Illustration by Seth Drenner
Shortly after Jon Lucas and his wife, Erin Walsh, moved into their
new home on Flores Street in West Hollywood in early 2003, they met their neighbors.
Lucas, a screenwriter, and Walsh, then a corporate attorney, immediately took
to P.J. Brill, a restaurateur, and Lauren Scherr, a handbag designer. This only
made sense. Both couples were in their late 20s, educated, successful. Both
of their houses were accordingly nice, with front and backyards and modest but
bubbling fountains (they share a gardener). Lucas and Walsh are tall and fair-skinned,
Brill and Scherr are smaller and darker.
So comfortable were the couples together that shortly into their
first dinner party, they agreed it would be a good idea to exchange house keys
in the event of — well, of something. Brill and Scherr had a security setup
with cameras and they gave Lucas and Walsh their code. It seemed neighborly.
Then they had more wine and someone said, Wouldn’t it be funny
if we began playing pranks on each other? A narrative man, Lucas ran with it.
Conventional stuff was batted around. Then some filthy and truly obstructive
possibilities came up. The Iraq war had just begun, and everyone was in a somewhat
combative mood. It was agreed the pranking should begin immediately, without
any more getting-to-know-you time.
Not long after, the first salvo was launched. It was a late-night
attack, unwitnessed. Brill and Scherr walked onto their back porch in their
robes, coffee mugs in hand, to find their gardener staring at the fence that
separates the two properties — on which, ever so gingerly, hung a hermaphrodite
blow-up doll with its various nether-regions and plastic chest hair exposed
to the morning breeze. (The doll, which Lucas had kept from his bachelor party,
was named Butch.)
A few days passed. Rather than go blue out of the gates, as Lucas
and Walsh had done, Brill and Scherr wanted to do something a little more nuanced.
They procured 20 pounds of loose carrots and a furry bunny doll. At 2 a.m. they
set up a kind of mortar position in their backyard, catapulting the carrots
one by one, and finally the bunny, into Lucas and Walsh’s yard. It looked like
something out of Peter Rabbit — if the book had a tornado scene.
The next morning, robes donned, coffee mugs in hand, Brill and
Scherr went outside and looked over the fence. The carrots were still in the
backyard, but now they spelled out, in large letters, “IT’S ON.” The
bunny formed the apostrophe.
On it was. Nearby there lived an old lady with innumerable
badly attended cats. Cat poop dotted the sidewalk. The ASPCA had been called.
Brill and Scherr left for a week’s vacation, and when they returned they found
a giant banner reading “Cats Welcome” hanging above their front bushes.
They went inside to find cat toys littering the floor. In the backyard, there
was a sign, “Poop Here,” with a bull’s-eye marked on the grass. No
cats had yet come, but the message from Lucas and Walsh was clear: If we
wanted to, we could infest your entire house with dirty, defecating felines.
That is the sort of power we hold over you.
“We decided not to put out the catnip,” Lucas recounts,
like a general looking back on a moment of strategic restraint. A new threshold
of perfidy had been breached, too — Lucas and Walsh had trespassed. This was,
technically, illegal. The keys and codes, those tokens of trust, had been used
for ill. The sacred marital space had been violated.
Brill and Scherr prepared for the next round. Not knowing when
they’d be able to strike, they went to Smart & Final and purchased many,
many, many cans of cat food. And then they waited. And waited. Eventually, Lucas
and Walsh left for a vacation of their own. As soon as their taxi pulled out
of the drive, Brill and Scherr sprang into action. They broke into Lucas and
Walsh’s place, removed every item from their double-doored jumbo refrigerator,
and packed each shelf, tray and drawer with the cat food. Not only that, but
they dug up the surveillance footage from their security camera, located the
moment of Lucas and Walsh’s break-in and captured a still of them looking particularly
guilty. They then printed WANTED posters featuring the picture, and plastered
the neighborhood with them.
While all of this was going on, the neighbors were still going
out to dinner together, watching movies at each other’s houses. But every time
they returned home, even from a trip to the mall, they were checking around
the house, not knowing what they might find. Likewise, every time they went
to the other couple’s house, they couldn’t help but look at the rooms like a
bombing target map. What if we turned every piece of furniture upside down?
