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.)


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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

28 thoughts on “The Once-ler Next Door (#337)”

  1. I take my (metaphorical) hat to you for channelling all the shitty March vibes and taking on this bully. For we know that’s what he is – oh yes, we do. Interesting isn’t it how, when you’re probably the sole neighbour who hasn’t registered any formal complaints about him & his law breaking behaviour, that he identifies you as being the troublemaker. Other than your flag, one cannot help but wonder if it’s something to do with your less than white husband and child?

    I am raging on your behalf. OK, I’m raging about lots of things at the moment but, even so, the guy is taking the biscuit. I don’t know how well that British saying translates, but I hope you get that I wholeheartedly agree that he is decidedly taking the p***. Please insert every bad word you know here (and then some extra ‘cos I can be quite foul mouthed when I get in my stride).

    1. Thank you for raging on my behalf. He is indeed a big bully taking the biscuit. And he’s clearly throwing quite the tantrum because someone actually said “no” to him.

      Honestly, you’d think even he could read the room. There were kids in the neighborhood who put signs on the trees begging the city not to chop them down: “Trees are good! Don’t take our trees!” *sniffles*

      Yet he wants to take down the last tree. Such a dick.

  2. This all sounds so horrible. I’m sorry. This is maybe one instance when it’s good to live in a city like Joburg, where tree roots ruin pavements all the time but the government is way too disorganized to do anything about it. (Although they also can’t fix potholes or keep the streetlights or traffic lights working.)

    1. Yeah, I guess not all progress is progress. Some of the doomed trees are now considered invasive species and there is a city arborist now who actually plans which trees should be planted where. There should be a total of 6 new trees planted. Eventually. But it will take years to rebuild the canopy.

  3. Cop Neighbor sounds like a real tool. You have guts for calling him out…good job! I once heckled a tree trimmer. True story. Kept calling him a murderer, ha.

      1. A Douglas fir. He wasn’t just trimming it – he was cutting the whole thing down. Pissed me off because it was right behind our fence and we were losing a forest back there. Sure enough, they ended up putting in a new subdivision. I know it wasn’t the tree guy’s fault, but I was annoyed anyway!

  4. When I moved in the next door neighbor came over and asked if I was a cat person. (Yes, I know but she didn’t know me.) Turns out that she feeds 3 semi-ferals and the neighbor on the other side kept reporting her (what she did was not illegal). She was visited by the police who told her they had no jurisdiction and the animal control people from the next town over (because our township doesn’t have any.) She put up a huge hedge and did her best so he couldn’t see into her yard (which is gorgeous!). Anyway, he moved. People on both sides of her are animal people now and she couldn’t be happier. Neighbors can be jerks. Oh yes, he’s also the only neighbor who painted all his trim work black (he was goth) which was not an approved trim color in our HOA. New neighbors will have to eventually paint it. I’m sorry for your trees. I’ve already planted one here and more are coming. I love trees.

    1. I love trees, too, and there just aren’t many big shady ones out here. That’s why it was so hard to lose so many.

      I hope he moves. But I am sure he never will, he’s sunk too much into the house with all. three remodels. (Andy was rooting for COVID to get him, especially with all those parties.)

  5. Cop Neighbor is quite a fellow, isn’t he? I don’t know if I’d have had the nerve to stand up to him, so kudos to you. I have no words of wisdom about how to deal with him, other than to plant as many trees in your yard as you can. Maybe some of your leaves will fall on one of his many cars.

    1. I’m debating between planting a ginkgo biloba and a Persian mulberry next to his driveway, which is right on the property line. Or maybe a jacaranda. All are notoriously messy.

  6. Oh man, cop neighbor sounds awful… I can’t believe he was so aggressive and hostile after you made such a minor comment! And that Police Lives Matter sticker battle… ugh. He sounds like the neighborhood bully. I’m so sorry he made your March even worse than it was. He sounds like a truly awful neighbor.

    1. He’s utterly oblivious to his impact on others (including his poor dogs). I could horrify you with conversations about his entitlement, misuse of LAPD resources, etc. He’ll probably end up police chief.

  7. Cry me a river. Poor whiny cop has to brush leaves off his cars. Where does he put all those cars anyway?

    When I was a kid, several streets in my small hometown had huge maple trees on both sides with roots that made the sidewalks a real obstacle course and a fun challenge for bike riding. They’re lovely, shady streets still although I haven’t tried the sidewalks recently.

    1. As to his cars, he puts 2 in his giant garage, 1 in the oversized driveway, 2 on the street in front of his house, and 1 in front of my house.

      And does he ever moves the ones that are in the way for street sweeping? No. Does he ever get a ticket? Hahahaha. He once told me that police/ parking run the plates before handing out tickets. The plate identifies the car as being owned by an LAPD officer and no ticket is given.

  8. Can you not report this guy to a superior? Do you have an equivalent of our UK police complaints authority? Sounds vile

    1. I wish I could. But a) the LAPD is law unto itself, and b) this is the prevailing culture at the LAPD. They truly believe that they deserve to be above the law–the very laws they are supposed to enforce. There is no higher code than “protect your fellow officer”–even if you have to lie, destroy evidence, etc. A cop committing misdemeanors right and left is nothing; there has to be video evidence on the news of a cop shooting a white person before there are any kind of consequences.

      The only officer I ever met that was not like this was a Black officer who literally did everything by the book. He used pepper spray and not lethal force when attacked by a man high on PCP. When he had an accidental gun discharge (no one was hurt), he reported it, etc. So you know what my Cop Neighbor called this upstanding officer? “A square.” With no small amount of disbelief and contempt.

      1. Interesting. But isn’t this the kind of thing the podcast “This American Life” often covers? You should contact them for advice about low level irritating misdemeanours committed by cops – although I admit most of their stuff is about higher level crimes. But low level stuff is still wrong and sets the culture

  9. That sounds like such a terrible time and a terrible neighbour. The poor trees. The city does sound like they had good reasons to chop them down, but those were some lovely old trees that stood for so long. You sure have put up a lot with your neighbour, differing views and parties and all. And from the sounds of it, it is the law breaking the law, and getting away with it. And try to fight these battles but sadly they will be losing battles. But karma always comes around.

    I don’t have annoying neighbours like the one you have. But the neighbours upstairs my apartment are always renovating something – drilling, sawing, all of that. Even on weekends.

    1. Oh, construction noise is miserable. The third time Cop Neighbor renovated his house, my husband got me noise-cancelling headphones. It helps, but sometimes I dream of living in the backwoods of New Hampshire, where it is so quiet you can hear the leaves fall…

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