Saturday, June 4, 2011

The neighbor story

Some background.

Layout of our side of the street:

[Our house] [John & Beth] [The Dillons] [John & Beth II]

(We love the Dillons. When we moved in, they warned us that Beth was a whackjob- but I hardly knew the Dillons and decided to try to make up my own mind.)

So, the house to our left is the house where Beth grew up and where her mother lived until she passed away. Beth and John had been living in a house on the other side of the Dillons ("John & Beth II"), but when Beth's mother passed, they decided to occupy her house as well. They now live in BOTH houses.

Here's why:

Have you seen that show "Hoarders"? That's Beth. Their living room is beyond belief. BOTH their houses are packed full. According to the Dillons, John works two jobs AND spends most his time at the other house just to keep away from Beth. Any time we've heard Beth speak to him, she is condescending  and nasty...but he seems okay with that. He does everything she tells him to do.


Our neighborhood was mostly built in the 1920s, so lots are small and very close together.

When Beth's mother's mobility became impaired (a couple decades ago), they built a wheelchair ramp for her. It was illegal in that it was built RIGHT on the property line and hasn't been used for anything but storing hoarded crap for at least 10 years, but we never minded- it never really got in our way, even though it is immediately on the edge of our driveway and made it hard to get out of the car on the passenger side. It is falling apart.

What DID get in the way was Beth's lilac trees. They're huge and overgrown and prevented us from pulling more than halfway up our driveway. When I asked her to trim them so we could use our driveway, she said: "You don't need to pull up that far!"

I shit you not. She told us to adjust our expectations about being able to use the entirety of our driveway because she didn't want to trim her trees. I let it go, resolving to figure out later how to handle it without creating tension with a neighbor.

After a couple of years of asking and getting no response, my Mother-on-law lost patience and lopped off the lilac branches that most impaired our ability to use our driveway.  Beth was furious, but I assured her that we would continue to ask her first before taking action ourselves.

Our 3-year-old son has some gross motor deficits. To the casual observer, he's just very, very clumsy. We worry, though, about obstacles that are even more dangerous to him than to most kids his age.

Between the ramp, the overgrown lilacs, and the brush Beth planted under the (illegal) ramp, our 3-year-old tripped and fell a lot. I ripped two dress shirts on the rosebush she never bothered to prune. Lilac branches thwapped our living room wall when it was windy. I got scratched in the face several times by lilac branches and started to wonder if my clumsy son would make it to kindergarten with both eyes intact.  I spoke to Beth about it.  She ignored me.

So, after seven years of putting up with her, I got fed up.

Conservatively estimating the property line, I trimmed the hell out of her lilacs, trimmed her rosebush (only on the side where it was growing over the property line), and trimmed the brush under the wheelchair ramp so that Simon could get out of the car without serious risk of injury. There was still way too much crap in the way and I'd have to trim again every 6 weeks or so, but I figured it'd suffice.

Beth noticed after a couple of days and caught me outside.  She started to nastily chastise me for trimming past our property line. She was adamant that THIS was her problem- that I'd passed the property line. I calmly stated that I thought I'd been very conservative on that point, but that I'd dig out the records and get back to her.

On review of those records, I found out I'd been RIDICULOUSLY conservative. We own about two feet further than she thought AND we own about 34 square feet that is currently fenced as a part of THEIR yard.

Armed with this information, I finished killing the weedy, overgrown brush under the (illegal) ramp and cut back her lilacs to the actual property line. As an illustration for her, I strung some orange tape where the property line actually was so he could see it clearly.

She came over to our house in a rage. As our son sat inside watching Diego, I stepped out onto the porch to talk with her, determined to keep my cool no matter what.

She lit into me the way she talks to her husband, but more viciously. She's an elementary school teacher, and I imagine this tone is also in frequent use with students she dislikes. I tried to answer some of the things she said, but she cut me off, so I waited until she came to a longish pause in her tirade.

"May I speak now, Beth?"

I showed her the documentation from the courthouse showing where the property line actually was, and she could SEE we own 34 square feet of what she thought was her backyard. She turned red.

All of a sudden, she didn't care about the legality issue- she just cared that I was rude, and she launched into another few paragraphs of berating me like a very, very naughty child. She lectured me repeatedly about how it was my responsibility to remind her to trim her trees and bushes and crap. I so pity her students.

When she again came to a longish pause, I said something like:

"Beth, I believe I've told you previously that our son has some gross motor deficits. As an elementary school teacher, I'm guessing you understand what that means and might appreciate why we're especially concerned for his safety..."

She rattled off another few paragraphs of nasty about how it was my job to remind her to trim her plants.

"Beth, I've asked you repeatedly to take care of these things. When it became clear to me that you wouldn't, I acted within my legal and ethical rights to deal with it myself..."

