Friday, March 22, 2013

If Good Fences Make Good Neighbors...

Robb and I live in a very diverse neighborhood, which we just adore. But even in the most idyllic situations, there are things that are, well, Less Than Perfect.

And I need to vent about one of these situations, and ask for some advice.

Our next door neighbors on the southwest side are a very hardworking family who speak virtually no English (to be perfectly clear, their English is just as bad as my nonexistent Spanish).  They keep an immaculate house, which just happens to be walled up like a kind of cheerfully painted urban fortress.  They have a neatly paved front yard, composed of concrete "stones" laid out like a chessboard. In this yard are perfectly manicured fruit trees, and topiary rosebushes that have colored spotlights shining on then.  The house has no doorbell, and is surrounded by a cheerfully painted steel gate.  When someone wants to park their car, they park on the sidewalk and honk the horn for minutes on end.  When we first moved in, the old man was running some kind of home-based food business, which commenced every morning at 4am, and which smelled like he was boiling down hookers in the back yard.  The smell was ungodly, and Robb and I were beyond delighted when he apparently retired.

And then there's the wall between our back yards, which I call the World's Ugliest Fence.

It is made, variously, of cinderblock, rotting plywood, old car parts, steel pipe, chicken wire, and orange construction netting.  It is eleven feet tall, way, way taller than the six foot fence height limit, regulated by local law.

I hate this ugly thing with a burning passion.

Our back yard was a complete mess when we moved in.  The entire place was choked with weeds.  Most of the trees were in terrible condition.  Almost every surface had peeling paint.  It was truly nasty.

And we've worked really hard to make things nice.

A few weeks back, one of the massive support beams that held up the orange construction netting fell down in a storm. I spoke to one of our across-the-street neighbors, and asked him to ask our next-door neighbor if he would let us take down the construction fencing.  This conversation was awkward, and I got the sense that we'd stepped out of line, somehow.  But the old man hired someone to pull down the rotting support posts, and take away the orange plastic netting.  We had a few weeks of reduced ugliness, for which I was very grateful.  The old man told our across-the-street neighbor that we he was happy to do what we'd asked for, and asked through our neighbor if things were how we wanted them.  Robb gave everyone honey from our hives, because we know our neighbors really love this. Today, as I was coming home from work, I saw my next-door neighbor on the sidewalk and rushed to give him some fresh eggs from our hens.

He was delighted. 

I was delighted.

Until I walked into the back yard and realized that he had a handyman over, who was re-building a structure to hold up more orange fencing.

And I'm so filled with impotent frustration that I don't know what to do.  The crappy orange construction netting is going back up. We're going to be stuck with an eyesore that we thought we'd gotten rid of.

So now what do I do?

I don't want to get in a war with an old man over a stupid fence.  I don't want to alienate my neighbors.  I don't want to call the city codes office, because that would just piss everyone off.  But I also don't want to have to look at this fucking ugly eyesore.

I particularly don't want to plant ivy, because it is massively invasive in the State of California, and also a brothel and breeding ground for garden snails, which are the bane of my existence (second only to the freaking fence, of course).

I don't want to build an equally tall fence on my side, for a number of reasons.  It would block what little sunlight we get in our back yard.  It would be illegally tall. And I resent having to spend what would end up being a lot of money to cover up someone else's mess.

All I'm able to do is stomp around the living room, and seethe.

Prior to the storm that brought down that part of the fence, I was resigned to living with this monstrosity, and just waiting for the day when -- somehow -- the house went up for sale. My plan was to hire a demolition crew on that very day, and rip down the eight foot tall cinderblock wall. I'd remove the rusting car parts, and cart away the orange plastic fencing and plywood.

At that time, I was reasonably okay with the state of things. I didn't love having friends over, and showing off the rusting crap, but I was resigned to the situation.

But now that part of the mess was removed, and is now going to be replaced, I'm furious.

I also have to admit that I'm deeply demoralized by what this fence represents.  We are the Enemy Forces that must be kept out with as high a wall as he can build.  It's the exact opposite of our relationship with our neighbors on the northeast side, which is as cozy as can be.

What the hell should I do in this sticky situation?


Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

The fence is clearly in violation of city ordinance, and they obviously have no regard for your feelings about it, so you should feel no guilt whatsoever in reporting them to the city.

Anonymous said...

Communication is key. You need to find a neighbor who can accurately translate. Ask the questions in a non threating way. "please help me understand why...." . maybe they are afraid of your chickens? Oh, and bring gifts.

Charmcitybalconygarden said...

