This story has no break ins, no gangs, no chop shop, no riot police like my previous neighborhood story set in 2006. I haven’t stepped on anyone’s toes who would read this or know this blog existed. Still, all the names have been changed here except for the pets, who are all dead except for the dog, who I’m betting doesn’t read.
Cat Scat Fever
In the twenty or so years we have lived at our current address we have been fortunate enough to have very few feuds with our next-door neighbor, Steve. The only one of note was the time he was rightly upset at one of our cats–Casey–who habitually crapped in his garden. It was the ultimate litter box for my favorite cat. Steve didn’t know this was my favorite cat. He also wouldn’t have cared. He cared for his tomatoes and not stepping in cat shit. He also didn’t know that we had dispensed with a litter box some time ago, thinking the great outdoors was his and his littermate’s litter box. All Steve knew was our cat was making his gardening life difficult. After we provided him with various (failed) suggestions on how to keep our cat out of his garden he had had enough. When I answered the door to his knock one day, I remember how Steve stood on his toes for a split-second, as if to hurl himself into something he clearly didn’t want to do–issue an ultimatum. I felt bad that my favorite cat was causing him such trouble and that he obviously had to get mad–something the gentle man didn’t seem comfortable doing. When he said his piece I remember wondering what we were going to do. We started a litter box in the house again, but it couldn’t compare to the earth around our house and the turned soil of Steve’s garden.
For no apparent reason, the complaints stopped. Steve no longer came over upset about cat crap on his veggies. When we did talk, we discovered we both were into progressive politics and other topics that didn’t involve cat scatology. We also attended some talks together, and my wife and I attended his lovely daughter’s bat mitzvah. Bliss.
Meth House 2: Electric Boogaloo
Then there are the drug dealers on the corner. Well, I can’t say for certain that they are dealers, but there’s a lot of traffic there day and especially late at night. Just like there was when we lived near a meth lab two doors down the street where we used to live. Yep, I can pick ’em, can’t I! Refer to link above for a re-post of an 11-year-old tale for gangs, chop shops, and riot police neighborhood we used to live in.
Customers or to be fair late-night visitors don’t knock on the door of the two-story duplex rental, they have a particular kind of knock on the adjacent window. The renters stay awake all night and I’m guessing have kind of a drive-up service. During one summer, they broke up the monotony of waiting for pickups by removing all the furniture from their front room and setup a ping-pong table. On many a summer night, with our bedroom windows open, my wife and I could hear the ping pong games occasionally being broken up by one guy on a motorized skateboard that drove my dog nuts, another guy on a Kawasaki Ninja and numerous cars stopping by for brief visits late at night.
Besides the traffic and the ping pong, there were the loud arguments during the day. The main guy (boss?) and his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend argued often. One day they were shouting across a car in their driveway, pushing a folded five dollar bill across the hood like it was a paper football and screaming, “Hey, you wanted it! Take it. It’s your five bucks, now.” “No, I don’t want your fuckin’ money, it’s yours.” “I gave it to you. It’s yours now.” Part of me was hoping the bill would ultimately hang over a side of the hood so I could yell from my front yard, “Touchdown,” giving the arms sign, but the guy was big and intimidating, and the woman looked pretty scary, too.
One day, when I was looking out my kitchen window, I saw the big guy with some crusty-looking guy pushing an old, white Buick Riviera across the street and parking it right in front of my house. This wasn’t cool, but I figured it would be temporary so I told myself to wait a couple of days. When three days passed and the car was still in front of my house, I walked across the street and knocked on the door. My knock was received with a quick and loud “Who is it!” that made me jump down to the bottom step. I sheepishly replied, “Yu-your neighbor.” When he opened the door and pushed the screen door out a little too quickly, I flinched thinking he was going to get directly in my face. He was a walking cliche: wife-beater t-shirt complete with a few holes and–what looked like–a gravy stain. When I politely explained the situation to him pointing to the white Riviera, he calmed down and apologized about the car and promised he and his “partner” would move it in a day or two. I didn’t like his time frame, but I didn’t want to argue with him. It took him a couple more days than he promised, but before I could muster the guts to go over there again, the car disappeared.
