Bad Neighbor

Bad Neighbor

This is my story. It is a tragedy in the classical sense. It is creative, a product of my imagination. But as you absorb yourself, dear reader, remember one thing: Truth is stranger than fiction. And yet another: Fiction is more true.

Let me tell you first that I am from the Midwest, and I am not ashamed of it. I consider it a virtue. I consider it the source of my virtues. Despite the current political ness-nesses where it is correct to dis the middle of the country, I know the strength that is there.

What the Midwest has over the coasts, is that we recognize and honor our need for common culture, and so we have built one of consideration and civility and deference.  We have public selves, whose responsibility is to anticipate and respect the needs of others. In order to respect the need we have of each other. The public arena is not a place to display, boast, push our chests out. We are modest. Contrary to what you may believe or what you might infer, we accept diversity as a commonplace, as a given. But we are not multi-cultural. We think the differences among people unremarkable in everything from religious practice and skin color through favorite family recipes and musical traditions. We do not fly flags except for the American flag, we do not parade badges unless we have served, we reject politics of identity. Instead, we value individuality for the varied contributions it affords the whole. We act for the greater good by stint of our individuality. We are not elitists, so we value the expertise of everyone; we value everyone. We are understated because we are secure; we are secure because we belong. We have a place just like everyone else, and we welcome everyone to their place. Our commitment to common culture eases belonging. The rules are easy, encompassing deportment and the golden rule. It is a low bar. In this way we accommodate the natural human hard-wired discomfort with difference. Our shared culture allows everyone to belong as we acquaint ourselves with each other, learning, accepting, borrowing, and slowly, gently, with small stitches, reweaving our common cloth.

But enough prologue. Let me tell you about the people I have known here, in this northeastern town.

~  #76  Pulaski Street  ~

Andrew and Sissy lived next door in the small, stuccoed, pale yellow house when we moved in. It was their city home, and their new start home, as they had been married before to other people. The Craftsman style house was updated and refurbished and they took quiet pride in it, demonstrated by their refined care-taking. Andrew also had a house in Millertown that served as their country get-away. They went to the country for weekends, and stayed next door during the work week. It was a pleasant rhythm. We saw them just often enough. Our houses are very close – ten inches to the property line from Andrew’s house, and our house is only five feet from that. But it never mattered. A sidewalk went down the middle of the space and a gated fence (always unlocked) crossed it between our porches. The forsythia that Stefan had planted along the path wandered onto their property, but who cared? Andrew would let me know with a knock or call-out that he was coming over to do his seasonal chores – washing windows or cleaning the gutters – and he let himself through the gate, carrying his ladder. At other times he would hand me surplus green beans or tomatoes or zucchini from his garden in Millertown through the kitchen window. He taught me how to prune the tulip tree, helped me to identify weeds and volunteer saplings and misplaced plantings, and let me know to keep the ivy in check, so as not to harm the oak that shaded us both. He returned Pumpkin when she got out of the yard, and tolerated Bunny who had a crush on him (on all old men, truthfully). Sissy divided and shared overgrown house plants, and other household extras too. They were helpful and civil and neighborly and considerate, and they strengthened us in our way of living with others. But Sissy lost her job, so Andrew retired and they moved permanently to the country. I cried when they left, but Andrew consoled me with the notion that our new neighbors would be just as nice, might be even nicer.

~ #82  Pulaski Street  ~

When we first rented the downstairs apartment at #78 the house on the other side was owned by a hairdresser, whom I caught peeping into our bedroom from his yard when I was drying off from a shower. After that I was careful to give him nothing to look at, but the problem was permanently and pleasingly solved by the bank holding his mortgage. They foreclosed. (He lost his business too.) Goodbye and good riddance!

A house-flipping couple bought the property from the bank. They were nice enough but made only superficial changes to the house, which had characteristic nineteenth-century cottage-y appeal and a lot of potential that remains unachieved, unfortunately, even to this day.