How much would it cost to cover every surface in paisley?
Lucas and Walsh had resolved that the next move had to be carried
out with unprecedented brazenness. Not only would it involve trespassing, they
decided, but it would have to be done, somehow, while either Brill or Scherr
were home. How could that be topped? Not to be outdone by the expense and labor
of the cat food, they bought out the inflatable beach-ball supply of every store
they could find that sold inflatable beach balls (they estimate there were about
100 of them) and over the course of several hours, blew each one up. Enlisting
Walsh’s sister to stealthily keep an eye on (through a window) the dangling
feet of Scherr, who was reading magazines in a back room, they snuck into the
front vestibule, shut the adjoining door leading to the house, and filled the
room wall to wall, floor almost to the ceiling, with the beach balls.
A little while later, on her way out, Scherr opened the vestibule
door, as she had hundreds of times in the past. But this time she was met with
an avalanche of spheroidal fun. And, legend has it, screamed appropriately.
Not even being at home was enough to protect them, so at this
point in the one-upmanship, Brill decided that risk of bodily injury and a tetanus
infection were necessary. He commandeered a rusty old shopping cart that had
been a fixture on Flores for some months, rolled it into Lucas and Walsh’s yard,
tied their garden hose to it, and threw the slack of the hose over the pitched
roof of Lucas’ bungalow office. He then climbed onto the roof and pulled the
cart atop it, almost falling off twice. Once he had it securely atop Lucas’s
roof, Brill then placed in it a newly tumescent Butch, whom he’d been saving
for just such an occasion.
Lucas threw his back out getting the cart down.
What came next was undoubtedly the pièce de résistance.
Lucas and Walsh had noticed in their legitimate trips to Brill and Scherr’s
home how fond the couple were of the many framed family pictures they kept around
the house. Several generations were represented. It was a poignant display.
Yes, Lucas and Walsh agreed, it had to be defiled. So one Saturday, Lucas and
Walsh went to The Pleasure Chest on Santa Monica and picked up copies of Big
Butts magazine, Bootylicious magazine, a candid gay anthology of
some kind and, returning to the animal theme, a copy of Pony Play, a
monthly for people with equine fetishes. They spent the rest of the day in Brill
and Scherr’s living room with a pair of scissors and a ruler, thoughtfully cropping
the porn and inserting it into each and every frame in the house. When Scherr
returned, she found a picture of an old man wearing nothing but a bridle and
blinders, a leather-clad woman in a chariot reining him in, over a portrait
of her beloved grandmother. Weeks later, she and Brill were still discovering
nipples and butt-cheeks around the house.
From there things went rapidly downhill. In the fall, Walsh left
her corporate law job to work for the Democratic Party. The Saturday before
the November 2 election, she awoke to find her property turned into an advertisement
for the Republicans. During the night, Brill and Scherr had studded Lucas and
Walsh’s front yard with Bush/Cheney ’04 signs. This was low, Walsh thought.
This was going too far. She ripped them from the lawn and threw one at Brill
and Scherr’s house in disgust. She now regrets that move. Somewhat.
One afternoon around that time, Lucas returned home. Walsh wasn’t
home. He looked around the house — nothing seemed to be out of whack. He checked
the refrigerator. Nothing odd. He walked out of the house and to the bungalow.
Standing in his office nonchalantly, looking around, was a stocky black man
he’d never met before. Who was this? Had Brill and Scherr contracted out their
next prank? What was he going to do — wallpaper the bungalow in tartan plaid?
That would be a good one.
But before Lucas could put any of these questions to him, the
man rushed past him and out of the front gate. He was, it turned out, just a
After that, Lucas and Walsh installed a heavy-duty alarm system.
They still go out to dinner with Brill and Scherr, they still watch movies in
each other’s living rooms. Maybe they even sneak furtive glances around (a bathtub
full of lobsters? Dye the drapes pink?). But no more pranks have been played.
Yet. Recently, Lucas and Walsh gave their friends the new alarm