Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An odd thing

It rained yesterday. After days of uncharacteristic warm sunshine, it’s suddenly back to woolly grey skys and rain that drizzles down in fits and starts.

But that’s not the odd thing.

I slipped out of the house last night in the just-dark of evening to get snack supplies. Huddled into my winter parka, I walked head-down to keep the rain out of my eyes. (We left our umbrella at a party a month ago and I haven’t bothered to replace it.)

At the corner, I vaguely noticed a man walking in front of me under a broad candy-striped umbrella. We both walked briskly, our steps almost in synch, me keeping a few polite paces behind him. As we approached the train line, the warning bell began to peal. Both us acted instinctively, running to make it across the tracks before the gate shut down and blocked our way.

At this time of night, when people are arriving home from work, there’s a fair bit of train traffic. It’s common to be stranded on the wrong side of the tracks for up to five minutes.

As we hit the other side, the wooden barrier clipped my arm as it fell. I let out an instinctive cry of surprise. In front of me, the man with the umbrella made a similar sound. He turned to look at me, briefly, annoyed. I prepared to roll my eyes in solidarity.

‘It hit me!’ he spat. ‘And it’s because YOU were chasing me!’
And with that, he spun around and continued his brisk pace down the road, towards the supermarket. I opened my mouth to reply, but I’d been caught by surprise. By the time I’d formed a reply in my head, he was gone.

My reply went something like: ‘fuck off you asshole, I wasn’t chasing you, I was running to get over the train line just like you, and I just happened to be behind you’.

A fraction of a second after I shut my mouth again, I was glad I did.

I realised, to my further surprise, that the man was my next-door neighbour.


F kicks his footy over the fences on both sides on a semi-regular basis. I’ve sent him over to this man’s house a few times to fetch his ball. The man has always been quite congenial. F was impressed with his wife, who told him she was an Essendon fan and made footy chit-chat. She told him he could climb over the fence any time.

I accompanied F next door a couple of weeks ago. On this occasion, I had booted the footy over the fence myself. The man led us through the house, which, I noticed satisfyingly, was even messier than ours. It was littered with stray items of clothing, newspapers, coffee cups and plates bearing remnants of food and drink.

The backyard was a jungle of knee-high weeds and straggly pot plants.

After he watched us retrieve the footy, he told me that he’d been broken into by people who had come from over our fence before.
‘Oh, really?’ I said. ‘That’s no good.’
‘I notice you don’t leave your lights on when you go out,’ he said.
‘We do.’
‘Yes, that’s a good idea.’
He led me back into the kitchen and fumbled through his drawers until he found what he was looking for: a kind of extension plug. It was, he told me, a timed light switch.
‘This is what we use’ he said. ‘They’re very good.’
‘Ahh, great.’
‘They’re very cheap.’ He gave me a meaningful look. ‘You can buy them from K-Mart.’
‘Yes.’ Another look. Then: ‘You should get some.’


Today, every time the husband leaves the house, I tell him to chase the man next door for real if he sees him. I think this would be very funny, plus it would teach him a lesson about the difference between chasing someone and happening to walk behind them.


I should point out that I really, really don’t want a feud with my next-door neighbour.

At our last house, we had a junkyard on one side of house. The old couple who owned it lived a few doors down from it, and the man used to semi-regularly visit to play with his rusted car parts and other bits of junk, and, bizarrely, to mow the lawns. He would often whistle, softly, through his teeth as he shuffled through the side gate and along the edge of our fence, driving our dogs crazy.

One day, The Husband, who loves the dogs almost more than he loves me, confronted him about the practice. To be precise, he stormed out the back door and onto our deck, called the old man a ‘fucking asshole’ and asked him to ‘stop riling up my dog’.

One of the dogs had a habit of somehow jumping the six-foot fence on an almost daily basis. Whenever he ran into the old man on the street, he would chase him and nip at his ankles. This is because the man had once tried to kick him.

We got a $300 fine and a warning from the council on one of these occasions, after the old man reported the dog for being out on the street.

F had a bad habit of saying, quite loudly, ‘we don’t like that old man, do we?’ as we got home from school at the end of the day, especially if the man was in the front yard of the dump. It wasn’t that he was trying to make a statement, simply that the sight of him would remind him that we don’t like him.


Mice were a semi-regular occurrence in our house. The woman who lived over our back fence told me, in conspiratorial tones, that she and her son had seen swarms of baby mice breeding in one of the car wrecks at the dump while retrieving a football. She, too, had problems with mice.