 The next owners and occupiers were parents of a teenage daughter and older son. We had little interaction with Mr. and Mrs. Chang as we do not speak any dialect of Chinese, and their ability to converse in English was minimal. We did get to know their daughter Zhujun a little, and we liked her well enough for a teenager fond of awful music. During the Chang’s time at #82 we came to an agreement to purchase #78 from Stefan’s daughter Liliana, pending the resolution of several conditions that came to light during inspection. One of these was the removal of #82’s side fence, which grossly encroached our hoped-to-be soon-to-be property. Mr. and Mrs. Chang were not happy to lose even a few square feet of land, and they raised all manner of objection and fuss, not complying until Liliana threatened to have the fence torn down and disposed of herself. They were legally in the wrong, but there was little we could do to make them understand. Eventually the fence was removed, and in its place (on the property line, now) Mrs. Chang erected a barrier made of old house pieces and parts she found in her basement: windows with aluminum frames and broken glass, wire, decaying lumber, broken furniture, and a yellow plastic rope – of ours. Zhujun had borrowed it to tie a mattress to the roof of her car when she moved into her first apartment. I asked for it back, and got it, along with Mrs. Chang’s displeasure. In her peevishness she dug up loads and loads of old growth lily-of-the-valley plants on my side of the property line and put them around the maple in her tree lawn. I objected to the theft, and called for the assistance of a police officer, who directed Mrs. Chang to return the plants. Which she did not.
So I took them back, myself.

I want you to know though, that despite our differences I never spoke ill of the Changs to anyone but Bryce.

~  #575 Rose Street  ~

Tree Nazi however, I told everyone about. What I know now is that Mr. Kroscher is old and cranky and he suffers from OCD and other mental maladies. I don’t care. I don’t think it excuses his boundary violations. And I know you might think calling someone a nazi is forbidden, but I am careful to qualify my nickname for Kroscher with tree to differentiate it from any wrongful version of Reducto Hitlerian. I think it an apt comparison given the genocidal nature of his tree-killing.

My first awareness of his hand in the deaths of other people’s trees came some time after I witnessed the slow demise and eventual failure of a large Norway maple on Maya’s property which adjoined his and mine too. I put two and two together one hot and humid evening when I opened the kitchen window  and smelled gasoline – strong, pungent, and out of place. The smell was coming from #82 which was then unoccupied, and I was afraid of fire – could it be arson? When houses are close together as they are in a city, fire is always a concern – if one house goes up the whole block does. I called the fire department and after inspection the officers told me the source: someone had girdled the tree next to Nazi’s garage, and poured gasoline at its roots.

I flashed on the poor Norway maple on the other side of his garage and realized that it too had been his victim. I was furious then and still am angry about it. What I didn’t tell you is that the maple crashed into our yard when it came down, damaging the fence, a lovely crab apple tree, and several shrubs. Even so we count ourselves lucky: Bryce had been outside in its path just minutes before the maple fell; it would have killed him, too. All this time I had been cross with Maya for her neglect. But now I knew whom to blame. And I do. Every chance I get I pass the word around about Tree Nazi to all of my environmentally-correct Pulaski Street cohorts.

~  #76 Pulaski Street  ~

The new owners were younger than Andrew and Sissy by a good bit, younger even than we were. He had an assistant faculty position and she worked for Save the United Children of the World. To welcome them I left a note and a basket of vegetables homegrown in our community garden plot. They were surprised and grateful, and I thought we were off to a good start.

Their first fall Aspie and the Virtuous Person decided to put in a wood-burning stove – you know, to save energy and the planet and all that. But the only place they had to install the unsightly vent was in the wall that faced us and hugged the property line. In sight of all our windows. Where I had planted a lovely front garden. They advised me of their plans, and I was non-committal. Bryce knew well our town’s zoning laws and told me not to worry – there was not enough clearance between the house and property line (five feet were needed beyond the projecting vent). Fire regulations, too, were prohibitive, requiring that the chimney vent be eight feet taller than our roof, which was impractical. They would never get a permit.

