You can get a big tray of ‘em for about $15 at every Home Depot, garden store, and even most grocery stores this time of year here in Zone 6. Probably elsewhere, too. They grow just about anywhere. They’re common, easy to grow, pretty.
So, when it happens that a seven-year-old boy and his best friend accidentally let their ball get over the fence and into your yard, and they head over there to retrieve it, and they accidentally step on a couple of these pretty but common plants, the right response, if you must make one at all, is to politely ask the parents of the trespassing kid to ask him to stop going in the yard unattended. If you must say anything at all, that is. Many people, especially those who live in a neighborhood largely populated by young families with grammar school-aged kids, would just chalk it up to “kids being kids,” try to fix the flowers, or in the worst case, shell out that $15 and get some new ones and let it go. But if you must say something, the neighborly thing to do would be maybe to say, “you know, if Danny loses his ball in our yard, can you just have him ring the bell and I’ll go get it for him?” Especially to your next-door neighbor, the family whose house is maybe 12 feet from yours. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, you intoned, obviously without grasping, just a few hours prior.
What you probably shouldn’t do, neighbor, is to interrupt the party I’m hosting to angrily berate me for ten minutes on my porch, and in the course of doing so, imply I’m a liar and insult the intelligence of my child, you soulless, wretched, miserable, dead-to-me-forever fucking truckstop whore.
In the ten months we’ve lived here, we’ve interacted three times. The first was the night before the closing when I came over for the final inspection, and she regaled me with tales of how much she hated the family we were buying the house from. They threw loud parties. His kids sometimes drove on her hostas that line the driveway. He was in a band. It was all I could do not to laugh at that part. I wonder what she thought when she saw the movers bringing in all my amps and guitars the next morning. She also took time to warn me that my movers better not damage her sprinkler heads. She actually threatened me before I even owned the house. I shrugged it off. Maybe the other neighbors wouldn’t be this weird. (They’re not.)
Our second conversation was in the fall. She was out gardening, preparing for the winter. She got right to the point: some of the flagstones next to the driveway, down from the hostas, were out of place, and were my kids moving them? Why would my kids move your flagstones? I’m not sure they even could. They’re enormous. I don’t know who moved them, and I told her so, and I told her I’d ask the kids to stay away from them. She was insistent that someone had moved them, and she told me of the difficult job of rearranging them. Her tone bothered me; it was accusatory. This was our second ever conversation, four months after we’d lived there. She wasn’t just weird, now, she was actively unpleasant. But I could avoid her. Hell, people move to suburbs like this for the express purpose of not getting to know their neighbors, it seems. I could do this. Everyone else seemed fine, what’s one rotten apple? As I walked back to my house, her toddler, he’s maybe two, had wandered into their garden, the garden which was brown and dormant and ready for winter. She started screaming at him to get back to the driveway. Mom of the year. Shocker.
And then our third conversation was yesterday at about 5pm. I saw the whole thing unfold; Danny and Jack went to get the ball and couldn’t find it as it was stuck behind this decorative fence. The husband (whom I have not met in ten months of living here…he’s a doctor and works very strange hours, probably to get away from her) came out and yelled at them, chased them right out of the yard. I knew this was going to end badly at that moment, but I let the events unfold rather than taking the initiative…bad move, maybe.
A minute later, he’d brought her out there to investigate the damage. She was furious, pointing out this one, and that one, and I can’t believe they trashed it. Again, maybe I should have gotten involved, but I had other things happening, and I didn’t think it’d matter much anyway.
I thought the situation had diffused ten minutes later when some friends of mine told me that our neighbors were at the front door and they wanted to talk. One of my friends thought they were invited to the party. She warmly greeted them and said “come on in! John’s in the back!” “We’re not here for the party. We need to speak with him.” Oops.
