Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

I lost my mind today, as I’m prone to doing. But I usually keep my crazy under lock and key behind the wooden door of my house.  I save my crazy for the special people who love me and are legally bound to me. Today I lost my mind on a perfect stranger on a public street. I’ll admit that I was pushed into reacting by fear and frustration by someone who unbeknownst to me has an insurmountable health issue, and that I reacted as poorly as a person can when their  back is against a wall.

The best and craziest part is that when I blew my lid at him he was inside his house sleeping and I was really just screaming at a cluttered second story porch from the bottom of the dirt driveway. The bad part for my credibility is that I attracted witnesses, and when another one of my neighbors asked me why I was running around acting like a child I just about dropped dead of embarrassment.

I was caught red handed, with a wooden handled wire garden rake shaking my furious grip as I dragged the trash and litter and broken glass out of my garden and into the adjacent driveway of the five unit apartment building in my neighborhood.

Small towns in New England that were founded before  cars and roads were developed will often have strange side streets, and dead ends that used to just be horse and buggy trails leading to farmhouses with acre lots and outcroppings of smaller houses that were all a part of the same farm. They were developed into multiple owner lots with the same leaky, old farmhouses from 1850 sprouted on half and quarter acre lots. Squeeze in a couple of rental units built in the 1970’s where property owners saw an opportunity to make income off renters because farm land was less profitable, and what you have present day is a really ugly mish mash of blurred property lines. And a lot of neighborly quarrels over land and appropriate usage of it.

When purchased, our house had some fences dividing the property we were purchasing from the neighboring lots. It was an old fence, hand built and nailed together probably in the 1950’s. We were able to brush off a lot of the unsightly activity across the yard because of the five foot fence. We had a very warm, rainy and atypical winter season. A driving rain took the fence down without much fight. Ever since that fence came down we have been exposed to the elements of our neighbors.

All of them are heavy smokers, but no fence prevented the lingering smoke from trailing over to our house, and personal habits aside they are mostly just normal tenants who mind their business and drive in and out without much noise.


One man, in his fifties I assume, drives in, slams around the driveway erratically and gives zero credence to personal property. Unless it’s his. And it’s all his. He has sticky fingers that man. He walks around, or drives in his 90’s model pickup truck and steals recycling bins from other people’s yards. He collects junk and hoards it. I suspect it’s all free stuff from the side of the road. He piles it up on his second floor porch and he’s “decorated” the driveway that adjoins our garden with fake flowers, broken china and broken, useless clay pots as well as regular “unfancy” trash.  I’m told by his landlord that the inside of his living quarters aren’t any better off.

Last summer we listened to this crazy man and his greasy ponytail have daily altercations with another tenant in his building. He was not even human in his unreasonable anger. He screamed profanities in a very booming voice, and every “FUCK YOU, YOU MUTHERFUCKING FAT ASS PRICK” that he screamed at the other guy seemed to reverberate off of the hills and carry on into the woods until the crows scattered from the tree tops. Apparently there was a physical fight between the men leading the less crazy guy to flee. I know this guy is a physical threat to humanity because I was eating ice cream at a picnic table outside of a neighborhood market with my kids when he pulled up to the sidewalk in his pickup truck, jumped out and cold hard decked a man in the head who seemed to just be innocently walking down the street.

We politely sat down with the randomly assaulted man at our picnic table while the shop owner phoned for the police.

My super fun neighbor just eerily jumped back into his truck and drove off.

The downstairs tenant whose porch is underneath his seems like a nice enough lady, she has a toddler of her own so I relate to her that way. I’ve actually only seen her in passing, until yesterday.

The beautiful early spring weather drove all of us neighbors to our yards for the annual New England ritual of raking leaves and throwing away whatever garbage surfaced when the last of the snow melted.

She came over while we cleared the last of the fallen fence scraps and introduced herself to us after six months of just spying on each other from twenty feet away. She explained she was spending her day cleaning out her crazy neighbors’ trash because he refused to do it himself. We obviously knew exactly who she meant.

We each went on with our individual projects on what was now just “no man’s land” at the broken fence and at the end of the day we finally had a clean view from our yard.

All of a sudden at dinnertime we heard someone rummaging through what sounded like glass and cans.

I looked outside and saw the bedraggled man with a very oily pony tail stub and a trench coat dumping out entire cans of garbage all over the land we had just finished cleaning up.

My five year old bolted from behind my legs and ran down into the yard to play. The man spotted me before I could drag my son back into the safety of the house. He started screaming at me “HEY YOU! WHO THE FUCK TOUCHED MY STUFF? SOMEONE THREW AWAY ALL OF THE SHIT THAT MATTERS TO ME WHAT THE FUCK WHO THE FUCK TELL ME FUCKING WHO!”

My eyes almost welled up in the panic I felt trying to get to my son who was standing in the yard, ten feet from the man berating me. I was on the porch still, probably thirty feet from him and twenty feet from my kid. I ran to grab my child and told the man that the neighbors were all cleaning today. Someone in his building had picked up his belongings and we had nothing to do with it.

The man blew up further, spreading trash around the dirt with his hands and ripping the dirty, browned, stained, disgusting things he was “saving” out of the pile and “organizing them” by lining them up on top of more garbage all the while screaming profanities at the top of his lungs. He immediately marched to the door of the woman I had met earlier that day and started screaming about his precious things.

I felt incensed for her. I felt intensely terrified and also frustrated that our invisible property line was now strewn with nails, broken glass and moldy decorations. I went inside for the night, hoping he would calm himself down and pick up his garbage before my kids could get a hold of it and hurt themselves.

I woke up to find the trash was all there. None of it had been removed.

In a fit I threw on my running sneakers and a bra and ran outside. I grabbed the nearest tool, the rake.

I was just shoving garbage back over into the driveway, raking with fury. The trash was bouncing and spraying into the parked cars when I had intended to make a pile. I was apparently screaming his name and telling him to come clean up his shit. That must have been what drew the attention of the neighborhood. I didn’t want the trash to just be scattered, I wanted to make statement. I grabbed a bucket and used my bare hands to grab anything and everything out of the dirt. I filled the bucket and screamed up at his window. “GET OUT HERE AND DEAL WITH YOUR SHIT!” And when he didn’t, I dumped it out into the back of his pickup truck. He might not notice since his truck is already full of junk. I’m praying for that.

The neighbors came out and called a meeting with the landlord who showed up that afternoon. I was informed that the man has been arrested three times this year alone but nobody can do anything with him, because he’s terminally ill with AIDS. Maybe if I were terminally ill I would be a huge jerk too, but maybe; no probably not.

The saner people who live on my street told me I was acting crazy. And I was. I own it. I had to stand up to that guy once and for all, or at least tell his window what I thought of him, and the guy’s landlord measured for a new fence and offered to pay for it.  Overall  I didn’t completely loose by being a derailed crazy train, but I don’t think the neighbors that I actually like are going to be inviting me over anytime soon.

I can’t wait to see what happens when that crazy guy looks in his truck and finds out I provoked him.

And by can’t wait, I mean I’ll be hiding inside all day.

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