Shady Grove Ch.2
Quinn McMurphy arrived late to the emergency T&A meeting at the Shady Grove community room. During the three years she lived in Building 4, Apt #3C, Quinn went to regularly scheduled meetings faithfully, never with more than a dozen other residents in attendance. With the exception of a wildly tattooed woman named Claire Winston, most meeting-goers were at least ten years older than Quinn, and some were twice her age. But tonight the long line of people behind her at the sign-in table snaked through the double doors into the courtyard. Shady Grove’s maintenance man and gardener, Gerald, was wheeling in extra chairs stacked on a cart.
Behind Quinn in line was her downstairs neighbor, Abigail Dupont, a woman in her early sixties and a regular at T&A meetings. Despite being half Abigail’s age, Quinn liked the woman more than anyone else she’d met in the complex; but then again, she hadn’t met all that many of her fellow Shady Grove residents. Abigail lived directly below Quinn, but they rarely saw each other outside of meetings like these.
Twenty minutes after the scheduled start time, Marty hammered his gavel. “This meeting is called to order.” He welcomed the standing room-only crowd, most of whom Quinn had never seen before. “It’s unfortunate that such a sordid topic is needed for the residents of Shady Grove to take an interest in community business, but I’m happy you’re here now to participate in the important process of self-governance,” Marty said. “I’m hopeful this leads to ongoing participation for those who don’t attend regularly. Before we begin our official business, please note the donation jar that is being passed around. As you’ll hear from our treasurer, Ms. Alice Mayhew, our association is grossly underfunded. Your donations will help support our Fourth of July picnic.”
Marty directed the crowd’s attention to the meeting agenda, printed on reused sheets of paper, which only listed three items: I. Treasurer’s Report. II. 4th of July Picnic. III. Public nuisance. The audience fanned themselves with agendas through the first two without comment. The picnic would cost three hundred dollars, but, according to Ms. Mayhew, the T&A was short by two-hundred. Unless donations were made, the picnic would be cancelled.
“Item number three on tonight’s agenda,” Marty announced, causing the drowsy crowd to stir, “is the matter of a public nuisance here at Shady Grove. This discussion will include language unsuitable for children. Childcare is being provided in the gymnasium. Anyone under the age of eighteen should leave now.”
“Eighteen?” An irritated voice said from the back of the room. “I’m sixteen, but I have a right to know what’s going on. And I’m a little old for daycare.”
“Your name, miss?” Marty said to a girl wearing black eye makeup and a matching hooded sweatshirt.
“Crystal. I live in Building Seven, apartment three-B, with my mother.”
Another woman pointed to her fifteen-year old son, and insisted he needed to listen, too, despite the boy’s obvious resentment for being dragged to the meeting. Marty agreed to allow a handful of kids to stay. “This will be a good civics lesson for young and old alike,” he said enthusiastically. “You’ll see democracy in action! And please don’t forget to fill the donation jar!”
Marty scanned his notes. “Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, I have no choice but to be blunt. As of this morning, several Shady Grove tenants residing in buildings one, three, five and six have filed complaints of disturbances…of a sexual nature. Specifically, complaints reference, and I quote, “Loud and persistent fornication; vulgar sexual language, including the ‘F-word;’ steady knocking sounds; squeaky bedsprings; groaning; moaning; and verbal references to both male and female sexual delights, including alternative terms for ejaculation.”
A few snickers leaked from beneath the hush that fell over the mostly stunned crowd. “In my three years as your president, I never, ever, imagined having to contend with such disrespectful and, frankly, disturbing behavior here at Shady Grove.”
As a devoted libertarian, Marty had no interest in policing the private behavior of Shady Grove’s residents, but indiscreet sex reminded him too much of the Sixties and triggered his authoritarian side. Worse, he was pissed that no one had even commented on the decorative lamp posts.
“It’s been an unusually warm spring, and due to a lack of funds—is the jar still going around?—our central air conditioning system is not functional and is in need of replacement. As such, most tenants leave their windows open at night, and because our residential buildings form quadrangles, the sounds described previously seem to reverberate between the buildings for all residents to hear. I can personally attest to hearing them myself.”
Quinn scanned the room and found several heads nodding, while others side-eyed whoever sat in their row.
