Neighbors

Kage Baker disliked having neighbors.

Most of ours over the years were amiable enough – because, mostly, they weren’t there. We didn’t often have any; not with two legs and last names, anyway. We lived in a lot of funny places, and they all shared a certain degree of isolation. We came to depend on it, especially after the crowded warren that was Momma’s house.

When Kage first left home in early 20’s, she joined me in a subterranean little studio apartment literally in one of the Hollywood Hills. It had a front door and a back door (12 feet of living room separated them) and was otherwise dug into a ridge of earth. The front led to a tiny lawn and several staircases running up and down the hillface; the back door led to a hidden staircase up a tiny canyon, from which one emerged through a jasmine bush onto the street. It was a lot like living in a hobbit hole, and while it was part of an apartment complex and we technically had neighbors – we never saw them, nor they us. No one’s doors came out in the same place …

We lived in a series of such apartments, engineered precariously in a series of ledges up the face of the Hills. We were usually in the lowest one. I don’t know why. But it meant that no one ever had to pass our door to get anywhere, and so we rarely interacted (even leaving out of it our tendency to depart via rain gutters and gullies).

When we graduated to real houses, they were all duplexes: separate entrances, not much neighbor contact. And then we left Los Angeles to follow the Faire all around California, and ended up living in contrived sets and cottages and trailers and carriage houses and garages. Our neighbors were usually deer and foxes. They are quiet, at least, except when they ran into the walls at night or ate your linen costume pieces off the clothesline.

From life in the groves we went to life in Pismo, and similarly eccentric housing. All I can figure is, we were habitually drawn to the unusual as long as privacy was guaranteed. Having to climb 14 steps and then descend another 23 to reach the front door was worth if if it meant no one ever came to the front door by accident. In Pismo, we found another tiny studio (full sized kitchen, no bedroom …. but cooking matters more than sleeping) and then! Then we found the House of Birds and Flowers, the cottage made of scavenged boat parts where we lived for 10 years. Being a tiny house in a huge garden, we had no neighbors but sea birds and gophers. It was paradise.

But insanity comes into every life, as long as you live within arm’s reach of human beings. Our last Pismo home was an amazingly large, bright, clean, mod-con-equipped apartment, with a view of the sea and a garage and two bathrooms and all sort of amazing things. It also came with 3 other apartments all in close proximity, and in one of them lurked … Ant-Lion Woman. ALW lurked in her hole and leaped out at prey.

She was a violent drunk, a failed matriarch, a cyclical lunatic. Her offspring and various mates slunk in an out of her door, and she fought with all of them all the time. Her favoured technique was to shriek threats and nonsense until she drowned out the opposition – although it usually just left. She didn’t like that, either, because it meant she couldn’t win. I think she had some vague vision of herself tearing the throat out of a thoroughly cowed victim; but no one would stay to be defeated, and so she was frustrated, as well.

ALW  would spring out of her ground level apartment to interrogate any visitors – friends, relatives, pizza delivery men, Mormon missionaries – most of whom would flee rather than fight for access. She sabotaged washing machines in the laundry room, she threw out other tenants’ mail, washing, packages, pets, and potted plants.

ALW loathed gardening with the classical heat of a thousand suns, preferring dirt and concrete: they were neater. Kage encountered her once, a few days after we moved in, and never, ever, descended to the garden area alone again. Most of her garden moved up to our porch, and she only went downstairs in my company. Ever. The woman utterly terrified her. Screaming nonsense and violence was something with which Kage could not cope.

However, as Kage finally decided, “We don’t have to acknowledge neighbors unless we want to. As of today, we have no neighbor!”

Fortunately, ALW got herself evicted before our fortunes changed and we had to deal with Kage’s illness. Boy, was that a lovely surprise! Kage had a wonderful several months of gardening downstairs again in peace and quiet. And it saved me from prison, I’m sure, as I would have killed ALW had she ever caused Kage one second of disquiet in her final year.

Anyway: while I have reams of stories about the antics of ALW, she is gone; good riddance and bad cess to the bitch. But I’ve discovered, to my HORRaaaaahhhh (as Momma used to say) that Kimberly’s next door neighbor is almost as bad. He wears a lot of camo, and likes to shoot ravens and mocking birds. He likes to take a weed whacker to plants of which he does not approve, and an edger to lawns he does not like, and clippers to anything that grows taller than he thinks it should – even if it’s in someone else’s backyard. A request on my part that he stop edging our parkway (he has edged to death everything we’ve planted  in the last year; no wonder it’s ugly!) resulted in a howling diatribe that concluded with him identifying me as Satan.

