Marilyn, a hero

(This post originally appeared on an earlier blog.)

I met Marilyn the day she moved in across our narrow street in Portland, Oregon. She was calling me “Sweetie” before her moving van was unloaded. She’s a sturdy woman with perfect cafe au lait skin who favors shorts and tight halter tops, and who-–judging by the ages of her offspring-–has to be in her forties. Not a line on her face.

Marilyn quickly became notable for two reasons. One, she illegally saves a generous parking space in front of her house–and this is a very crowded street–by setting out an orange traffic cone the minute her husband pulls away in the morning. Only once have I seen someone try to move it, and let’s just say they’re probably still twitching at the sight of anything orange or cone-shaped.

Second, Marilyn spends much of her day on the small second-floor balcony, which overlooks the street, and conducts her business on a cellphone while puffing one cigarette after another. She checks on various relatives, dispensing advice with a confidence that Dr. Phil might envy. She updates friends on various trials of medications intended to help her navigate the world with less damage to herself and others. These medications are said to Work Like a Charm or are declared to be Totally Worthless Shit. When it rains hard, she goes inside for her calls. I can still hear her over the exhaust fan in my kitchen.

Marilyn arrived on the scene when I was engaged in a tiresome process with the police, City Hall, and Bank of America to get squatters out of the empty, foreclosed drug house next door. I was dutifully working my way through the maze of agencies and procedures to get this mess cleaned up, and progress was glacial.

Starting on Day 1 of her occupation, Marilyn watched this house from her command deck, and she did not like what she saw. “I moved here to get my kids away from this kind of crap,” she told me, as we watched a car jammed with sketchy looking young men slowly cruise past the house.

The drug buyers who tried skulking into the place for a quick exchange thought they were hearing the voice of God when Marilyn bellowed at them from above. “YOU DO NOT LIVE HERE! GO AWAY!” was the friendliest command. Her scatological descriptions of the individuals would have been breathtaking at a whisper; at her full volume the air turned a deep, vivid blue.

I was home when the Perfect Storm hit. A posse of nogoodniks was approaching the door of the squat-house; Marilyn was on duty and one of the now-regular police cars rolled into view.

Marilyn yelled: “OFFICERS: THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS ARE BREAKING THE LAW RIGHT NOW AND THEY DON’T CARE IF YOU SEE THEM!” The posse froze, the police officers jumped out of the car. IDs were checked, some outstanding felony warrants turned up.

Within the week the bank holding the paper on the house had been contacted directly by the police and city. Doors were boarded up, graffiti covered. Now there’s a For Sale sign in front and a lot of families in minivans are showing up for tours.

Marilyn, you’re my hero. If anyone steals that traffic cone, I promise I will lie down in that space until your man gets home.

–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

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