I started blogging in 2001. Prior to that I had a couple of website on which I wrote things in a fairly unorganized fashion. I had netninja.com, my main site since 1997, and used to have diedrichs.org, a site celebrating a gang of coffee shop buddies, from a few years after that until I finally let it expire a few years ago. There were a handful of other sites but those were my main pre-blogging locations. Those sites contained a few stories, some of which are secreted away in a CVS repository, some of which are found on on the Internet Wayback Machine if you look hard enough. The following story I remember writing down somewhere, but for the life of me, I cannot find it anywhere in my archives or in those of the Wayback Machine. It is accurate to the best of my memory — which is not saying much given the nature of the swiss cheese between my ears — but it is the best and only record of which I am aware. I assume pieces of it got exaggerated through retellings, but have no way to identify which pieces. I present to you the first in what I hope will be a series of retellings of those pre-blogging stories.
✻ ✼ ✻
The year was 1999. I had recently moved from Boston to Orange County. You will note that I am using the generic blanket term of “Orange County.” You may have some fancy richy-rich mental picture of “The OC,” but let me assure you that I was not in that part. The hot, inland, suburban, toll-road portions of Orange County had not gotten much traction yet, so you were basically looking at the rifts between coastal paradises like Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Dana Point as well as fancy planned communities like Irvine against the slightly-more-inland, but still quite nice, towns where the housekeepers lived: Costa Mesa, Westminster, Garden Grove, and such. I lived in the latter because the rent was cheap and the people were less plastic.
In fact, I lived in a tiny house-like-apartment that I like to think back on as a party house. It certainly was not a party house as compared to, say, a frathouse, but it did see its fair share of parties. It was a quaint little “cottage house” along a row of similar cookie-cutter houses. Being California, the rent on that drafty 800 ft² “cottage” was not much less than the mortgage on the 1500 ft² home I am relaxing in as I write this. There were five such cottages in a row, along a narrow alley masquerading as a driveway. I was number four, meaning three between me and the street, and one — slightly larger and more secluded than the rest — further in. The view from the front door was a microscopic “front yard” of unmaintained yellowing lawn — not unlike a pair of cheap Ikea throw rugs in size — the asphalt alleyway, and a wooden fence. Take note of that fence and its sturdy vertical posts. It will become important shortly.
One evening, I had a number of friends over for an impromptu party. As was the case for many such warm-weather activities, the crowd spilled out of the house and on to the postage-stamp sized “front lawn.” We got the impression that the fifth cottage — the one inward from mine, which housed a single dad and his son — was also having a party that evening. In fact from the caliber of gentlemen strolling past, with their cases of Mikey’s “hand grenade” style beers and Zimas and wine coolers, that daddy was gone for the weekend and the underage kids were having a good time. Not wanting to interfere, we simple smiled (and chuckled quietly to ourselves) as more and more underage guests passed by.
At some point, the little scamps next door decided that the best plan of action was to hop in daddy’s truck and take it for a spin. I realize they were under the drinking age (and under the influence), but it was hard to guess whether they were even old enough to drive, or if they were rocking the learners’ permits. Regardless, we overheard some of the conversation leading up to this point, causing several of our clan to step out on to the front porch and several others to get a quick drink refill, so as not to miss any action were they to run dry later.
A couple of kids hopped into the truck. I believe it was a beer run (if not to an actual store, perhaps to raid someone’s parents’ liquor cabinet). Given the layout of the alley — I mean “driveway” — and the homes upon it, there was really no good spot for the truck to turn around. It had to back out the whole way, perhaps 50-75 meters. Everyone standing in my “lawn” quickly arrived at the same conclusion and diligently took a large step backward, each with wide eyes and drink in hand. The drunken kids were going to back the truck out, or at least, fail trying. Not that Reality Television was a big thing quite yet, but this was going to be way better.
The kids got the truck in reverse and proceeded to back up. As they reached my house, they started smiling and looking confident in themselves. Yeah, that’s right, we’re cool. We’re not kids. We’re taking this fine ride out for a spin tonight. ‘sup, you adults over there. We’re not at all intimidated by your intimidating stares. Smiling and happy and we can do this and — THUMP! Scraaaaape. You recall the vertical posts in the fence I mentioned above? They managed to find one with the back of the truck. Instead of trying to pull forward and straighten out, they decided to just go directly to the straightening out, hitting a different post with the side of the truck.
We all stood there in the front yard with smiles plastered on our faces, drinks in our hands, unsure of whether it was too mean to laugh out loud. The truck continued on its THUMP scraaaape, THUMP scraaaape, THUMP scraaaape journey toward the street. Well, at least until the big SLAM. You know that forgiving wooden fence? Yeah, everyone — driver, passengers, and onlookers — forgot that it sort of turns into a solid cinderblock wall at around the second cottage, coincidentally, where American Beauty Man lived. Following this was a godawful metal-on-stone SCREEEEECH until they finally pulled free from the wall and backed out the rest of the way, unmolested by stationary objects. I believe one or two of my friends phoned in the license plate to the Costa Mesa police at that time.
I literally never saw them or the truck again. Yes, literally. I have no idea what actually transpired after that. I never saw the truck. I never saw the kid. I never saw the presumably-out-of-town dad. That last cottage sat un-lived-in for a couple of months, with furnishing and belongings fully visible in the windows, but unoccupied. A work crew with a large dumpster eventually came to clear out the place, making it fresh for new tenants. A brief conversation with the landlord at a future date only revealed that they disappeared and stopped paying their rent. To this day, it remains a mystery.