The Once-ler Next Door (#337)

As usual, March has not been a great month. Fellow blogger Mark suggested I hunker down at home.

I tried. Things got ugly there, too. Literally.

The city decided to chop down all seven mature trees that form a canopy around our house. These trees are on the city property that border the street; even though homeowners water them, they belong to the city. Homeowners aren’t allowed trim the trees without going through an arduous permitting process, but city didn’t trim the trees for about fifty years. Their massive roots raised and cracked the sidewalks.

Older folks are likely to trip and fall. Folks in wheelchairs have a hard time getting through. The city was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The specter of lawsuits loomed.

The city marked the trees with an X of death and left a letter on our doorstep. I called the city and argued, pointing out that some of the smaller trees were not a danger to the sidewalks and had done no damage. I was transferred from department to department. A city engineer came out to our house, nodding and agreeing that some trees weren’t doing any damage.

Two days later the city told me it would all the trees down anyway, because 1) the city had already hired contractors, 2) it was more efficient to take them all down now, and 3) even the small trees would eventually be a problem.

The only nearby tree that remained was in front of Cop Neighbor’s house. This is no small irony; Cop Neighbor hates trees. The man astroturfed his yard years ago. He spent half the memorial service for one of our neighbors haranguing me about the leaves from my trees blowing into his yard.

Cop Neighbor even attempted to illegally cut the city tree in his front yard several years ago. Hilariously, stupidly, he hired the tree removal service on the exact same day that the city tree workers were finally out trimming all the trees touching the power lines in our neighborhood. (Probably Cop Neighbor never noticed all the temporary signs on our block reading, “No Parking, Tree Trimming,” as he’s used to ignoring all traffic/ parking laws.) When Cop Neighbor’s illegal tree trimmers started climbing and sawing, the city tree maintenance crew chief ran over, chewed them out, and then chewed out Cop Neighbor’s girlfriend. There’s a pretty hefty fine for touching city trees; what are the odds Cop Neighbor had to pay–LOL, never mind.

Undoubtedly, Cop Neighbor was thrilled when he saw the tree removal crews on our street. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was the one complaining about the sidewalks in the hopes of getting all the trees cut down. He must have been pissed that his tree was the only one left standing.

Cop Neighbor decided to take matters into his own hands. Sunday morning, when all the city workers were sleeping in, two overloaded pickup trucks pulled up in front of Cop Neighbor’s house. One had a handpainted sign that read, “Tree Trimming.”

The tree trimmers consulted with Cop Neighbor. Cop Neighbor moved his giant SUV from in front of his city tree and went back inside. The tree trimmers laid cones in the street around the city tree.

I stopped gardening. The tree trimmer gave me a friendly wave.

I asked, “What are you doing?”

“Oh, we’re going to top this tree.”

If you aren’t familiar with topping trees, good. It’s a terrible practice, often lethal to trees. Which is no doubt what Cop Neighbor intended.

I have always avoided feuding with neighbors. No one wants their home to feel like a battleground. I especially did not want to feud with the one neighbor who always carries a gun and works in a profession famous for harassing people without consequences.

When Cop Neighbor threw multiple late-night COVID parties, I did not call the cops. I knew it would do no good, and I knew his friends at the police department would tell him who called. Other neighbors, unable to withstand a crowd of drunks shouting the lyrics to “Oh, Sherrie” at midnight, did call the cops. The cops came, shook hands with Cop Neighbor, and left. The party raged on.

When Cop Neighbor’s unwalked, unexercised dogs barked and howled all day, I did not call animal control or the police. Other neighbors did. The dogs still bark and howl.

When Cop Neighbor didn’t put up a fence around his house during his remodel(s), I didn’t report his impromptu junkyard to the city. I never said a word about his old sofa, which sat next to his driveway for weeks.

The most combative thing I have done is fly a Black Lives Matter flag.*

That morning, if I hadn’t just watched the murder of seven trees, I might have continued to remain silent.

Instead, I summoned my inner Karen and said to Mr. Tree Trimmer, “That’s a city tree. Do you have a permit?”

“Oh, don’t worry, I trim city trees all the time.”

I crossed my arms. “It’s illegal without a permit.”

Mr. Tree Trimmer went to consult with Cop Neighbor. Another neighbor came by with his dog. I petted the dog and asked about his grandson until Cop Neighbor charged over.

Now, Cop Neighbor usually presents himself as an amiable person to the neighborhood. Today, he was in full cop mode, spittle flying as he yelled, “What do you care what I do the tree?”

I took a deep breath and said, “It’s a city tree. It’s illegal to touch it without a permit.”

“So?! What are you, the tree police?”

“These guys said they were going to top it, which will kill the tree.”

“So?! I called the city about it and they won’t trim it and it keeps dropping leaves on my car!”

Note: Cop neighbor actually has SIX cars around his house: SUV, sedan, girlfriend’s sedan, his 70’s muscle car, his police car (which he locks the keys inside of on a regular basis), and sedan that maybe belongs to his girlfriend’s wife or sister).

