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Have You Hugged Your Considerate Neighbor Today?
By Barbara Weber

When 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.

Our 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?

Roll over, Mister Rogers.

When 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).

Hovel, we hardly knew ye.

At 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 West".

Many 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.

When 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.

Now 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 in.

My 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.

Soon 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.

When 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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