Yet one day soon after I heard a loud, constant, drilling sound, and went to investigate. A contractor was making an opening in the wall for the vent! I was scared, perplexed, in disbelief, offended, in a panic. I called Bryce at the office but he wasn’t available. What to do? I hesitated, but then went over when I saw the contractor outside. “Do you have a permit?” He shook his head no, sensing trouble. “You do know the chimney needs to be eight feet above my roof, right?” No answer. I doubled down. “I’m sorry but I have to deny you permission to be on my property.” The work couldn’t be completed without trespass. “And I’ll call zoning to inspect.” Then I went inside, and he packed up and left, never to return. I exhaled. Crisis averted, whew!

But Aspie and Virtue were furious, at us. They blamed us for their unrecoverable expenses, and for spoiling their plans. They had expected us to accept all manner of consequences, because the realization of their dreams and desires was paramount. To the Universe, I guess. They decide to pursue the matter.

There were ten inches of land between the house and the property line, and the vent was twelve inches in diameter. Not understanding the five foot clearance rule, Aspie and Virtue order a survey, on the chance they can claim two inches. It won’t do them any good but they can’t claim the area, anyway, as the property line between the houses holds. A different discrepancy comes to light, though. The fence between our back yards is misplaced by a few inches at one end, and a foot or so at the other, in our favor. They hire a lawyer, and tell us they intend to sue for the acreage, unless we agree to a variance that will permit the vent. What?

All of these concerns and machinations are foreign to me – I’m from the Midwest. Who could be, would be so aggressive?  The behavior is so out-of bounds as to be incomprehensible. I have to get up to speed as quickly as I can. More than puzzled, I am anxious and tense, I feel terrorized.  There are verbal confrontations. We are at war. I call Mike, the very nice property lawyer who represented us when we bought the house. He is matter-of-fact. There is a statute that shifts the balance in our favor: adverse possession.  As it turns out we have lived in our home as tenants and owners long enough to attest to the continual existence and placement of the fence for the required time. Mike files a countersuit, and a lien of ten thousand dollars. Now Aspie and Virtue are freaking out – they can’t have their way. They invade our privacy by opening all window shades and curtains to annoy us with peeping, and light trespass. I put up a barrier for privacy on my undisputed property. They knock it down. They park their car so closely behind mine that I can’t get into my trunk, which I regularly use. I move my car forward, and they move theirs, illegally close again. It is a constant game of chess. One day Aspie miscalculates the braking time needed on a street slick with leaves, and bangs into my car with his. There is no damage so I don’t call the police. Then they sprinkle weedkiller powder on their narrow strip of land, and Bunny licks a bit up and gets very, very sick. I call the police department, in tears. The dispatcher is consoling, and assures me she will send someone. The patrol officers hear me out and steady me, explaining and confirming applicable property and environmental law. When they go next door to wield the full weight of their authority Aspie and Virtue are hosting guests. !!!  I feel vindicated, and relieved. They have been put on notice and humiliated in front of friends. The game has turned in our favor and things progress to righteous ends. Bunny survives. Aspie loses his teaching job and they have to improvise; Virtue decides to relocate overseas. (Did I tell you she worked for Save the United Children of the World? Wow. What a good person, don’t you think?) They need to sell, and quickly; time is on our side. Mike patiently draws the process out until the last feasible minute and they have to settle. He secures a permanent easement, and enough cash to cover our legal expenses and more. All the property between the houses is ours to use as we see fit; the fence stays.

It was a harrowing experience, unpleasant in the extreme. Nevertheless I’m glad to have met them, in no small way, for now I know that the law is my friend, and that a lawyer’s role is to keep the disagreement impersonal, in order to keep the peace. The impersonal guise of the law and of third-party representation allows face-saving and preserves neighborliness. It curtains anger and displeasure, and it offers the protection of not-knowing, of ignorance: the law generously frames dispute as difference of opinion. In the end civil law is neither right nor wrong, it just is. And so the actors can be simply mistaken rather than violators and victims. It is a soothing balm to overspread conflict, and I am grateful for it.

~  #82  Pulaski Street  ~

I didn’t tell you that the Changs almost burned their house down. The fire started upstairs with an untended and illicit cigarette of Zhujun’s. We were all fortunate – no one was hurt, although Zhujun was very shaken up, and the fire didn’t spread far in their house or to any other. But not too long after that the Changs sold their house to Geoffrey and moved to the suburbs. I was not sorry to see them go.