I knew what was coming. I went out there; she introduced me to her husband, my neighbor of ten months (did I mention) whom I’ve never met. I was pleasant, tried to make a joke about it. He said he was studying for some kind of board cert and wasn’t around much. I’d do anything I could to get away from that miserable shrew, too, buddy. That was the last he spoke; this was her show all the way and he was just dragged along.
She told me that the boys were “destroying her expensive flowers.” I ignored these absurd mischaracterizations, keeping the high road. I apologized, offered to pay for the new flowers, even to have a landscaper do it. “It’s not about that, John. The thing is, I don’t want them in my yard trashing my garden.”
Anger rising. “They weren’t ‘trashing your garden,’ Theresa. They were looking for their ball and accidentally stepped on some flowers. Again, I am sorry for that—”
“THERE WAS NO BALL. THEY WERE JUST IN MY GARDEN, JOHN.” The way she articulated my name is hard to express, but there was deep loathing in her tone. She hates me.
Now, I’m furious. “Are you implying that they were in your garden for no reason other than to destroy it?”
Then, a sudden subject change. “The real problem, John, is that they came under those shrubs by the back door and could have stepped on our gas line. There is an electrical conduit there. They could have gotten hurt, John.”
“So it’s not about the flowers? It’s about safety? Look, Theresa, if your gas or electrical lines are in danger of being trampled by kids walking near them, you have a bigger problem on your hands.”
Now she’s furious, too. Hubby is staring at his shoes, wishing to die or to vaporize or maybe thinking of the nurse he’s fucking on the side.
“Look, JOHN, even my two-year-old knows enough not to go there.”
And from there it was pretty much lights out. My boy is somehow not as bright as her two-year-old—and bless that child’s poor, unmothered heart and soul, and curse this Universe for giving this innocent into the cold, contemptuous care of that monster—because mine doesn’t know her fussy, arbitrary, Mommie Dearest rules about where it is acceptable to be in her yard? No, she didn’t come right out and say “he’s stupid,” but her implication was clear. Her righteous superiority positively oozed from her pores: she’s better than me, her kid is better than mine, that’s that.
I couldn’t focus. If the husband had said it, I’d have dropped his ass right there on the porch. I closed it up. “OK, Theresa. I will tell him to stay out of your yard forever. I’m going back to my party now.”
She had more to say, but my body language made it clear it was time to get the fuck off my porch. So they did. Her husband managed a meek “enjoy your party” as he left. It took me a good hour to cool back down. My friends who overheard the whole thing could not believe I kept my cool…most of them know me from my younger days when I was a little, um, less evenly-keeled, let’s say. The conversation as I wrote it here reads back more tame than it really was. There was hot anger flowing through both of us. She hates me and my family, and I’m coming close to returning the favor.
The party broke up around midnight. It took me a long time to get to sleep, not so much because of the incident itself, but the realization that I now have an open “neighbor war” on my hands. I’m planning to be here for a long time and I assume they are, too, and I don’t much care for the idea that it’s going to be openly hostile like this. Over her plants, no less.
Not sure what to do from here. My first instinct is to go over there today and try to work out an understanding, but Sharon doesn’t think that’s possible…this woman isn’t reasonable, and trying to reason with the unreasonable can’t work. She’s probably right. We’ve heard about conflicts with other neighbors, and this may just be how it is. My second instinct is to go buy a tray of impatiens at Home Depot and shove them one-by-one right into her fucking gas tank, but that’s probably not the right answer, either. I have the high road and I should keep it. I am going to look at getting a 20-30’ run of 12’ high cyclone fence, the absolutely ugliest I can find, along our property line near my garage where the basketball hoop is. That should keep all but the most epic bad shots on my side of the DMZ.
Bleh. Not the start to the summer I was looking for. Right now they are staging the Memorial Day parade on the street in front of us, and there are three teenagers playing Cream covers on a float. They’re pretty good. There’s a scout troop assembling in front of Theresa’s house…they’re the only group who’s entirely on the street. I wonder if she came out and let them have it for being on the grass.
I gotta let this go. It’s too nice a day.