Reality Truck: Back to School Neighbors
Every year around this time I get new neighbors-part of the high cost of living near the university and next door to a rental property. That's why, every year around this time, I drag out the phone book and start looking in the yellow pages under "Fencing." Despite the fact that I've been a city dweller for the past 15 years, I simply can't get used to the concept of sharing space. If a tendency to forge connections and bonds and communities is an intrinsically human trait, I think I was absent the day they handed out that gene. Wasn't it Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who adamantly maintained separate residences in order to preserve the integrity of their love affair? Well, I think they were onto something. I was raised in the country (where we had to drive to see our nearest neighbors). The standing joke in our neck of the woods was "We have to get in the truck and drive all day to come to the end of our property." And the neighbor's tired old punchline was, "Yeah, I used to have a truck like that too." So college was my first real experience with community living. It did not go well. Halfway through the first semester of every year my roommates would call the Dean of Students and routinely request a housing transfer. At that point, I got a (much-coveted) "single" free and clear for the remainder of the term. It definitely served as positive reinforcement, but probably not the sort Dean Mount had in mind. Graduate school was only an exacerbation of the poverty we all endured in college, so the living conditions were naturally worse. At one point, there were six of us in a two bedroom, two bathroom townhouse. I took over one bedroom and bath, while the other five occupants divvied up the rest of the house. The way my roommates tell it, one of them actually slept in the spare bathtub for an entire semester, but that's just a nasty rumor. She slept under the dining room table. We had studied what happens to cats who are deprived of their privacy in Abnormal Psych and I think our house represented a pretty fair manifestation of those experiments in that none of us are still on speaking terms. As soon as I graduated, I pretty much vowed I'd live out the remainder of my days in blissful solitude if at all possible. So I bought a house. That's when I learned that as annoying and disruptive as roommates and significant others can be, they're really nothing compared to the living hell your neighbors can put you through-if they have a mind to-as some of mine have. The first year was great. The neighbor on my left travels frequently and is a longtime friend. Her garage also boasts a tremendous treasure trove of yard and garden implements which she has granted me gracious and unlimited access to-probably because the sight of my unkempt yard has substantially lowered her property values (although she's never once implied that). The neighbors on my right have traditionally been another story entirely. That's the rental property. The first year it was occupied by frat guys, who turned out to be delightful. They helped me move in. They carried my groceries; mowed my lawn; took the trash out; raked leaves. They even chased away a would-be prowler with a baseball bat. Such nice boys. It wasn't until after they moved that I learned their good behavior might not have been 100 percent altruistic. I later found out from a musician friend of mine that these guys were Supply Central for a substantial portion of the pot-buying public. So I guess they were afraid I'd narc on them. I was actually kind of impressed-they were the only business majors I'd ever known who'd actually appeared to master supply-side economics. Sigh. I still miss those guys. Particularly when the leaves begin to fall...and my box gutters begin to clog up. Next came the crack whores. I frankly didn't care what they were selling, I just didn't approve of their clientele-who had a bad habit of mixing up the street numbers and banging on my door at 2 a.m. to demand (loudly) whatever service they were there to procure-be it sexual or pharmaceutical-and I had no intention of providing either. As if this wasn't bad enough, these "gentlemen callers" were always blocking my driveway. Maybe my priorities are skewed, but I was perfectly willing to ignore the drugs and prostitution-figuring, hey, everybody has to make a living. But the first morning I couldn't get my car out, I called their landlord. That's when I was introduced to the attitude that's apparently rampant among the majority of absentee property owners. It could be loosely paraphrased as, "Fuck it. I don't have to live there." Their reign of terror ended when these young ladies got busted-in a scene straight out of Cops-and I got lucky with the next occupants: a sweet young married couple with very well-behaved twins. But they moved out a few weeks ago, and now I'm back on fraternity row. I'm trying to be open-minded, but the contractors will be here next week to extend the fence to the front of my property-thereby permanently solving the driveway dispute. My parents were horrified. They live in a beautiful neighborhood where everyone's back yards run together for the span of an entire city block, so my mom naturally doesn't understand my obsession with erecting barriers-which she finds aesthetically offensive. My argument is that I'd much prefer a MOAT (stocked with alligators), but the city refuses to give me a permit. And let me save you fellow homeowners some time: don't even bother asking about razor wire and electrified fencing. So barring those options, the latest addition to the Reeves residence is a Great Pyrenees mix. At 10 weeks, he's not especially fierce, but the vet expects him to top out at somewhere between 100 and 200 pounds. At that point, problem neighbors become something of a moot point, as I thoroughly expect him to eat anyone who causes me undue stress. My own philosophy as a homeowner being, "Fuck it. I'm insured."