She spent another few minutes lecturing me on my responsibilities, spittle flying out of her mouth as she got her steam going and got nastier.

"Beth.  BETH! It is not my responsibility to remind you to control your overgrowth..."


"It crosses the property line and prevents me from making use of my own property- it is by definition overgrowth..."

She started to interrupt me, but this time I cut her off.

"...Rather, it is YOUR responsibility to show some common courtesy and trim your overgrowth. When you fail in that responsibility, it is my right to deal with it myself..."

She tried again in vain to interrupt, but now I was getting a head of steam and my voice got very loud. Not shouting, but very loud. Seemingly unaware that I was ABLE to raise my voice, she shut up.

"...and if you are unable to appreciate why my child's safety is more important to me than the delicate, irrational sensibilities of my inconsiderate neighbor, you can go to hell."

And I slammed the door in her face.

5 minutes later, I look out the window and see her berating my wife.

I went out there and stood behind my wife, folding my arms and fixing her with an unsmiling stare.

"Beth, I won't allow you to scold any member of my household as if you have any ground - legal, ethical, or rational - to stand on. You do not, and I won't tolerate your rudeness."

She went apeshit about how I was the one to tell her to go to hell. I admitted this was true, but stood by my assertion that, when someone is being an asshole of this type, telling them to go to hell is the only rational course of action.

She stormed off, shouting "I hope you enjoy your extra three inches!!"

I measured with my hands the width we'd gained to our driveway. It was about two feet. I held my hands up at that same distance, making sure she could see them. To a neighbor across the street, seeing this scene through a closed window, I might have been bragging about the size of a fish I caught.

"THIS is 3 inches, Beth?  Jesus.  Lucky John!"

She'd upset my wife enough to cause tears. She made clear that my child's safety was of no concern to her. She was nasty. All this on top of seven years of being an inconsiderate neighbor.

So, I have decided to document all their (numerous) violations for code enforcement. I'm really a very nice neighbor (ask any of our other neighbors)- but now she's got me pissed.

The Dillons came over last night to share a bottle of wine with me on our front porch while I told them this story.  They laughed their asses off.

"You're not going to let her drive you into moving, are you?"

"Hell, no. I'm going to wear her out so badly that she'll not even want to SPEAK to me, much less be rude to me or say an unkind word. I can be more persistent and much more devious. She'll learn that it is easier for her to avoid having to deal with me entirely."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Music. Parents.

I remember being on the phone with parents while I was in college.

Me: "Oh, Dad- I heard this band I think you'd like and should check out."

Mom: "What, *I* wouldn't like them? Why just tell your Dad?"

Me: "Because Dad has many, varied and complex opinions on music. You only have two opinions: 'that's fine' or 'it's too loud.'

Dad: [Failed attempt to mute laughter]

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A thought about Ash Wednesday (Mostly for Chadwick)

Every year, seeing smudgey crosses on the foreheads of co-workers reminds me what time of year it is and what day it is.  This year, I decided to do a little research on the mark of the cross.

My understanding is that priests give the mark while giving a short "ashes-to-ashes" recitation ("Remember Man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.").  So it appears to be a memento mori, a reminder of one's own mortality.

This made me think: The Eastern analogue of this is "the transience of all things" found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism.

So what's the difference between the two?  I think the Western view focuses on the finite and self, while the Eastern view focuses on the infinite and outside the self.

For reasons I don't entirely understand, I think I prefer the Eastern view.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gregory House, MD on Judaism

Watching the backlog of DVR'd HOUSE episodes while working on some other stuff. In one, Cuddy invites House to her child's baby-naming ceremony, which House calls "a time-honored tradition dating all the way back to the 1960s."

"...Nothing like welcoming a baby into the world with a completely naked display of hypocrisy."


Cuddy: And there's nothing hypocritical about recognizing your heritage.

House: So you keeping kosher now, wearing four-cornered garments, slaughtering heifers to the god Ra?


Wait, is that one your people?


Do it all, do nothing, or option "c"-- you're a liar and a hypocrite.

Huh. This is pretty much how I feel.

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Gramma Connie

Connie had, as she herself put it, a shitty childhood spent mostly in the homes of foster parents who took foster children as a supplementary source of income.

I remember her as someone who spent her entire adult life trying to learn to stop holding grudges. She mostly succeeded, I think.

Her husband died in a botched procedure at the VA hospital when her oldest son (my father) was 17. She also had a 15-year-old and a 9-year-old.

In her later years, she would only speak of her deceased husband in glowing terms, as though he was some sort of Jewish saint. My father, however, recalls that his folks yelled at each other a lot.

I saw 'The Color Purple' with Connie in the theatre. "You know what I like about Whoopi Goldberg? I like when she says the word 'shit.' From most people, it would be vulgar. From her, it sounds like poetry."