That incident became our icebreaker. From that point on the big guy would always say hello to me as I walked home past his house from the bus stop. On one morning, as I was walking to the bus stop, he pointed to tracks across his lawn and said in what seemed to me to be an accusatory tone, “Look at this!” Someone had drive across his corner lot. For this reason, my wife and I do not like corner lots–they are prone to crazy/drunk college students cutting across your lawn, but this wasn’t your garden-variety lawn job. These tracks were DEEP. A heavy, four-wheel-drive truck with big tires did this, and it looked like the disgruntled meth customer (Yeah, I know, I can’t let go of my meth house assumption) popped his truck in 4-Low before cutting the two canal-deep tracks across my neighbor’s lawn.
Shortly after the lawn job incident, I was walking home from the bus stop when I saw him sunning himself with a reflector. We had just exchanged hellos when my wife yelled at me from across the street, “Hi Jack,” followed by something I have long forgotten. Then my big, intimidating neighbor, the presumed drug dealer, said in–what sounded to me like–a creepy mock-friendly voice, “So Jack’s your name. Hello, Jaaaack!” Not cool, wife. Not cool!
A Serendipitous Interlude
Outside of the above events, everyone seemed to get along in the neighborhood. Of course, there were the events caused–we hope–by outsiders. (You’ll have to read the “Home Sweet Home” post for those details.) Two of our neighbors–Jeff and his wife Linda–turned out to work in the same hospital as my wife, and he and Linda were cat lovers.
In fact, they really loved one of our cats, the out-going (and probably mentally retarded) Casey. (You know, the one that crapped in Steve’s garden.) Casey didn’t seem all there, and partly because of this he had a charm that converted me from someone who merely tolerated cats to a full-blown cat lover. He would lick my bald head when I watched TV and insist on sleeping on my shoulders or lap when I read. He had a personality that won over my feline indifference. I never loved an animal as much as I loved Casey and I don’t think I’ll ever love another animal that much.
When we got a dog (more on that later), Jeff and Linda’s love for our Casey became a great blessing to us. When it came to our new puppy, Casey wouldn’t have any of it. He sat, ate, and slept on top of my grill in the back yard waiting for the strange small animal in the house to go away. When it didn’t Casey disappeared. My beloved cat spent the last seven years of his life at Jeff and Linda’s house where he was treated like a king. Rachel, his littermate, stuck it out, trained the dog not to mess with her.
We got to know another couple down that street that was so likable, so sweet, we jokingly thought there was a catch–some dark secret that would be revealed later when the cops would haul them away, and the local news reporter would ask us what they were like. We would say the same, too-common reply, “They seemed like a lovely couple.” Joking aside, we found out one of them was in real estate and home finance. We ignored the wisdom of never doing business with neighbors or family members and re-financed our home and bought an investment property from him. Things worked out beautifully and until the day–when the cops find the drawer of fingers from past victims they ate–they will be known to us as the perfect neighbors.
Dog Day Afternoons
When my youngest son moved out of the house to live with his girlfriend my wife took it hard. In what I think was an empty-nest (and ultimately rash) reaction my wife got a dog. She has been a cat person her whole life, so I was surprised. I was also surprised that Vivian (my wife named her) was quite the barker.
As Vivian got bigger, and her bark became more full bodied and carried further, there were a few neighbors who passive-aggressively objected with unsigned letters dropped in our mail slot and comments we heard second hand. The notes always said she barked too much/too loudly, or they would comment in a less than warm tone as I would walk the dog, “There’s that little noise maker.”
