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."