Op-Ed: Nextdoor: An alternative reality where black Audis terrorize and everyone is a meth-addled menace

(Anthony Russo / For The Times)

Three years ago, a friend suggested I join Nextdoor. Signing on to this hyper-local online bulletin board accessible only to verified residents would let me see my ridiculous, spoiled neighbors fight about how one’s nanny gave another’s kid a piece of gluten at the park. “You’ll have a lot of fun with it,” she said.

I have not had a lot of fun with it.

Sure, Nextdoor has some amusing low-level griping, missing pets and used furniture for sale. But mostly Nextdoor is a local news show anchored by George Zimmerman. Nextdoor’s popular posts all come from the “Crime & Safety” section, where the rule is not merely that “if it bleeds it leads.” It also leads if it’s a fuzzy image from a Ring doorbell security camera that, if you squint, is vaguely in the shape of a meth-addled rapist.

My local Nextdoor in the Oaks section of the Hollywood Hills reports on tire slashers, package stealers, “a strange man always outdoors on Price Street,” hit and runs, a daily earthquake and — most frighteningly — someone who thinks their old Playboy magazines are worth $1,000 because “the interviews alone are priceless.” Last time I looked at Nextdoor, it attempted to scare me with “Black Audi no license plates scoping the hood again.” My neighbors can somehow make an Audi seem frightening.

Nextdoor is a local news show anchored by George Zimmerman.

In the alternative reality that is Nextdoor, people are committing crimes I’ve never even thought of: casing, lurking, knocking on doors at 11:45 p.m., coating mailbox flaps with glue, “asking people for jumper cables but not actually having a car,” light bulb stealing, taking photos of homes, being an “unstable female” and “stashing a car in my private garage.”

From the very first time I logged on, my mission was clear: Do not let my lovely wife Cassandra find out about Nextdoor. Not because I didn’t want to worry her pretty little head, but because I didn’t want her bothering my pretty little head in panic about every black Audi driving down our block.

My peace lasted three weeks.

As soon as a friend told Cassandra about Nextdoor, she signed up for its daily email summary and its immediate crime alert emails. Her smartphone is constantly informing her that we do not live in the idyllic Hollywood Hills but in the Bronx in 1977.

Cassandra is constantly being told there is crime everywhere. Local watchdogs are posting photographs of perps, identifying them on the site and — despite having all the detective work done for them — frustrated that the SWAT team never arrives. “I totally lost faith in the police,” Cassandra told me. “I’m super paranoid and I want to move.”

When we go for walks in our neighborhood, Cassandra judges each house’s vulnerability to invasion by Visigoths. “That’s a secure home!” she yells while pointing at a tall brick wall. “That’s not secure home!” she screams at low bushes. Our house, sadly, is “not a secure home!” She has talked to our gardeners about putting up a row of cypress trees in front of our lawn, Klieg lights on our garage and a gate at the foot of our short driveway. I am not as worried as she is about the safety of our neighborhood since it is one where people hire gardeners.

After watching too many grainy, black-and-white videos of package thefts, Cassandra insisted we get a locking mailbox. To assuage her fears, I asked our postal worker if this really was a problem. Unfortunately, our postal worker must also be on Nextdoor because he convinced me to buy a 14-gauge electrogalvanized steel, $239 Mail Boss with a 12-wafer disc lock — despite the fact that we have not gotten $239 worth of mail in our lives.

For her birthday, Cassandra, who wants to repeal the 2nd Amendment, wanted one gift: to learn to shoot a gun. After a friend who is a cop gave her a lesson at a police range, I considered posting about it on Nextdoor under the headline “Local woman seen waving gun at armed officers.”

Last week, I went for a walk at 8 p.m. to try to impress my Fitbit. I blasted an audiobook biography of Theodore Roosevelt on my headphones to try to impress my father. A guy lying in Griffith Park looked at me as I walked by and said something like, “Want to party?” that I couldn’t hear over the tales of Western cattle ranching. I shook my head to let him know I was not interested in whatever rough riding he was suggesting.

Two blocks later, I walked up my driveway, opened the door to my unattached home office and turned around to see the guy next to me.

I directed him back outside, wielding a broom that I grabbed. He backed up, possibly asking, “You don’t like to party?” though it got mixed up in my ears with “and spurred his horse Lightfoot to prodigious feats of endurance, including one 20-mile gallop.” So it sounded like the guy was asking me to do something even worse than he’d intended.

I locked the door behind me — but then opened it again to make sure he didn’t head into my house to see if Cassandra or our son were in a partying mood. Then I spent an hour agonizing over whether to tell Cassandra. And — if I did — if the news would be better delivered in person or by posting it on Nextdoor where she would see it more quickly?

I decided to be honest. I started my story with, “Believe it or not, this thing just happened, but it actually wasn’t scary.” Which is exactly how I wish all Nextdoor entries started. Nevertheless, there was more talk of moving. But thanks to Nextdoor, I know it won't help. All L.A. streets, I fear, are terrorized by gangs of roving black Audis.

Joel Stein is the author of “Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity.”

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