In the house, the sound was amplified as her barks bounced off the walls. Some evenings Vivian would hear something that distressed her. Often she would shoot between my wife and me in bed and–standing on her back legs with her front legs on our window sill–and bark seemingly to the heavens as if she is trying to get someone’s attention in Denver. I would usually get up and look through the window, surveying the street and especially our cars. One good thing about having a dog is that they can hear someone breaking into a car or breaking into a house when you are asleep. The bad thing is she usually is taking exception of something that does not benefit the rest of her pack (my wife, son, and me). It’s all perspective. When your dog is barking her head off at a snapped twig and continuing to bark throughout the house, you just can’t appreciate the deterrence factor. So yeah, I can understand how neighbors don’t like my obnoxious dog, but there’s always that deterrence element that comes in handy, albeit very rarely. One neighbor who had complained about Vivian’s barking before now said (after she learned from her Nextdoor social media app that there were two neighborhood robberies at gunpoint), “It sure is nice to have Vivian as a sentinel.”
Then there’s Joan, the neighbor who lives behind me, that filed a formal complaint with the City. The complaint was more threatening because of its formality, but my dog never barks enough to elicit more than the initial warning. (Are you in the same boat as me or are you one of my neighbors–fed up with my dog? Check this out.) When I received this complaint, I walked over to the woman’s house and apologized. I explained what we would do to help mitigate this problem. Also, I tactfully explained that if she only called my dog’s name in a friendly or animated voice, my dog would realize that she is one of the pack and would stop barking at her. I used her gardener as an example–a man who, whenever Vivian would bark at him from the other side of the fence would respond with something like, “Hey, poochy, it’s alright…” I wasn’t trying to get her to manage my problem, only to show her there was a way to shut my dog up without calling the authorities. I also wanted to say. “By the way, Bitch, spraying my dog with the hose through the fence will net you nothing. She’s a labrador. She loves water, but if that action is doing anything, it is making her more excited and will bark even more and louder,” but I stopped short of that.
She was remarkably cold about the whole thing. I decided this was as good a time as any to bring up the matter of our shared fence and how it was falling apart. When I broached the subject, she agreed we needed to replace it, then said, “I want that kind of fence,” pointing at a fence she shared with another neighbor. It looked expensive, and her tone was less of a suggestion than a demand. I said, “Sure.” All I wanted to do is make her happy, though she seemed like the kind of person where “happy” wasn’t part of her personal makeup.
Custom-Made Stainless Steel Nails
Time passed, and the fence slowly deteriorated with no action on either my part or Joan’s. It hadn’t blown over yet, but my son had, from time to time, used lumber laying around to shore up the fence. About a year ago I called a contractor (I’ll call him Mark) who came out and gave me a quote on how much the labor and materials would cost to replace the fence, but I never got around to giving it to Joan. Part of the problem is I lack confidence coupled with the bad habit of rambling speech. I also could very well agree to things that upon reflection do not benefit me. My wife, who is much better at this kind of business, decided to handle it but kept putting the meeting off until the quote became invalid.
On a windy day in the spring of 2017, a segment of the fence blew down, and my dog was in Joan’s backyard. My wife, my son, and I ran out and got the dog and tried to prop up the fence. Joan came out and said she has been working with a construction company to replace our common fence along with other things in her yard. At this point, Joan and I began a frustrating bout of text messages and emails that included fuzzy images of a too complicated quote from her contractor and questions about the old quote from Mark that I had sent her. A week later Joan walked over to our house with a letter that she had typed informing us how much the fence would cost, how much our portion would be, and that she would need all our part within a week. Neither the exorbitant price, the lack of satisfying documentation from her contractor, nor the fact that she/the construction company wanted all our money up front part was acceptable to us. I contacted Mark, the guy I had worked with earlier, and he was able to update the numbers on the quote he previously wrote up for me. When I sent it to her, she immediately wanted to strike a deal. Things were looking up–for now.
