Sunday, August 10, 2014

clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Twenty-eight years ago, we moved into our home in the small suburban community of Elkins Park, just outside of Philadelphia, not far from where my wife grew up. We live on a quiet block, though most blocks in this neighborhood are pretty quiet. The only real noise comes from the infrequent blasts from the nearby fire house siren and the clatter of the regional railroad that runs twenty feet behind my house. (Having the train so close is actually a plus, as I can practically roll out of bed and make it to the station at the end of my street in a matter of seconds. Literally, seconds!) Aside from those two sonic sources, there are few disturbances... except for my neighbors on either side of my house.

I have chronicled the unneighborly exploits of one neighbor (here and here and especially here), but the other next-door neighbors are giving that nut a run for her money.

Our house is colloquially known as a twin. In other parts of the country, this type of house is known as a two-family dwelling, semi-detached or a duplex (although a duplex means something different in the Philadelphia area). A "twin" (or whatever you choose to call it), is simply a single building, with a separate entrance to each dwelling and there is a shared center wall. The lot line runs down the middle of the house. You own the half of the lot your home is on. You are responsible for the maintenance and insurance on your half of the house/lot. You can paint your house a different color than the other side, different roof color, whatever you'd like. Clear? When we moved in, the house connected by that aforementioned center wall was the residence of two women who kept to themselves. We would see them when snow needed to be shoveled or grass needed cutting, but we never socialized. After they moved, a succession of nondescript occupants moved in for short periods. Then, Len, a young, hip accountant with no apparent accounting skills, overpaid for the place and turned it into a fucking frat house. He threw regular, loud parties that raged into the wee hours of the night, frequently spilling out onto his front porch and lawn. The limited available street parking was hogged by visitors who would repeatedly block my driveway. After several years, Len's employer transferred him to sunny southern California. Unable to unload his investment outright, he offered the house as a rental. A slew of college students moved in for an 18-month "par-TAY" that picked up where Len's inconsiderate celebrations left off. The parking situation grew worse, as the four tenants each owned a car (as did their numerous guests) and soon our block began to resemble the long-term parking lot at the airport. At the end of a year-and-a-half, the students vacated and, thankfully, a normal, respectful family moved in - Rae and O. O., a general contractor, had his sights set on the slowly-crumbling, long-unoccupied single home directly across the street. Not long after he moved his family in to the home adjacent to ours, he packed up the whole shebang and moved ninety feet away, single-handedly rebuilding the place around his patient family's daily life.

Then, Fan's family moved in.

I sensed something off about them from the moment I met them. They struck me as out-of-place hippies — in a Manson Family sort of way. The dad, (who I'll call "Cool"), gave the impression of one of those survivalist guys who stockpile canned food, drinking water and high-powered weapons in his basement, knowing that government agents are gonna come pounding at his door after they shut off the electricity. Mrs. P and I attempted to be friendly (well, Mrs. P anyway), even inviting them to our yearly "Night Before Thanksgiving" get-together. They came, stayed a very short time and left. And slowly withdrew. They turned down subsequent invitations, or just plain didn't show up. No more neighborly "Hellos." No more acknowledging nods as we simultaneously dragged our trash cans down to the curb on Tuesday evenings for the next day's collection. We didn't push it. If they wished to be left alone, I would happily grant that wish. I've been doing it to my other neighbors for nearly 30 years, so I'm pretty good at it.

One evening, Mrs. P and I were sitting down to dinner. With no effort, I have a clear view of my attached neighbor's backyard from my kitchen window. I looked up from my veggie burger to see Cool skip off the wooden deck at the back of his house. He was carrying a plastic food storage container in his hand. He walked toward the fence that separates his yard from the train tracks just on the other side. He stretched up on tip-toes, removed the container's lid and dumped its contents over the fence. He then returned to his house. Over the next few weeks, I saw this ritual repeated almost daily.

In 28 years, I have never seen nor smelled the noxious odor of a skunk in our neighborhood. Since I witnessed Cool's "dumping procedure," the stench of skunk fumes has been a weekly occurrence. It's odd and bit coincidental that they started at the same time. Soon, the skunk smell was accompanied by this:
A groundhog! A fucking groundhog was brazenly sitting in my neighbor's yard, munching on some delicious, discarded morsel, thanks to Cool's Wildlife Smorgasbord. Whatever shit he's been dumping over the fence (a violation of township regulations), is now attracting all sorts of property-damaging critters. My neighbor is a renter, so having no real financial interest in the property, aside from a possible security deposit, he obviously doesn't give a shit. And, with a landlord living two-thousand miles away, even less of a shit is given.

In the past, I have called the local police for various reasons (a stolen bike, an on-going annoyance lawsuit, a bat that got into our house) and they have always been attentive, helpful and courteous. I called the Township Municipal Services to report this woodland creature incident and I am still waiting for a return phone call. In the meantime, the skunk smell is overpowering, strong enough to bring tears. And I spotted the groundhog in the yard again this morning. I think he gave me "the finger."

I wonder when the next round of neighbors are due, because this one (and his four-legged, furry pals) has over-stayed his welcome.

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