I’d like to be the kind of person who loves her neighbor in spite of his shortcomings. The sort of person who avoids the temptation to celebrate when said neighbor gets his comeuppance. I’m not. I’m Dean’s neighbor. And when that sinkhole opened up in Dean’s yard this week, I laughed in a tone reserved only for occasions on which mirth is entangled with bitterness and spite.
We live in an old Victorian home downtown. We are old-house people in an old-house neighborhood which we share with a gaggle of lovable, old-house neighbors. There’s Francis, the hippie who grows heirloom tomatoes and smells like a Grateful Dead concert. There’s Trina, the director from the arts center, Mildred, the author of a detective series, Jack, the town historian, Leanne, the homeschooling mother, and of course, there are our dear friends, the Arnolds.
We get along famously, the band of us. Lots of dog-petting, story-swapping and tomato eating. Our unfenced yards form a magnificent green space in which the children run and play. If Norman Rockwell were to come back from the dead, our block party might be the first scene chose to paint.
But then there’s Dean.
Dean’s home is at the center of it all, and while he likes the community green space, he feels strongly that his portion should be, well… Just green. And space.
Dean announced last month that his yard was no longer to be used as a safe passage for our children as they travel from our yard to the Arnolds. He is sorry. But his grass; he just doesn’t want anything to happen to it. What if, over time, a trail was worn?
Dean loves his yard. Loves it. His grass is cut more often than I am kissed. And loving the yard as he does, Dean can’t bear the thought that one of our 60-pound children might bend the a blade of grass in the wrong direction as they walk upon it.
Here’s the thing, though: Dean also loves his Jeep. Loves it so much that he parks it… on his grass! Everyone else parks on the street, but not Dean. Too much risk that the Jeep would get hit by another vehicle.
Let that sink in: He won’t let the children walk on the grass, knowing the only other alternative is walking on the sidewalk, which is inches from the busy street, but he won’t park on the street for fear of the Jeep being hit.
For four weeks, I have been fantasizing about taking out my anger on Dean’s lawn. I considered inviting all the neighbors over to drink beer and blow dandelions over the property line or tip-toeing over to his place in the night and writing a message in lawn with a big bottle of salt: Nice grass, jerk! The yard ultimately spoke out on its own behalf.
It seems Dean was out digging holes in his yard. He was preparing to plant a hedge of Cyprus trees along the property – a sort of organic “Keep out” sign. One knock of his shovel exposed an enormous hole – four feet deep at least. Maybe deeper. Wider for sure.
There is some sort of drainage pipe under the ground. Rainwater tears have leaked through the pipe and washed away the heart of the land until, at last, empty and unsatisfied, the Earth opened up her mouth and cried out in anger.
“Where are the children?” Look at the picture of the sinkhole again. You can see it. The longing.
Dean has a mess on his hands. He has been calling the city to complain, but it doesn’t sound like they are in any hurry to fix the problem.
“I’m just worried about the kids,” he said to my husband. “What if they fell in? They could be hurt.”
Oh please. And how would our kids manage to fall in the hole when they aren’t even allowed on his property? If he wants to worry about anything, it should be his Jeep. Parked out in the grass like it is. It could be swallowed up at any moment. Wouldn’t that be a shame.