When my wife visited Joan, and she seemed amiable to working with our contractor, we finally began to make progress. Our original plan was to order a plain redwood, dog-ear, two rail fence. We, as a show of what great neighbors we were, would pay for the entire project, but when she started in with all the expensive items: three-rail, lattice top, with kickboard we decided to split it down the middle. Also, we offered a “great neighbor” option of having the rails on our side–all 86 linear feet of it. (For those never working out a fence deal with a neighbor, a “good neighbor fence” is where the sides of the fence alternate between the front side and back/rails side at each post. The idea is that neither neighbor gets stuck with the rail side only.)
Joan also wanted to know if my contractor used stainless steel nails. “They should use stainless steel nails, so they won’t rust and stain the wood when it rains.” I didn’t know about stainless steel nails and forward the question to my Mark who told me by the time the nails rust the fence will be too weathered for you to notice the stains. He said he would look into it. In the meantime, we were given a start date about ninety days out.
About a month from the start date I called Mark to ensure the dates were still on their books. Mark told me he was still looking into the nails–the only ones he had found so far didn’t fit their nail guns. He then became uncharacteristically animated and told me he pitied my wife and I for living next to Joan and suggested we should seek therapy after this venture. He said he had never dealt with a neighbor like ours. It turned out Joan had had him on the phone for a half an hour going over details already spelled out in the quote, and much more that were assumptions fence builders usually did not discuss with customers–like the kind of nails used in the fence raising. I later found out the office manager had been stuck on the phone with her for fifteen minutes, as well.
Just before the start date, I received an email from Mark’s office with a quote for $590 for stainless steel nails. After swallowing hard, I forwarded the quote to Joan. She said it was okay. But she wasn’t done. She said she felt pushed into a “contract that you already had with [fence builder company name who I’ll keep out of this].” Like we were taking advantage of her. I almost pointed out to her that this was not a “contract” but a quote, and she could have, at any time, said no to the deal. My wife, the brains of the house told me not to reply to this latest epistle. “Just keep all emails and text messages in case she takes us to small claims court.” She was pretty sure Joan was going to stiff us for her half anyway.
As it turned out the contractor didn’t foot us with the entire invoice–they walked half of the bill to Joan’s house. I was impressed by that, but perhaps that is standard practice for fence-building companies. Also, it turned out the stainless steel nails had to be custom built to fit the builder’s nail guns. The things we do to keep our neighbors happy. It turned out when the fence builder handed Joan the bill he returned smiling and saying with dripping sarcasm, “Nice neighbor.”
The funny thing is one of the neighbors who are the nicest people turned out to have a fit on the first day of the fence job. As I was sitting at the kitchen table examining one of the specially-made stainless steel nails that Joan was so hot over, I heard my neighbor Jeff go ballistic at the two fence builders having their lunch break on my front lawn. A second later he was knocking hard on my door. When I opened it he came at me with something like, “These motherfuckers think they are going to tear down a portion of my fence. I want to know did you tell them they could do that?!” I said I didn’t know what he was talking about, but said, as a way to buy me some time, “Let’s look at my backyard.”
As I lead Jeff and the two fence builders around the front of my house, through the side gate, to my backyard, Jeff was rattling on something like “If you guys think you are going to tear down a part of my fence, you’ve got another thing coming.” Suddenly, I was filled with dread. Did I fail to consider his portion of the fence? By the time we got to the far corner of my backyard I had realized this wasn’t my problem, it was his and Joan’s problem. Joan had been working with Mike and his people to continue the fence beyond my property since our lots do not line up symmetrically. The problem was short lived when it was discovered that Jeff’s fence and Joan’s old fence were doubled up. The fence builders would demolish and rebuild only Joan’s fence. Jeff stomped out of my yard muttering something like, “Damn lucky for you guys, ’cause you weren’t tearing down my fence!” The same fence builder who dealt with Joan then said to me in the same tone, “Nice neighbors!”
Actually, that is a nice neighbor, he was just a little frazzled. Ironically our fence–the common fence between us is in horrible shape. For some reason, Jeff and Linda insist on patching up the crappy fire hazard instead of replacing it. What ever you want, Blue Chip Neighbors! You guys put up with my dog and housed and fed my beloved cat. You guys are worth gold nails!