Do you know why your neighbor insists on putting up that orange fencing? This might help with coming up with a solution. Maybe you can offer to put some other kind of fencing up that you can tolerate?

Chocolate Bunnies & Peeps said...

I just hafta ask............

Is there some reason for the netting? Do they have a basketball court over there that they need to catch basketballs before they exit the yard? Do they have a driving range over there that they need to catch golf balls before they exit the wall? Do you have cooties that they want to trap before they leave YOUR yard? :) Has he ever given a reason?

Michelle said...

My impression is that your neighbor doesn't realize how you really feel about the ugly fence. I think the first step is to start some communication. Perhaps the neighbor who helped you before could help again. Maybe the city has a mediation service that you could use? More honey might help!

Janet Johnson said...

You are a talented artist. Could you paint a garden mural?

Janet Johnson said...

You are a talented artist. Could you paint a garden mural on this wall?

Stefaneener said...

Oh, I realize how frustrating that is. Sometimes nature helps, but not often, and not on schedule. You may have to do some kind of mediation, or a three-way sit down with a translator. . . Maybe together there's a way?

And your writing kills me. Love it.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you're having such issues and agree that the why is key to the discussion. Once you know why you may be able to offer an alternate solution. You say that his house is enclosed? Maybe your neighborhood has had issues in the past and he's still afraid? Or that's how they do it where he is originally from? And code enforcement may be able to explain in a neutral way to the neighbor that the fence is not legal.

K said...

I wonder if he's trying to keep something from leaping into your yard. Or maybe he is superstitious about orange netting bringing good luck. Maybe it's in fashion in his home town to drape one's ramshackle fencing in brightly colored plastic. He could be a Tennessee Vols fan showing pride by decorating with cheaply available orange.

Find some Spanish speaking Mormon missionaries. They would make great mediators. They're always looking to serve!

Rabid Quilter from CA said...

Your neighbor wants something tall (?) but I think understands that you need the sun in your yard. Could you spray paint your side of the orange another more appropriate color to blend so you don't notice it so much?

AmyMarieR said...

If the fence existed when they bought the house, perhaps they assume you want it maintained with the same materials and appearance. The situation definitely needs some clear communication. Can anyone you know be a translator? If not, perhaps write your thoughts and preferences for the fence in a letter. Good luck!!

Paperback Writer said...

Your backyard is beautiful, the parts of the yard you've personally constructed are really lovely, and therefore, your friends and neighbors can wisely infer that you have no role in the World's Ugliest Fence.
I agree with AmyMarie that the neighbors probably thought you were asking for the removal of the netting because of the storm damage, not because you didn't like the netting and saw this as an opportunity to get rid of it. I also agree that finding out why the neighbor thinks the orange netting is necessary would be good.
Why did your across the street neighbor feel uncomfortable making the initial request -- have you asked? (it sounds like you are more comfortable talking to them -- some insight into your backyard neighbor's relationship with the rest of the neighborhood might be helpful)(There's also the passive-agressive route of thanking your across-the-street neighbor for their help, and laughing over the fact that you really loved it when the netting was gone, and had thought it was gone for good, but alas, no. It might get passed along.)
Also: would green netting (instead of orange) make it better? (probably not)

lou p otter said...

Do you know for sure where your property line is on that side?
Is it possible the wall is even partly on your property?
Do you have any friends in common who could ask in a nice way why the want such a high fence?
And, yes, find a kindly mediator who's bilingual.
I feel for you. I have a neighbor who disputes our property line. If her house ever goes up for sale I plan to contact the realtor about the exact lines. (She has a tree which is actually on my property as far as I can tell.)

K said...

You know those Japanese screens that block off parts of a room? Maybe you can find some old shutters and make a garden screen for the wall. (In all your spare time). Or some old doors. That could make a pretty cool backdrop. If not, here's a cool site I found for upcycled shutters to look at just for fun:
Maybe it will distract momentarily?

Town Mouse said...

If attempts to communicate about this won't work, there must be a vine that can help obscure most of the monstrosity. Aristolochia will do if it's shady. The vine might like the netting to climb on...
Oh, and does your city have a mediation service? That's usually free, and they usually have multiple languages. Easier than enrolling a neighbor. Or a Mormon.

Anonymous said...

I would paint the different parts of the fence in shades of brown and browny-green like a natural quilt; make it kind of fade into background. Maybe even paint big shadowy leaves on it. It looks to me like your neighbor is hoping to keep out critters like cats or raccoons. I hope you can at least get him to get rid of the orange netting. Good luck! Cynthia


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