Connie stopped speaking to me for years after my Bar Mitzvah. My maternal great uncle Phil's racist use of the word "schvartze" (in this context, the word is Yiddish for "nigger") had upset me and I had shouted at him that it was bad enough for any American to be a racist- but that for a Jewish man who lived through World War II to be a racist was despicable and he should be ashamed of himself. Connie wasn't related to Phil and didn't especially like him, but she thought I showed an unacceptable lack of respect for my elders...and pretty much didn't speak to me for years.

We started talking again on the phone years later when I was in my 20s. I'd changed, she said. "You used to be a little shit, but you know what? I think you grew out of it."

Our long phone conversations mostly consisted of my asking her broad questions and listening to her long answers. She was happy to share her memories and was an entertaining storyteller. I learned a lot about my grandfather who'd died before my parents ever met and his WWII service in the Marines. I learned what her foster care experiences in New York City were like and heard about what it was like to be pregnant at 17 years of age in her generation. I asked her about her in-laws and her siblings and the neighborhoods she grew up in and she told me stories about my father that I'd never have heard otherwise.

Sometimes these stories would overlap or repeat, but that was fine with me. There were always new details and I knew that memory is a long, slow casualty of aging. Eventually, the stories repeated more often.

Connie was diagnosed as having some sort of dementia. It could be Alzheimer's or a vascular problem, but the diagnosis didn't matter a lot because the treatment and prognosis were the same.

My father and mother stepped up and moved Connie to an excellent group home that was a five-minute drive from their home. They flew to her house in Scottsdale, cleaned up her finances (which had become a mess in recent months- Connie had hidden her cognitive problems from her family very well), sold her house, and packed up her belongings- taking care to try to send to my father's brothers any items that might be meaningful to them. My father's brothers didn't even say "thank you" or offer to help with this enormous task. I'm not overly fond of them.

For the last 5 years, Connie has lived near my parents, been cared for by excellent physicians, and my folks have taken very good care of her as her dementia progressed. The last time I saw her, she definitely recognized me and greeted me warmly with hugs and kisses, but she never attempted to use my name.

Now I'm told that she has hours or days left.

Last night, I had a dream.

My wife and son and I had driven to Detroit for the B'nai Mitzvah of my youngest cousins (this is actually going to happen in May. Connie's youngest grandchildren, twins, are turning 13).

Connie was there, but it wasn't the thin, frail Connie she's been for the last 5 years or so. This was the larger, louder, fleshier Connie who wore too much eye shadow and, even though she promised my mother that she wouldn't smoke in front of her grandkids, always smelled a little like cigarettes. In the dream, I got to hug her and smell her and tell her I loved her with the confidence that she knew who I was, knew what I was saying, and felt the sincerity of my words.

I rarely remember my dreams, so I'm grateful for this one.

I've never understood Connie. I've never understood how my father could be her son when they have so little in common, but I have missed her since her mind stopped working. I mourned her then and I find myself mourning her again now that her body is finally following her mind.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I love my brother, but frequently dislike him

Chat transcript from today:

Brother: "Obama holds town hall meeting in France" -- What, is he president of the world, now?

1. The US president is frequently called "the leader of the free world" since'. Yeah. We lead NATO (the most powerful military alliance in history) and our economy impacts everybody like no other economy does.

2. Bush couldn't speak except with prepared remarks and/or a pre-screened crowd (and even then, Bush couldn't talk intelligently). At least give Obama credit for taking whatever questions anybody has and attempting to answering them.

3. Bush fucked up our relationships with everybody else. Obama is trying to help fix that. Showing that he's listening and NOT being like Bush is important to repair the relationships that Bush broke.

Brother: Obama comes across as a stumbling wreck without a teleprompter

Me: You're so full of shit. On his worst day, we comes across better than Bush WITH a teleprompter.

I am not full of shit. O has more "uh"s per minute than any politician I've ever heard speak

He is a lousy extemporaneous speaker

Me: Again: you're full of shit. Want a highlight reel of Bush speaking?

Brother: You mean a reel taking the worst of the worst? Those exist for anyone

Me: Except you know as well as I do that the man is an idiot and always came off like an idiot.

Bush came off even dumber than he was

Me: You don't apply the same standards to Obama that you applied to Bush or McCain.

I don't like Bush.

Me: You're being intellectually dishonest. If Bush or McCain took extemporaneous questions, you wouldn't criticize them for it. Because Obama did it, you'll snark.

But that doesn't change the fact that Obama is an empty suit

Me: You don't like him. I get that. He's not my ideal president either, but stop calling him stupid or empty when you can't back it up. When you can specifically name actions or words of his that you can demonstrate are false or stupid, I'll listen. Until then, you're just blustering the unsupported distaste for him that you cultivate in the insular world of your gunny friends.

I'm done talking with you today.

You have blocked Brother. You can no longer see each other online or chat together until you unblock them.