For the most part I like Geoffrey Gilbert. He is eccentric in that familiar, nutty professor way, which he spotlights with his ex-pat status and accent. He is deservedly fortunate to be situated in academia (although one of his ex-students has called him a pervert). I find him intelligent and entertaining, well-traveled and abreast. He’s fun to talk with. He tells good stories and he considers ideas nimbly. I enjoy a conversation with Geoffrey like I do a nice meal.

The only drawback is that he has let his house go to ruin. Squirrels have invaded the eaves; window trim is rotting away; the back yard is always full of junk and refuse from his basement, which is regularly wet, as the hatch doors leak. His back yard is really a side yard and he hangs his laundry out to dry, in view of his neighbors and passing pedestrians. He is rather negligent about the public space in front of his house, too – in all seasons the tree lawn, sidewalk, and plantings are untidy at best and a real nuisance at worst.

I think it rude and unfriendly to degrade your neighborhood like he does, but he is quiet and otherwise inoffensive, and knowing who else I have known in that house I count my blessings.

~  #575  Rose Street  ~

As the tulip tree grows taller than Nazi’s garage, he eyes it with murder in his heart, so I am vigilant. He sweeps debris from the roof onto my property, even though he could sweep it to his, so I collect it and pour it back to his side over the fence. He spies me and yells but I ignore him. What can he do? I keep doing it, daily, and eventually he stops sweeping the roof to my side. But then I catch him cutting branches so I challenge him. I curse. “It’s time for you to die, old man.” He stops. It is an unending battle, but I do not back down. I am determined. The tulip tree will survive. The tulip tree will thrive.

~  #76 Pulaski Street  ~

Now we are older, we are the next generation’s Sissy and Andrew when Roshanna and David buy #76. We are ready and happy to assume that role, to be the teachers and mentors for first-time homeowners. Still, I do not seek them out; rather I am personable whenever I see them. In this way we chat easily enough about our work and our houses and our pets. Roshanna is bubbly, outgoing in that thoughtless way spoiled children are. But it is easy to overlook her entitled nature and I do. When her first child is born I bring over a large tureen of homemade split pea soup for which they are both appreciative and grateful; my heart almost warms. Roshanna asks for advice about her yard, and I give her its history, Andrew’s remnant plan, what to consider. She takes my advice and plants a dogwood tree. We are gardening together. It is a welcome respite from the previous years of harassment.

There are disappointments, though, the cracks begin to show. The neighborhood comes together to lobby the mayor for new sidewalks, curbs, and tree lawns, as Pulaski Street’s are badly decayed. Why we even have to petition is ridiculous in and of itself, and is another burdensome layer to life here, but there you are. Our resident volunteer contribution is to plant twenty-three new street trees. It is hard manual labor. Neither David or Roshanna pitch in.

The worst of it is that she pesters our alderman to have the city remove the mature, graceful elm tree in front of her house. Really? Alder Roman checks with me and we have a good laugh about the great imposition it is on her eight lineal feet of sidewalk. The elm stays. And they go, when Roshanna is pregnant with her second child.

My good, good neighbor-friend Kate lets me know years later that their kids have grown up to be brats – just awful people. 
Of course they are.

The little bit of trouble David and Roshanna caused may seem like small potatoes after the ugliness of Miss Importantly Virtuous and her bitch. But there are others who live near and on Pulaski Street or visit, and add much to the rude, coarse, unpleasant vibe. 

Like the law school students who debauch and deprave outside, all night, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Or the people who park illegally. Our streets are reserved for resident parking by permit, and permits are only given for registered, taxed vehicles. But there are many ways to game the system, so students and business patrons and employees violate daily. I confront them, “Would you like a police officer to explain it to you?” They are nasty but I persist and they leave. It becomes my morning routine to harass them. Add to them the off-premise landlords who plow snow from their out-of-law over-paved properties onto the street and our tree lawns, burying trees and shrubs in ice and snow. Or batter our fences with plowed snow, damaging and destabilizing them. And also the mail and car thieves who target our Hondas and mailboxes in the middle of the night, or when we are at work. The police who, when they find our cars, don’t call us, but rather tow the cars to their buddies’ garages where the cars are stripped. The dumpster servicers who come at two or four or five in the morning, illegally. And not least, all of the property degraders who can’t be bothered to shovel snow from their sidewalk or clear leaves and branches or paint their houses or do repairs or put their garbage toters and bins away ….

