You Hugged Your Considerate Neighbor Today?
my partner Christina and I married our house a decade ago, our hearts gazelled
through a champagne-fueled fortnight of believing we'd outsmarted the process
by finding our forever home in the guise of a starter. Casa Chrisbara had all
the earmarks of a perfect nest for us and our burgeoning brood of four-legged
babies -- acres of urine-resistant ceramic tile, a constellation of skylights,
and enough closet space to stash a couple hundred Jimmy Hoffas. As an added bonus,
unlike many of the prospective houses we had courted, this one didn't greet us
with hillbilly vermin races every time we flicked a light switch.
funky new neighborhood teemed with diversity, offered easy exercise routes, and
brought street fairs and music festivals to our doorstep to boot. On the downside,
the houses, often on postage-stamp-sized lots, were commonly sited within close
proximity to each other. Close as in "Olympic torch handoff" close.
This brings me to the most critical element in the successful village concept:
people. Considerate people. Fences make good neighbors and good neighbors make
good neighborhoods, right?
over, Mister Rogers.
the house next door changed hands a few years after we moved in, we rejoiced.
The schizophrenic semi-Spanish hut boasted a mansard roof that was Superglued
onto the facade, window boxes ala Sound of Music, a failed attempt of a
garden which showcased plants all of a brown variety and, for that taste of the
tropics, a front yard covered in purple and white lava rocks. But wait, there's
more! Black wrought-iron prison bars choked every window and the relationship
between the front steps and their handrail had long ago disintegrated into irreconcilable
differences, leaving the fallen handrail to sleep on the lava-rock bed it made
for itself. SURELY, we thought, the new owners MUST have grand plans for this
hovel (or an unending supply of Prozac at their disposal).
we hardly knew ye.
the time our new neighbors moved in, little did we know just how "at home"
those prison bars must have made them feel. This dwelling is now in the possession
of a family we have affectionately dubbed the Darwin Refuters -- a 50-ish grandmother,
her 35-ish ne'er-do-well son, his three demon-seeded sons, and an ever-changing
supporting cast of characters straight from the mind of Stephen King. Under their
tutelage, the house has morphed into a little ditty we refer to as "Amityville
months after their arrival, a chain link fence was erected along the front of
their property by a motley crew of laborers. The roof disappeared and the little
schizophrenic house was stripped to its bones. And this is how it sat. Through
seasons of pissing rain and sweltering heat, naked as a blue jay, with unused
panels of wood siding stacked in every corner of the property rotting away, it
sat. Huge puddles of water formed where the bedrooms used to be and exposed electrical
wires jutted out from studs at all angles like the flailing arms of stick people.
And still it sat.
workers finally showed up more than one day in a row, we rejoiced again. But that
was short-lived. Come to find out, the diabolical plan was to add a second story
as cheaply as possible to accommodate as many inhabitants as possible. Construction
crept along at a Pleistocene clip, and when the house was half-finished, the owners
must have been so entranced by its Frankenstein vibe, they decided to stop work
on it all together and preserve it that way for posterity.
it sits through the seasons clad in warped, graying, exposed wood panels with
cow-patches of glaring marigold paint that undoubtedly was stolen from the city
transportation department. The effect is flu-like. Our living room view to the
west, which used to feature a lovely stand of bamboo swaying in light breezes
against gorgeous sunset backdrops, has been replaced by the profile of this crazed
behemoth, looming over our house with its crooked outdoor light rubbing up against
a crooked door that leads out to a matching crooked deck consisting of a plywood
platform with no railing. The "deck" is, in all actuality, a launching
pad serving to ease the disbursement of the various and sundry items the demon
seeds have felt compelled to share with us over the eternal years since they moved
introduction to these poster children for the virtues of birth control took place
one afternoon when I was levitated off my couch by a series of crashing sounds
accompanied by maniacal laughter. I stepped out into the side yard to deduce that
"my three sons" were playing supervision-free soccer with a half-full
metal gasoline can on their concrete patio. I sat on the other side of the fence
well into the evening with phone in hand, finger hovering over 911, hoping to
save home and heinie if the game ended badly. It would be the first of many such
days and nights.
after, they expanded their playing field to include our property. Nails, garbage,
tennis balls, cigarette butts, chunks of drywall, pens, headless action figures,
metal can lids, baseballs, wads of chewed gum, mold-laden citrus and the like
all find their way into our yard on a regular basis. Once in a while they serve
up something more exotic, such as the boulder they strung up to a plastic grocery
bag "parachute." This genius experiment was pitched in the direction
of our driveway and landed predictably on the hood of our brand spankin' new car,
leaving a not-so-grand canyon.
objects fall "inexplicably" from the sky into our yard or onto our roof,
we trudge next door to return the offending items to their rightful owners. Chris
shut down my brief solo stint in this capacity when I bolted toward Amityville
toting a baseball bat and a face not unlike Jack Nicholson in The Shining
after they shoved sticks through the fence and into our dog's face. During these
interactions, the grandmother invariably becomes Marcel Marceau's mute, motionless,
saucer-eyed other self, while Chris and I seethe our way through show-and-tell,
then proceeds to channel Pinocchio when it's her turn to speak -- I had NO
idea this was happening. It doesn't sound like something THEY would do. I will
tell their father and it will stop IMMEDIATELY.
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