Cop Neighbor continued ranting. “You should mind your own business! No one cares what I do but you!”

I scoffed. “Yes, they do. But no one will say anything about all the illegal stuff you do because you’re a cop!”

Cop Neighbor threw up the hand at me and stormed back to his house, still yelling that I should mind my own business. The tree trimmers yelled at me as they drove away as well, telling me I was “everything that was wrong with this country.”

I yelled back, “Oh, yeah, the cop doesn’t care about laws, but I’M what’s wrong with this country!”

Sadly, most police departments produce people just like my neighbor.

When what we need is a Lorax.

*Cop Neighbor’s girlfriend responded to my BLM flag by flying a “Police Lives Matter” flag. People were constantly walking by, doing a doubletake over the dueling flags, and taking pictures. (Their flag came down around January 6, 2021.)

 

Miserable March (#336)

In The Wasteland of T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month.

In my world, it’s always March.

Once upon a time, March was the best month.

March was my birthday, back when birthdays were awesome (and even if they weren’t, I got cake). It was my mother’s favorite season, which always put her in a good mood. She’d exclaim over crocuses and forsythia while we flew kites. There was St. Patrick’s Day, on which you were allowed to pinch annoying siblings (biting would have been better, but I made do). Sometimes Easter occurred in March, which meant egg dyeing and chocolate bunny rabbits.

Back then, even the annual horror that is Daylight Saving Time didn’t occur until April.

I looked forward to March.

Until the March when our childhood playmate and close family friend was murdered. One of my baby sisters was born that same day, which meant that forgetting the anniversary of such a tragedy was impossible. (It also meant that there would forever be a pall over her special day. Sorry, kiddo.)

A few years later, my mother went to the ER at the end of February with a terrible headache. Several times. Her pain was dismissed by the male doctors…until she was unconscious and they figured out that it was an aneurysm. She spent March in the ICU; her heart rate went up any time her children visited, but she never regained consciousness. She died on the first day of spring.

Every March afterwards was a struggle. The death anniversary month weighed on my siblings and me, especially with all the happy March memories now tainted. Even emerging crocuses made us cry.

Bright yellow flowers on a shrub growing over a white clapboard house.
Such a cheery harbinger of doom. Photo from Village Soup, credit Lynnette L. Walthier

Don’t get me started on the fucking forsythia. Turns out it’s an invasive shrub that grows next to almost every goddamned road in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. We couldn’t drive ANYWHERE in March without seeing the yellow blooms my mom loved and crying.

Amazingly, none of us crashed and died when sobbing while driving. March was undoubtedly bummed it didn’t get another notch in its belt.

Because March wasn’t content with two tragic anniversaries. March liked to pile on the misery.

Got rejected by a college? Must be March.

Got laid off? March.

Significant Other cheats on you? March.

Pet died? March.

My siblings and stopped referring to the month as “March.” The time between February and April has been “Fuckin’ March” for decades.

It wasn’t until I read the blog of Kate Crimmins that I realized other folks who lost parents young also have a designated “shit month” that they dread.

In some ways, it seems silly. Terrible events occur in other months (September 11th, anyone?).

My mother had A LOT of kids and we have A LOT of pets; they don’t ALL die in March.

Trump was elected in November and took office in January. He did awful things and lied about them DAILY.

These are the things I told myself two years ago, when my Doctor Sister (one year older) and Lawyer Sister (one year younger) convinced me that we should celebrate our big birthdays (ending in 0) with a joint trip around my birthday (because my birthday is in the middle). It was to be an epic trip at an exclusive resort.

In March. 2020.

Sorry, everyone.

Fuckin’ March happened with a vengeance that year.

This year?

Andy working on replacing the garage door opener.

We’re not even halfway through and so far our garage door has broken ($$) and we’ve learned that our old car is beyond repair (no one will even try, they can’t find replacement engine parts). Have you tried shopping for cars recently? Literally no electric or hybrid cars to be found and even used cars are $$$$$$.

I lost my battle with the city; they cut down all seven seventy-year-old trees that surrounded and shaded our house (along with hundreds of other old trees in the neighborhood). Our street looks barren and our house will be ungodly hot this summer.

Putin invaded Ukraine, setting off senseless tragedies and a humanitarian crisis.

And last week, my father told me that his mother had moved to hospice care.

She died last Friday.

My grandparents and I used to correspond regularly. I had the best summer of my life with her and my grandfather. But Granddad died years ago, followed by all their friends and bridge partners. Gram, over 100, outlived all her peers.

She loved books and keeping up on current events, but for the last two years, she could neither see well enough to read nor hear well enough to listen to audio books or TV. She was lucid less and less. When Gram did manage conversations, if anyone mentioned a future event she might enjoy, she’d give them her best you-are-an-idiot stare and snap, “For God’s sake, I hope by then I’m gone!”

Now it’s March and she is gone.

I hate this month.

But sometimes?

March is a mercy.