It is exhausting to live here. Have you had enough? Sartre said hell is other people, and he is right, don’t you think? I am so weary, and again for you, having to live the experience through my words.

~  #575 Rose Street  ~

Tree Nazi is upping the ante. The longer we are here, the taller the tulip tree grows and the more agitated he becomes. I threaten the landscaper he hires to illegally prune my trees and plants with a lawsuit, and the landscaper goes away leaving the tulip tree untouched.  At some point Bryce goes over to attempt detente. During a civil conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Kroscher he offers to clean up leaves and flowers that fall onto Nazi’s roof, and to keep branches away so as not to touch any part of the garage. A deal is made. We are proud of ourselves, we have forestalled his butchery with generosity and kindness. But of course he doesn’t stop.

After his daughter writes a letter advising us Nazi will cut the tulip tree as he sees fit we hire Mike to write the answer, threatening legal action and outlining the financial consequences. One thing we have learned: bullies are afraid – of confrontation, of the police, of the law. It helps that Kroscher is an immigrant and just that much more insecure. He is decrepit in his dotage and his daughter is on notice now, so we breathe a little easier. The tulip tree is healthy and safe. I am angry and tense, but I will my bitterness to recede, subside, dissipate. 

You too, dear reader, relax, and stay with me for one story more.

~  #76 Pulaski Street  ~

By the time PePper and Smoly move in I have learned a lot. What to do, who to be, how to be. I offer nothing to the newcomers. I draw clear lines, boundaries, borders. I am not warm. They are full of themselves, proud and arrogant and immature, like so many who stay in school into their thirties. I am resolutely unimpressed and disinterested, and firm. I deign to tell them the neighborhood history and the code of quiet and mutual respect we have adopted and maintain. Which is backed by the Noise Ordinance, and enforced by the police. 

I assert my values softly, but I carry the haughty stick of my will. 
“Please close your window, and turn the music down.”

Things go south rather quickly. 

It is March, and PePper and Smoly have been here four tentative months. A big announcement! They are getting married! Of course this is the most important event Pulaski Street has ever experienced, and they are smugly vocal about their perfect plans. Most of us are kind and congratulatory in a patient way. We are also careful to advise them of the noise ordinance, and that there are no exceptions. They are confused by the reminder, by objections and rules. “But it’s our wedding!” We are firm and resolute. They push back, we insist. Bryce prints twenty copies of the noise ordinance, and the mayor’s commitment to it. Jill and I post them on the doors of all student apartments, and also leave one in their foyer. They refuse to acknowledge or concede. Doris pens a letter, very graciously relating the raucous history of the neighborhood, and how we all adhere to the law so as to set the standard – to model adult behavior. They are careful in their reply: they do not intend or plan to make noise. We know what this means, and we are prepared. It is the night before the wedding. Their college friends from New Jersey arrive, and they are quickly drunk, obnoxious and loud, outside the house front and back. At twenty after ten Bryce goes over with Doris, and asks them to go inside. Doris reminds them of the letter she wrote and their acquiescence, insincere though it was. They laugh in her face; Bryce is appalled at their rudeness. He is advised by Smoly that they are “doctors and lawyers, we’re special, we serve society” – to mean that the rules don’t apply to them. At midnight PePper and Smoly leave to spend their special prenuptial night at a hotel. Their guests remain, and colonize the front porch, smoking; they open all of the windows, then turn the stereo volume up. To the highest level they can.

We call the police, who come. The vandals are astounded and confused. Smoly returns home and everyone clears out, except for a few who sleep over. 

