The Bad Neighbor Policy
By Julia Hayen
For many years, I've kept in touch with some friends - a retired couple who live in ... well, let's just say it's a semi-rural, and congenial neighborhood in a western state blessed with rather nice hills and mildish winters. They have a near neighbor whose antics over the last twenty years have enlivened the occasional communications that I have with these friends ... because this individual has the opposite of the golden touch. Everything he touches invariably turns to the stuff that is swept up from the street after the horses have gone by. It's been an unfailing gift; in the words of the demotivational poster, his purpose in life is to serve as a bad example.
If he were just feckless and congenial, that would be one thing: My friends say their other neighbors all are nice people; they would work hard to rescue such a person from various disastrous consequences. Alas, he is not. Besides the leaden touch, he is also self-regarding, confrontational and a bully. My friends and their neighbors have all learned cynicism, and to sit back and await the inevitable spectacular pratfall. Every neighborhood has one of these people; there was a resident of my parent's old neighborhood in Sunland-Tujunga who earned an official injunction against ever dialing 9-1-1.
My friends bad-example neighbor got off on the wrong foot, yea these many years ago in buying at the peak of the local real estate bubble. The property was a goodish size, planted with a thriving fruit orchard, mature trees, a lath-house and a beautiful garden planted with many exotic specimens. There was a well-kept double-wide trailer -many residents in this neighborhood lived in trailers or RVs while building a permanent house. The bad-example neighbor moved in with his spouse and children, telling everyone that he had bought this hilltop property as an investment. The bursting of the real estate bubble and a subsequent drought put an end to that plan; the bad-example neighbor pinched pennies by not watering the orchard - the fruit-trees all died. The garden also died, although the specimen plants could have been sold to local plantsmen and nurseries for a tidy sum ... if the bad-example neighbor had only known. Bad-example neighbor turned out to be slightly delusional about where his property-lines ran, and engaged in a bitter conflict with the owners of two adjacent properties when they put up fence-lines.
Maintenance on the double-wide was deferred, and deferred again: The electrical system was outright dangerous and the roof leaked. Bad-example neighbor did not really have any construction or technical skills, as many of the other neighbors did, and his spouse was, charitably, not the best housekeeper in the world. To save money on getting the septic tank pumped, bad-example neighbor insisted that his family not flush the toilet until they had been used three times. At that point, my friends and the other neighbors agreed that the place had become unspeakably squalid. Bad example-neighbor and his spouse divorced; most everyone agreed his spouse was struck with a moment of clarity. He kept custody of their children; she engaged in professional training and eventually got a good job.
Around that point, a wild-fire swept through the area, and bad-example neighbor's double-wide and the remaining outbuildings were casualties ... which did solve the problem of deferred maintenance, although several neighbors were appalled to discover that when bad-example neighbor evacuated ahead of the fire, he left two dogs behind. The neighbors fed and tended the dogs, one of which was slightly burned.
Bad-example neighbor lives in town, now - usually coming out to the property on weekends. He keeps a small tractor, in a storage shed. He has delusions about sub-dividing the land, and to that end has constructed a dirt road along the property-line, which has had the effect of shifting a seasonal watercourse to now drain directly into one neighbor's driveway and another's horse corral. There will be the inevitable repercussions from those neighbors about this. My friends sigh, with exasperation, now and again, wondering just how it could be worse. That it could be worse is not much comfort.