It’s a good thing we adore our next door neighbor, Bert, because for all practical purposes, he and Olof and I live together.
Sixty-five years ago, an obviously inebriated architect chose to ignore the collective 19,000 square feet of our two lots and build two houses a mere ten feet from each other. Worse, the houses are oriented so that rather than being parallel, our houses face right into each other. I’m trying to even imagine how any of this worked before 1955 when a six foot fence and a Japanese privet hedge were installed that created at least the illusion of any privacy.
Fortunately for us, the neighbors who have inhabited this house, have, bar one, been wonderful – a PSA pilot and his white go-go-booted flight attendant wife, then for 25 years a lovely spinster school teacher who was either hard of hearing or driven to defensive deafness by the 150 decibel activities of our kids directly under her TV room window.
The next folks (see “bar one,” above) turned out to be drum-playing house flippers. (I keep thinking that if I just changed the first letters of that phrase I could make it sound really obscene). There was nothing they liked better than having the family over on a Sunday afternoon and playing drums for seven straight homicide-inducing hours. They might as well have been playing in our living room, as among the many stupid things they did in their brief (but still over-stayed) tenure was remove all the sound-blocking foliage between our two homes, and also put in master bedroom windows on the side of the house facing us.
There was a good reason no windows were put in on that side originally. Suddenly there was no conversation in that bedroom, never mind other activities, that we were not fully, completely, and occasionally vomitously privy to.
When they flipped the house to the hunky, wonderful, single Bert, he wasn’t initially aware of the lack of auditory privacy between his bedroom and our home. But we were ultimately able to subtly, if unorthodoxly, communicate this to him. (I even won a Press Club award for that column!)Our houses are truly in such close proximity that in the summer when everyone’s windows are open, if Bert sneezes, we say “Gesundheit.” I always know when the Yankees are on, and on a play by play basis, how they’re doing.
Being a hunky (I really can’t emphasize this enough) 6’4” athletic guy, we often get strange sound effects from the other side of the fence, the origin of which provide Olof and me with many hours of cheerful conjecture in our otherwise dull and boring lives. One Sunday morning as we read the paper out on the patio, we could hear the sound mere feet away of something (someone?) being horrifically beaten. Hopefully not his lovely girlfriend, Diane? Should we be taking notes for our subsequent interviews on Dateline?“Well, Lester, we first suspected that Diane was buried under the house after…”
Turns out it was just Bert working out with a golf impact bag. More recently, we were eating dinner when we were seriously alarmed to hear Bert desperately gasping for air. We looked at each other.
Olof: New workout regimen?
Inga: Accidentally hung himself with the phone cord?
Fortunately, the answer was (a). No wonder Bert is so hunk-, er, fit!
When all of the power went out in Southern California last September, I chatted with Bert through the fence as he cooked on his grill (he prefers fish) and I sat out in the moonlight with my glass of wine.
Last fall, the 1955 hedge and fence between our houses precipitously died/fell down obliterating any privacy between our homes for a month. I sat at my desk in my nightgown answering email and watching Bert watch sports recaps in his living room until he went to bed at 11:05. A rebuilt fence restored some privacy to us both but until the new hedge grows up, I now stare into Bert’s shower from my kitchen window. Bert is 6’4” and hunky (sorry, I know I said that already) and my husband, Olof, accuses me of topping the new hedge every time it threatens to obliterate the view.
A base canard, of course. Bert recently told me through the fence that he had cut back the hedge because the new motion lights outside his window seemed to be going off and on all night. OK by me!
If you’re going to live in this kind of proximity to a neighbor, it helps that they’re the best neighbor in the world. When we were out of the country for two years on a work contract a few years ago, Bert saved our landscaping and aviary birds more times than we could count when the people who were supposed to do it didn’t. We’re destined to be friends forever if for no other reason than we have waaaaay too much on each other at this point.
The only thing that worries me is wondering what HIS version of this column would be. Name your price, Bert.
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