“It is not the duty of me, as president, nor the other elected officials of Shady Grove, to condone, condemn, or attempt to regulate sexual interactions between consenting adults. However, this behavior violates Section 6, Article 9 of the tenants’ association bylaws addressing noise pollution. I’ll draw your attention to the specific language contained within: No tenant shall disrupt other tenants’ rights to enjoy a peaceful environment within and around their residential units. Noises over fifty-five decibels are strictly prohibited after 9 p.m, and those in violation of this rule…” Marty noticed a raised hand near the back of the room. “Yes, Crystal…you have a question?”
The sixteen-year old said, “How do you know the noise was above fifty-five decibels?”
Marty smiled uncomfortably. “Thank you for your participation. However, that’s really not the point here. The problem was the nature of the noise.”
“You said the bylaws speak to the volume of noise, not the nature of it,” Crystal said calmly, noticing a few heads nodding in agreement. “Besides, I heard it myself, and it was before 9 p.m.”
Marty wasn’t accustomed to being challenged in tenant association meetings, let alone by a sixteen year old. “I’m sorry to hear that. The youth in our beloved community should not be subjected to such filth. But be that as it may, Crystal, once you are older and understand the nature of these noises—”
“It’s just people having sex,” she said casually, as several gasps rose from the seats. “I don’t see what the big deal is.” Crystal noticed several sets of eyes, including Marty’s, squinting at her suspiciously, not realizing that she had made herself a suspect in their minds. Marty felt like a low-grade fever was setting in.
“The young lady makes a good point, Marty,” Quinn said, smiling at Crystal. “Maybe you can go about this another way. Instead of trying to catch a so-called rule-breaker, why don’t you just ask the person in question to keep their private life private.” Unlike Crystal, Quinn was aware that she just made herself out to be another suspect.
“Okay, then,” Marty said, “If the tenant or tenants responsible for the previously described behavior are present and are willing to identify themselves, please do so now and we can address the matter and adjourn.”
“Marty,” Quinn said, “I meant…maybe send around a flier or something.”
Quinn discreetly surveyed the room, finding most everyone doing the same. Eyes began to narrow and linger, causing those on the receiving end of stares to lash out. “Why are you looking at me, mister?” Claire Winston, one of the complex’s newer tenants in her mid-twenties, said to an older man a few rows ahead.
She was talking to Charles Davis, a chronic complainer of many things, who lived in her building, Building Three. “Perhaps you can enlighten us all as to why you have so many tattoos?” Charles said.
“Tattoos don’t make me a slut, old man!”
“Walls talk…bullshit walks,” he responded, drawing ire from many in the crowd.
“That’s not a real saying! You just made that up!” Claire shouted, prompting Marty to jump in.
“Mr. Davis, I asked if anyone wanted to confess, not for you or anyone else to make accusations.”
“Walls talk, missie. Walls talk…”
“So do my fists, you old perv.”
“Order!” Marty shouted, banging his gavel. “Secretary Linda Williams will now pass around a complaint form she drew up for this specific situation. For complaints about utilities, refuse and other matters, use the regular complaint form in the main office. This form is for complaints about disruptive fornication only. Please be as detailed as you can. Describe what you heard, your apartment number, and the time and approximate location of the disturbances. Building numbers, floors and apartment numbers will help us—”
“This is a witch hunt,” Crystal called out. “We’ve learned about this in school. You’re turning everyone into spies.”
“I again agree with the young lady,” Quinn said. “Kudos to her for saying it.”
Abigail, who rarely spoke in front of crowds, felt a sudden alliance with Quinn, and said, “People in this complex do have intimacy, Mr. President. Those days may have passed us older folks behind, but the younger folk—”
“What do you mean by ‘us’, Abigail?” Marty shouted with reddening cheeks. “You don’t know anything about my private life!”
“And I don’t want to! That’s my point!”
“Walls talk, honey,” Charles said to the tattooed woman again.
“You’re not making it home alive,” Claire replied.
“Order! Order!” Marty thundered over his gavel pounding the table. “Fill out the damn forms! Turn them in! Take extras if you want! Meeting adjourned!”
Within two days the local Wal-Mart sold out of binoculars, and the shelves containing the kinds of electronics suitable for amateur espionage—camcorders, Ring doorbells, and directional microphones—were nearly bare. Each night as the sun set behind the complex, residents surrounding the courtyard dragged rocking chairs, dining chairs and stools to their courtyard-facing windows, where their silhouettes lurked behind sheer curtains and vinyl venetian blinds. And, night after night, they were all entertained by nothing more than the steady chirping of crickets in the trees surrounding the Shady Grove complex.