You know how sometimes you have a little extra time on your hands? Or maybe you just drive by something you’ve driven by a million times before, but suddenly you’re like, “What the fuck??”
Back in early October, I had one of those moments.
See, there are these pink vans peppered about my fair city, advertising a topless maid business. I’ve driven by them for years, rolling my eyes. Once my boys were old enough to read, they asked a lot of questions about them. From the backseat of our minivan I’d hear, “Mom, what is a hot topless maid?” “How come they’re hot?” “Is that why they take their shirts off?” “Is $99 a lot of money for a topless maid?”
We had some interesting conversations about sex, politics, and jerks in those tender years. The looks on their shining faces gave me hope. They instinctively understood that the whole enterprise was a little whacked.
As years passed, I’ll admit, we all got used to them. The vans were like roadkill– only disturbing if we stopped to notice, and mostly we didn’t. (It’s kind of scary, the things we can stop noticing, which is maybe how free societies crumble, not to be dramatic or anything.)
Then for whatever reason, one night back in October, I saw one, parked in front of a crappy strip mall not far from my house, and I heard a voice saying, “This is bullshit.”
I stopped the car and left a nasty note on the windshield telling the owner exactly what I thought, signing it “A mother who is your worst nightmare!” Shout out to the random guy who snapped this pic:
The note stayed untouched for a few days, and I realized that no one was tending to these vans at all, and that whatever message I left would only ever be seen by the people passing by.
So what did I want to say?
Well, here’s what I didn’t want to say:
I didn’t want to blame the women working for this man. I didn’t even want to call into question his right to have this business. It’s a free country (sort of) and this is apparently all legal and legit.
Time out– just so you know what page I’m on. To me, there’s a difference between nude dancers, and maids who are paid to clean naked. There just is. The number plastered on the side, 1-800-SO-DIRTY, says it all. It’s the power play there that makes this disturbing. While that kind of thing might be fun and a-ok between real life lovers, when money (power) is in the picture, let’s be real.
Oh, and also, the guy with the money (power) in this scenario is a total stranger to the woman. I ask you- What could possibly go wrong???
Even though I am no fan at all of this guy or his business, my goal was just to get him to stop taking up our public parking spots with his offensive advertising, and to start a conversation about the message these vans send. He gets a voice, so I do to, was my thinking.
Over the next few months, I had my say:
At one point, photos of the signs were posted on another neighborhood’s Next Door page, and the response was encouraging. That was when I realized that it wasn’t just my friends who were giving their thumbs up. Lots of people responded that they also resented the presence of these vans in their neighborhood.
Then this happened:
It totally wasn’t me, I swear. Neither was the bent license plate, windshield wipers, or the note on the windshield reading, “Sugar in the gas tank, asshole— more to come!”
This van was gone the next day. The. Next. Day. Gals, it’s possible that our good manners are slowing us down. Just sayin.’
As for me, I played nice.
I made online complaints to parking enforcement, emailed and called my LA City Council member, called local law enforcement, and the Department of Transportation to register complaints. Legally, vehicles can not be parked on public streets for longer than three days, without being moved. Even though every person I spoke to agreed that the vans should go, no one was optimistic.
It seemed like nothing short of spray paint and elbow grease was going to work.
Then, last week, I drove by the spot where one of my vans has sat for months, and saw this:
Gone. Just like that.
I couldn’t believe it.
I’d become so used to feeling like nothing I do matters, that I was nearly knocked off my feet at this tiny ray of hope. I was on top of the world and utterly proud of myself, for about a whole minute.
After all, the truth is that there is no way of knowing whether my actions had anything to do with the van disappearing. There is no doubt that it took several people registering complaints, and the passage of many weeks before that one van disappeared. When some of my friends congratulated me, I was honest when I said I didn’t think I could claim any credit.
But y’all – it felt SO good to think I had had something to do with it.
Like a lot of women socialized to reign it in, I didn’t like sounding too big for my britches. I didn’t want to sound like I thought getting a van towed meant anything in the grand scheme of community action.
There are people living on the streets, after all.
The thing is, when I feel I can’t make a difference, I stay home. I look away. I hush my mouth. What if calling really did help? What if, very secretly, I let myself believe that I can be heard?
I think it’s worth fanning that flame.
I love imagining the conversations that might be happening in cars driving by those vans. “Mom, what’s misogyny?” is a pretty awesome opener, don’t you think? Fan that flame, sister!
At home, my husband had made the same calls to the city I made, and was feeling his own glow of satisfaction. Ever the buzzkill, I reminded him that that particular block is still pretty shitty, managing to add “but at least now, it’s a little less shitty.”
For now, that feels like a call I can answer. I can just try to make things a little less shitty.
In the words of my anonymous pink spray painting comrade,
“More to come.”