Cop #2 arrived, I knew from neighbors that the Bad House was a crime syndicate of varied activities, although no one had yet confirmed that meth dealing was one of them.
Under the circumstances, “sweetheart” seemed a bit of a stretch.
But what disturbed me more from chatting with Cop #2 was his use of the word “always,” as in, “She always helps us out.” Whereas “tweaker” and “Bad House” had given me names for what was wrong with our street, “always” brought a crystal-clear understanding of our prospects for remedy. “Always” is not the word you want to hear when the police talk about your meth-dealing neighbors.
My New York City friend told me to stop talking to the police and absolutely not do their surveillance work for them. He was convinced that the cops were on the take; otherwise, how could the Bad House stay in business so long?
He had a point.
Moms and Flying Monkeys
For the past four years, my neighbors have made regular phone calls to the San Diego police. That’s how long the Bad House has been bad.
An elderly neighbor, pleased to have company, cheerily told me how it started. The Bad House is owned by an Old Man, she said. Years ago, she ran into the Old Man at the grocery store. They’d been neighbors forever, since their kids were little, and he was glad to see her. He had big news. His son and his son’s girlfriend were moving in with him. The Old Man seemed really happy that his son was coming home. He hadn’t been able to care for the house properly since his wife had died.
That was the last time my neighbor saw the Old Man out in public. Her grown children have protected her from knowing what goes on in the Old Man’s house these days, but she worries about him nonetheless.
“I know it’s hard to tell, but that house used to be a showplace,” my neighbor said. “He’s a very nice man. A good father.”
I’m not sure which of the surly men is the Old Man’s son. It may have been he who was arrested by Cop #3. A middle-aged man was led out of the Bad House in handcuffs, while I and a few of my neighbors watched. Cop #3 told us that the man had been caught stealing a bicycle.
A tizzy ensued. Almost as soon as the squad car left, the Bad House flying monkeys scurried to and fro loading contraband from the backyard into an old truck. Piled willy-nilly with colorful bikes and bike parts, the old truck groaned slowly down the street. It couldn’t have gone far loaded like that, and it returned throughout the next few days to be reloaded. I had never imagined that middle-aged men and women stole bicycles. But the sheer number of bike frames that left the Bad House the week after the arrest makes it clear to me that bike theft is as much a part of the beach black market as fake IDs.
Soon we saw the arrested man back on the street. Things had been quieter while he was gone, but now the drug-runner traffic resumed full force. Craigslisters returned, too, for trial spins on what had now been confirmed officially as stolen bikes.
After this point, after three cops, one arrest, and no significant change in the Bad House activities, I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I went to the internet. I typed in “how to get rid of meth house on my street.”
There was plenty for me to learn. Meth is a crystalline powder cooked up from over-the-counter cold medications and household ingredients such as paint thinner or battery acid. Meth is injected, snorted, smoked, eaten, keistered. The rush is quick and long, the addiction brutal. It’s cheaper than cocaine or heroin. (Wikipedia, Meth-kills.org)
San Diego is the meth capital of the world. (Los Angeles Times)
“San Diego County is no longer the meth capital of the world,” says Supervisor Dianne Jacob. (KUSI)
Jacob based her statement on 2009 statistics, which include substantial declines in meth-lab seizures and in arrests for meth sales and possession. (Of course, it might be wise to consider these declines in police action alongside the recent deep cuts in funding and staffing. According to SANDAG, San Diego County has dropped to 1.27 officers per 1000 citizens, which is almost half the national average.)