When I got back from two months overseas, the mouse problem in our house was so bad that every time I opened a kitchen cupboard, a mouse would dart out from behind the tinned tomatoes and chewed cereal boxes. A mum from school stopped in for a kitchen chat one afternoon, as our kids raced around the back yard in their school uniforms. I offered her a coffee.
‘Do you have sugar?’ she asked.
Despite misgivings, I opened the cupboard door. As I reached for the plastic sugar container, a mouse dashed by the open door on its way to a dark corner. I screamed, jumped back (without the sugar) and slammed the door.
‘Do you really want sugar?’ I asked.
‘No, not really.’

The Husband was away at the time. F and I were a pair of old women, shrieking and leaping onto chairs at the appearance of mice. I put poison in the cupboards (threw it into cupboards) and set up a new, open cupboard on a bookshelf. Everything went into plastic containers.

F had never wanted to move house. (I, on the other hand, had wanted to soon after we moved in.)

‘Mum’ he told me. ‘I think we should move house.’
‘Me too. Why?’
‘I don’t like mice.’


So, yeah, I don’t want a fight with my neighbour.


Jacob said...

Oh my god, what a retard your neighbour is. For a second I thought you were going to say that he got so freaked out by you 'chasing' him that he ran out on to the tracks and was hit by an oncoming train.

That would have been tragic/hilarious.

Ariel said...

Hee hee. (Oops, musn't laugh.) Yes, that WOULD have been an odd thing. And I really should stop laughing to myself at the thought ...

Helen said...

Oh the stories I could tell (bear in mind I live in the same neighbourhood - the man with the junkyard wasn't on D*** street was he?!) Then there was the woman who had a brown rusted (as in, rusted all over, not painted brown) EH in her driveway for two decades. I was told her son had died in it in an accident and she just couldn't bring herself to part with it.

Also coincidentally, we had mice last week for the first time in four years. I put some mice stuff down and son found a dead one yesterday. I hate poisoning them but can't think of what else to do.

Ariel said...

YES! Your blue house by the park isn't, by chance, the one on a street that comes off that street?

If so, I was probably a bad neighbour to you ... the stray dog that was often running around with a woman running after it tearing her hair out ... mine. And me.

Is that EH still there? I was actually told the old man keeps his junkyard for a similar reason - his daughter died in that house and they can't bear to get rid of it. I do feel very sad for him if that's true - but it doesn't explain the junk.

redcap said...

For a second I thought he was going to share his giant candy-striped umbrella with you. I guess that means I'm not such a miserable cynic as I thought.

However, he sounds like a tool, so I'll give you my usual suggestion for wreaking vengance on the neighbours: fill his letterbox with sauce. A catering pack of Blue and White tomato should do the trick.

eleanor bloom said...

I can sympathise. I used to have a dog (my husband's) who would jump high fences too. Strange women in the neighbourhood would ring me up - having gotten close enough to see the phone number on his tag - to tell me my dog had jumped into their yard and had been trying to make sweet love to their tiny in-season pooch. Some were a bit scared cause he was pretty big and, apparently, 'jumped the gate like a cat!!'.
Not much fun that...

Nai said...

I was right with Red in thinking that he would offer you his umbrella, where has my gen-Y cynicism gone?
When I was little Ma and I had an old and nasty neighbour who used to call the police to complain about the 'loud music and many young men' at the house. The police stopped responding to him when they were called to a loud party at 6pm on a Friday night. It was my 8th birthday bash and the clown was in the middle of his set.

Ariel said...

Red, I'll give him one more chance and then try your prescription for treating tools!

Eleanor, you can obviously feel my pain about the dogs. Sigh.

Nai, that's a cracker of a story. I love it.

Helen said...

The EH has gone now. You know that syndrome where a house changes and you can't tell which house it is; maybe it's just me. I can't locate the house but I suspect it's gone and had a semi-mcMansion built on it.

I can say I haven't had any troublesome stray dogs. There was the loveliest chestnut brown staffie, but I don't think that was you; the woman who claimed it said she was looking after it for her brother. Then there were the two matching, pure white Samoyeds - never seen before or since - which I caught and put in the back yard. They had a tag, so of course I rang the number. A woman in an immaculate Merc came to pick them up.

"They've been in the creek," I said, "I'll find something to put on the back seat".

"Oh, no, no problem, thanks!" and she shooed the ditzy muddy creatures onto the immaculate leather seats and drove away.