A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

With his motorcycles and his tattoos, Jon Bryce LaPierre is almost prototypically blue-collar. He's also an almost archetypal bully, and he's got the yuppie neighbors scared witless.

But if LaPierre is the thug that his public record indicates, how does Sciarra fit in to this new neighborhood? "If there's an observation to be made here it's Joseph Conrad's idea about the interloper, the newcomer who is resented for having more," Sciarra says. "I'm the yuppie interloper in his world. I'm the parvenu. That's a potentially dangerous situation."

What mostly concerns Sciarra is a clash of prejudice and perception. "They probably perceive me as someone who pulls down six figures," he says over a lunch of sweetbreads with mushrooms and artichoke sauce. "What they don't know is that I am a musician and a producer, and I have to do software consulting to pay for that, because I haven't made it yet. We have a problem with perceptions right now, and if those perceptions slip, something might really go wrong, and then it's a matter of how we both react. I know how they will react -- with brute force. And I will do what I can, within the law."

The potential for conflict is so high, Sciarra says, that he is considering not moving into his new house. He is not alone in this assessment of the situation. The couple who looked at the house before him were all set to buy it when some neighbors told them about LaPierre. "I heard from neighbors that were spooked," says the man who almost bought the house. "I had heard that there were guns and gunshots. They said there were sleazy characters pulling up at all hours, and lots of cars."

But Sciarra is stuck. He's closed the deal. Either he reaches some accommodation with LaPierre, or he gets the hell out of Dodge.

"I don't want to antagonize them," he says. "I have a vested self-interest in keeping the peace. And fear, you can smell it. It's that sniffing-dog thing. I don't want fear to be part of that equation."

It's a sunny afternoon in late April -- weeks after Sciarra checked the criminal files and vented his fears of the neighborhood bully -- and the parvenu is again up on Bernal Heights preparing to maybe move in.

He has already shared his concerns about LaPierre with Capt. Bruce and, he says, the police commander has advised him not to move in.

Next door, LaPierre's friend Ivan is standing on the sidewalk, and he calls Sciarra over. Word has gotten out that a reporter has been asking questions, and that Sciarra has been talking. Just then, LaPierre walks up.

Sciarra has no choice now. He has to confront his fear. He tells LaPierre that he's talked to the reporter. And what's more, he has inspected the court files. Frankly, he says, he's scared.

The two men talk for about an hour. LaPierre explains his criminal record. The coke bust, it was for personal use. The dogfight, he was just a spectator, and it was his first time. He's finally gotten his kids off welfare, and he's trying hard to be a good provider and father. He loves his kids. Loves them more than anything else.

As for criminal enterprises, LaPierre says, he's a gangbuster, not a gangbanger. In fact, he says, he's broken up gangs in Precita Park several times. He's not the neighborhood bully, he tells Sciarra, he's the neighborhood protector.

The conversation turns to less confrontational topics: cars, and how LaPierre loves cars, loves working on them. The two men -- the parvenu and the bully -- are talking like, well, neighbors. Sciarra has been to the belly of the beast. He's relieved, but still not sure whether he'll move into his half-million-dollar house, or rent it out to someone braver and, perhaps, stupider than he.

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