Okay, so I borrowed this phrase from an Entertainment Weekly bulls eye, but it always comes to mind when I think about my neighbor. I’ve been both lauded and lambasted for being critical of my neighbors’ landscaping habits (see some biting responses to my driveway post). But I feel the need to comment once more.
To remind some, I live next door to a line of mini-mansions, whose square footage is about four times that of my family’s tiny cape home. So, whereas I mow my own lawn and shovel my own snow, I’m apparently the only person on the block who does. At first, something about this crept under my skin, and my old Midwestern work-ethic shouted from the back of my brain that these people were lazy. However, that particular voice has subsided. I feel like I do my own thing and they do theirs.
But I’m still stuck on my immediate neighbor. Let me set the stage with one particular story. At a barbecue my family hosted, this neighbor noted that I had torn out some bamboo. I told him that the bamboo (planted by the previous owner) annoyed me, because it wasn’t indigenous and kept creeping into my lawn and the forest behind my home, so I removed it. He said, “I like bamboo. I’ve been thinking of getting some.” The next week, while mowing my lawn, I noticed 5-6 baby bamboo trees planted between his property line and mine, on my side of the fence! I asked him about it, and he said he remembered talking to me about bamboo, and that I had agreed he could plant some. I reminded him that wasn’t the case, but said that so long as it was clumping bamboo, he could leave it. I said that in the future, he needed to discuss things with me before coming onto my property.
A month later, he was there again, planting something else. I walked out and confronted him, and he acted all confused. Finally, we came up with a decision about shrubs, and things seem to have settled down along that property line, although there is a dispute over where his property ends and mine begins.
I’ve tried to let that go. It’s over. But I’ve still been fixated on the guy. Here’s the other interesting thing about him: I’ve nicknamed him Lady Winchester. Sarah Winchester was the 19th century heiress to the Winchester gun manufacturing fortune, who owned a mansion in San Jose, CA. Mrs. Winchester constantly built upon her house with never-ending projects. You can tour the home today and still find unfinished rooms in mid-construction, doors that open to nowhere, and stairs that end at the ceiling.
Our neighbor is constantly adding or changing things to his landscape and his home. Since this past June, he has ripped out a huge tree and planted a smaller one right next to it, removed all his old brown mulch to replace it with new black mulch, installed a full bathroom in their basement, put in two full generators in the back, and now has a fleet of guys reconstructing the entryway to his house. I am not exaggerating when I report that 6 days of the week there is a construction truck, landscape vehicle, or service professional at his door, every week, for the past 6 months. My wife will often ask when I come home, “Did you see what Lady Winchester is up to?”
But why I am writing about my seemingly crazy neighbor on a fatherhood blog? Because there’s something about his erratic and presumptive manner that makes me feel protective. It makes sense why the land boundary pursuit would set my daddy-dog hackles on end at the sight of an odd man lurking at the edges of my property. However, his work on his house seems to disturb me as well. When I think about it rationally, I say to myself that it’s his house and his money and he can do what he’d like. However, this rational approach doesn’t seem to quell the uneasiness I feel about the whole thing. I think it’s because his erratic house work makes me wonder if he’s stable. And his boldness to plant things on my property makes me think he doesn’t care much about the privacy or preferences of others. Combined, these two qualities make me concerned that my family lives so close to someone who could be rather unstable, and that protective gene in my daddy-DNA fires up whenever I see another construction truck on the block.
Speaking of unstable, let’s we write a few more words about the historic Lady Winchester, since her story has helped me as I grapple with my not-so-neighborly feelings. Mrs. Sarah Winchester believed that she and her family were haunted by spirits. A medium informed Mrs. Winchester that the spirits were victims of the Winchester gun legacy: Native Americans, Civil War casualties, and others killed by her family’s guns. She was told that if she moved West and constructed a home for the spirits, she would be safe and no harm would come to her. Therefore, Mrs. Winchester perpetually worked on her home to quell the spirits of the Winchester family victims. She constantly built additions, tore out and re-constructed rooms, and added odd projects with no seeming purpose. All of this was done to quell her demons and keep her family guilt at bay.
When I think about my own Lady Winchester with this back-story in mind, it quells some of my own loathing and suspiciousness. To constantly change one’s house (whether one is haunted by ethereal spirits or not), is certainly indicative of some deep dissatisfaction. I’ve always believed that home is the one place in the world where we should be able to let our guard down. The place where we feel that everything is settled; where everything is all right. To find fault with your home time and again, and to disrupt your family’s daily life and routine for constant projects must be a sign of some deep uneasiness; a sign that things never feel quite right. My neighbor must be looking for some answer, some deeper satisfaction that will make him feel like everything is right again. Obviously he doesn’t believe that things are good enough at home. Perhaps he thinks things need to get better or bigger or fancier. Whatever he’s looking for, perhaps he thinks that some particular project will make him feel like his life is right again and that he can relax and put his guard down.
My neighbor likely has his own demons to appease, and at times it helps me take this compassionate approach. I’ll still stand my guard, since I can’t turn off that protective family gene. But eventually, I hope my neighbor finds some solace and isn’t tormented for the rest of his days, like old Sarah Winchester.