He was smiling when he said it, too, so it evidently gives him considerable satisfaction to have cleverly identified the Father of Lies and Prince of Hell as the fat, middle-aged woman next door. But it isn’t true. However, it’s also too freaking hot to argue with lunatics. And I really don’t want to relive ALW.

So I will do what I want in the yard, and ignore him, and remember Kage’s advice. As of today, he does not exist.

And now I will go water the lawn.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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6 Responses to Neighbors

  1. Mark says:

    If you *see* him “shoot[ing] ravens and mocking birds,” please get a picture (camera phones are great for this) & forward it to CA fish & game. Hunting ravens is definitely a violation of the Federal “Migratory Bird Treaty Act” (16 USC Chp 7 § 703-8), while *some* mockingbirds also qualify. It’s also doubtless a violation of numerous state fish & game regulations on hunting too….but that Fed violation is 6 months in the slammer + up to a $15K fine.

    Can you tell I’m a much bigger fan of corvids than human idiots?

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  2. Kate says:

    I too am a much bigger fan of corvids than humans. And I indeed reported him the last time he did it. Three blinking, shrieking police cars arrived to find him relaxing on his lawn in his camos and gun, since the little old lady down the street had also called – in a paroxysm of terror over what she figured was a terrorist attack. And he has never done it again, at least not from his front lawn where he can be seen … I think he was somewhat traumatized by the official reaction.

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  3. mizkizzle says:

    Mark makes an excellent point: Your neighbor is breaking the law by shooting birds and destroying property. If you report him to the police every time he trespasses on your property or takes a weedwacker to your flowers there will be an official record of his misdeeds should the need ever arise to take him to municipal court. It helps if you have before and after photos of your garden and keep receipts for replacement plants.
    Most police departments have a community liason officer who deals with nuts like your neighbor. The previous police visit seemed to cow him so another one might convince him to quit the weedwacking nonsense.
    The cops can also have him commited to a psychiatric facility for 72 hours if he is a danger to himself or others. Since he has a gun and was ranting to you about Satan (while smiling, no less!) I’d say he needs a psychiatric evaluation pronto.
    You were right to post your property as off limits to trespassers. If he injured himself while traipsing around your yard he could sue you for damages. Yeah, it sounds crazy but people do it all the time and some of them win!
    Another option, should he ignore the No Trespassing signs, is a lawyer letter. My husband writes them all the time and they’re usually effective, being written on law firm letterhead and containing ominous Latin phrases and dire threats of what will happen unless the misbehavior stops immediately.
    Anyway, neighbors frequently suck and I wholeheartedly agree with Jean-Paul Sartre that hell is other people.

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  4. Medrith says:

    How dreadful! I agree with the previous posters that he may be actually dangerous, not only to your yard and birds but to you, and that legal action may be called for. Sometimes lunatics are violent.

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  5. Jan Foley says:

    I’ve been incredibly lucky to only have had amusingly eccentric neighbours during my lifetime; nothing like the horrors you describe. I remember growing up adjacent to a very elderly Irish lady (in Michigan) who used to dress in long black dresses, shawls and headscarves, all of which had seen better days, and probably had come with her when she left Ireland as a young woman. She was not the sort to waste things.

    She let her entire yard ‘go’ and never mowed it …anathaema to many of our other neighbours. But once a year — every year, usually in late spring — she would deliberately set it on fire!

    I do remember looking out my bedroom window, anxiously watching, while this ancient woman in tattered black clothing, wreathed in smoke, stood whacking away at her impressive ground fire with a long broom. I was very young, only about 4 or 5, the first time I remember her doing this. You can imagine what I thought she might possibly BE.

    Of course the fire trucks would arrive pretty quick and save the neighbourhood, but her blackened lawn was a feature of our summer scenery for many years. I learned later on, when I ‘grew up’ that she had suffered from intermittent dementia, and thought she was still back in Ireland burning the heather, which they do every year to make it grow back more strongly.

    Poor old lady. I was scared to death of her, as were all the children in our neighbourhood …but she was actually very kind whenever one of us entered (usually inadvertently) her sphere of activity. I wish I’d had the wit to talk to her and get to know her instead of running away like a nincompoop. I bet she was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever encountered in my life. Sad to say, I’ll never know for sure.

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