We have scheduled house painters for the next day, and the workers arrive on time at seven. We direct them to begin on the side next to PePper and Smoly’s house. The painters set up their scaffolding, calling back and forth, joking, laughing. It is a pretty morning. As they paint, they listen to a radio they have brought along, playing festive, energetic Central American music. I do not ask them to turn it off, nor do I ask them to turn it down. Noise prohibition ends at seven a.m. Karma is a bitch.

Slowly but surely, the rats desert the sinking ship, looking disheveled, out of sorts, pained. Smoly, too, feels like shit on his wedding day. 

I have had it. I will not be crossed. By now, I fully understand that the law is my only friend. And I am a very clever girl, capable of the finest hairsplitting and Talmudic distinctions and parsing. I know what to do. I know exactly what I can do. Exactly how close I can get to every line. How to cross any line, unimpeachably.

How to damn with faint praise, for example.
How to gossip. 
How to tell a story after statutory limits expire.
How to get away with murder.

So I begin. Let me warn you – I am not pretty about any of it. I refer to her as slutcuntbitch, and him as the Pillsbury Doughboy to neighbor-friends. I reply to Jolene’s note about the late winter storm and the damage on Pulaski, taking the opportunity to show them in a bad light, knowing Jolene will pass the slight along to them and to others. It is easy to do – I only have to recount their behavior judiciously, and I am a good writer. I am persuasive; I leave the right amount to be inferred. I know how to tell a story, to hook my readers, to engage them in my point of view.  

Tsk, tsk, tsk.  

They start scrambling, to save face. They volunteer for a political get-out-the-vote campaign; they join the local country club. They try to befriend others, to gather allies. But most of Pulaski Street will have none of it, people are politic. They don’t want to get involved on the one hand, and on the other, they know me. They know and appreciate what I have done for the neighborhood, and so for them. No one will take sides.

PePper and Smoly counter, feebly. The strong nor’easterly winds took out one of two main trunks of a huge tree of theirs that sits on the property line, splitting it off ten feet up. It is probably a fatal injury to the tree, but death comes slowly to giant old oaks and there is no immediate danger or concern. As I write this years later the injured tree still stands, sprouting leaves, and branches every spring, raining down acorns in the fall. The tree will be here vigorously alive for many more years. I will it to live, I encourage it, I console it. 

They try to make it our responsibility because the tree sits in the easement. But it probably isn’t, so I forestall them, relentlessly. I give mixed signals. I debate, I argue, I question. There is much back and forth, but my return-receipt-requested letters are full of the best legal-ese amid detached neighborly understandings. Mike would be proud. Despite all their especial talents and gifts and entitlements they lose. They have no recourse but to sue, and even they know they can’t win. An arborist prunes and braces the injured tree and another in the border, and we don’t pay a cent.

Of course they are angry – they are wrong again. They are in the wrong just as they are on the wrong side of the law, but their adolescent selves can’t permit it, can’t take the hit. They do not, will not see the rights and needs of others. Smoly’s mother is a smoker, and the immaturity of the addicted has been passed on. It is a culture; he has been nurtured in it.

So they keep acting out. They shovel ice and snow from their roof and porch onto our property, even atop evergreen shrubs and trees. I catch them in the trespass and advise them the next notice will be from the police. They know I will call. I shovel the snow back to their property, and add to it. What can they do? I use every opportunity to wind them up. It’s on.

Everything I do is legal; nothing I do is nice. I move the mailbox to the gate on the fence between the houses, and our recycling bin outside the back door, on their side. The mail box lid hits loudly whenever it falls without support, as when a carrier has his hands full. Plastic and metal impact the recycle bin percussively too, and I make a sport of it, awarding myself points when I miss and have to re-toss. PePper is pregnant, they are finally out of school and employed, now they need quiet to sleep. Oh. Well. She is working nights and this affords me opportunity. Noise prohibition ends at seven in the morning. I save all of my construction work, and landscape work, and outdoor machinery disruptions for when she is sleeping, or they are in their back yard entertaining.

