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!”
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.)