by Jeff Oaks

I am up at 2:45 am because of the jerks who left the bar a block away at 2:30 and walked by my house talking loudly. We call them drunks, and they seem to come in every color, creed, and orientation we have ever imagined as a species. Currently one bar on 44th Street dispenses loud lesbian jerks onto the streets, and another bar on Butler Street dispenses loud white hipster jerks. One of the latter is responsible tonight for my being awake. A loud high giggle that stabbed into my sleep like a catheter. I cursed the laugher, but then realized it might have been someone robbing my car, or, worse, a tow truck called to impound my car because one of the neighbor jerks can’t seem to figure out how to park his or her car in such a way that it doesn’t take up two parking spots. We have almost no off-street parking where I live, so we all need to think about how best to use the space we all have to use. This jerk, though, doesn’t care. Clearly. He or she has parked so there’s about four feet in front of his or her car until the beginning of my other neighbor’s small private driveway, where there are clear No Parking signs. Behind the jerk’s car is another car. Behind that car is about four feet and then the intersection. If the first idiot pulled right up to the place he or she was supposed to, then the car behind would have pulled up, leaving enough space to park behind it. So, when I came home from the airport this afternoon, I decided to be a jerk and pull my car, a squat Kia Soul, right up against the front bumper of the jerk’s car. My front end pokes out, into my other neighbor’s driveway space, but I wagered that since she knows me, she’d just knock on my door if she needed to move her car. But when the giggly jerk woke me up, I suddenly had a flash of fear that my neighbor had not realized it was my car in protruding into her driveway, called the city tow truck (which she has done before when the bar jerks used to park there, disregarding her signs). But no, it was a giggly, drunk girl and a boy talking as if they were still standing in the deafening music and chatter of the bar, standing near the intersection, trying to decide if they wanted to try on each other hips and lips for a few hours more. (One of them apparently wanted to sleep instead, because they went their separate ways shortly afterward, one of them thinking the other was a jerk probably. The young man probably went home to jerk off, which unlike the insect repellant of a similar name, will not rid him of being a jerk.)

By now, since we’re both up, I thrown on pants and a shirt, go downstairs, grab the leash, and take the dog out for a pee at the end of the block. The night is gorgeous and warm, especially lovely after the gray and miserable chill of February. All the jerks are gone or asleep. There are stars in the skies here if you look up. Soon it might not be, if new housing plans work out down here. Or if the jerks who build and buy the new illuminated billboards keep putting them up. The one at the other end of the 40th Street bridge blinks its awful brightness like a hemotoma that won’t go away. It has changed the whole experience of walking by the Allegheny River, which used to be meditative and quiet. Now, it’s like there’s a brass band concert continually blaring and oompah-ing against what used to be simply the quiet hum of the beautiful river flowing past. I’m sure I sound like a jerk to some friends who are much more pro-development than I am. I moved down here FOR the quiet, for the old ruins of the old Pittsburgh that most people want to raze, rebuild, renovate. I like being able to see stars myself. I love the quiet dark streets. I’m not looking forward to having my real estate taxes go up. I like wandering through ruins.

All things change, of course. Some jerks who used to live down the streets moved finally after enough of us called the police on them. That was a bunch! There was a big mama character who always sat out on the cement slab they had for a front porch. Smoking constantly, from the comfort of a sagging lawn chair, it was clearly her job to yell at two or three men who also seemed to live there, two younger women who also lived there, the children who were in diapers and often wandering around without much supervision, and the older children who’d already formed into a bike gang and who, helmet-less, bobbed and weaved in and out of traffic, flipping off drivers who’d beep in annoyance and caution. On the weekends, all the adults would be drunk, swearing at neighbors as they walked by, getting into fights among themselves, sending their children up the street to buy cigarettes for them. They were a snarling, awful chancre sore until suddenly (or so it seemed to me) they were gone, disappeared. Good riddance, we all said. And why are people like that? And maybe there was something useful in sterilizing some people, because, man, we all pitied those children who were going to be raised by that family of jerks. We don’t need any more of those on the streets anyway, one of the older neighbors said. One of the touchier neighbors shot her a look of death, and said, Are you talking about me?

That was the summer someone began stealing my little evergreens from containers in the front of the house.