They have made a mess of the house, not doing maintenance, not understanding preventative care which is laughable because they are both health care workers. They do without the benefit of all we know and would have shared as the reincarnate Sissy and Andrew, had they been kind, considerate, humble. So they pay big in dollars and inconvenience to fix and fix and re-fix. Like the flat roof that leaks and catastrophically damages ceilings and interior walls, also causing a cantilevered sunroom to fail, which requires new, expensive, curved glass and a painstaking installation. The “garden”, now filled with disease- and pest-ridden plants, and others poorly chosen, placed and installed, is dead and ugly. The old fir flooring has to be repaired, sanded, resealed when it is ruined by dog and cat claws and filth. The ivy in the easement has colonized that side of the house, destroying the stucco and paint underneath. They have no refuge. Water collects in the basement, tree roots invade the foundation.

The old weathered fence between properties is ours and should be replaced, but we neglect it. As we snicker.

This could be a movie, do you see it? You are on my side now.  You are vested, you have been rooting for me, you are appalled at the behavior I describe and report. You’ve known people like this. Unless you are people like this. You hate my neighbors too. 

I am not done, it is not enough. 
I call the city to prune the tree in front of their house on the pretense that it overhangs my porch. The thing is, it overhangs their porch, gracefully, and provides a welcome screen for the front bedroom, filtering noise and light and offering privacy from high windows across the street. The Parks Department cuts the tree back vigorously, high and to the sidewalk as I know they will – the city is liable for damage to private property from nuisance trees, after all. Smoly and PePper move their bedroom to the middle of the house.

We are home from the theater. It is close to eleven, and the street is quiet, lights are off. I check the mail. I drop the lid. It makes such a loud sound. White noise soothes because it is sonorous and finely grained, continuous and regular. Intermittent big sounds, on the other hand, startle and scare. When they recur unpredictably it makes people anxious and fearful; you are on constant high alert, expecting trouble but not knowing when it will come. The military makes use of this fact in its terror and torture campaigns. So do I.

The next night I check the mail, but a little later. The day after it is a little earlier when I drop the lid. And so on and so on. I keep them on edge. I miss a day now and then to disrupt any rhythm, spoil any regularity, disallow any adjustment.

Another night it is late; the garbage trucks will be coming early the next morning. I have forgotten to put the recycling out, in the bin that is now between the houses. There is a lot to add, and I shake the bin vigorously as I carry it to the curb. To settle the contents, of course. The noise startles and offends even me as it amplifies, resounding off walls and windows. Oops.

I move large and unattractive plantings to the easement, blocking views and light from their windows and porch. We heighten the screen in front of their kitchen window. I leave my dead Christmas tree in their view-shed. They are trapped and they know it. 

Even so, I am nice to their one-eyed cat who is always escaping the house to sit with me in my back yard. She doesn’t want to live with them either. She knows who they are.

Watching through my bedroom window I catch Smoly in his pettiness, carefully sweeping weedy Elm seeds into my flower bed. I call for Bryce. “You have got to see this; Pillsbury Doughboy is sweeping.”  Not so soto voce this time. Later that day I re-sweep everything and more to the base of their porch stair. What can they do? Call the police?

This is what they do – they sell the house, and take a loss. 
Ha. Ha. Ha.

No one acknowledges them when they move out, no one says goodbye.
I have Bryce move the mailbox back to our front porch, and I empty it quietly at three in the afternoon every day.
I have only the coldest, most fake smiles for the new owners.

~  #575 Rose Street  ~

Nazi has hired workers – again – to repair and coat his precious garage roof with foul smelling, polluting sealants. It is autumn, though, and leaves are falling onto the sticky surface. The migrant workers’ solution is to use a leaf-blower to defoliate the tulip tree. 
I object.

Perdoname, ¿quieren ustedes hablar con la policía? “ They are paying attention. “Yo puedo llamar la migra, también …
My tone is nasty, condescending, my accent Castilian. 
Soy la Doña.

They pack up their equipment and leave.

~  #78 Pulaski Street  ~

We are back home, dear readers. My story is almost over, I have cleared away the coffee, and you are more than ready to leave. You are clever people, already you see the point of the story, you have arrived already at its conclusion:

But nobody fucks with me anymore.
And now, finally, I fit in.

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