I think every village or suburb or city block must be afflicted with a bad neighbor, or in the luckiest locations, the “not so good” neighbor. At best this neighbor may be merely rude, clueless, thoughtless or just disagreeable— or an unfortunate combination of all those qualities. Ordinary bad neighbors may play loud music late at night, neglect the unmown lawn, leave garbage cans at the curb for weeks on end, and permit weeds to thrive unmolested until they are the size of small shrubs. They may dismember industrial machinery in the front yard, or leave the broken-down heap with three flattened tires parked in the street in front of their house for months on end, and have rowdy parties on weekends.
This sort of ordinary bad neighbor invariably lives right next door to the picky and house-proud sort, who lovingly groom their borders with nail scissors and maintain an exquisitely velvety green lawn… which renders the torment all the more excruciating. The bad neighbor may not actually be a suburban sloven, but instead maintains a rackety, public and disreputable personal life, one involving a lot of yelling, flung objects and frequent visits by law enforcement authorities. This sort of neighbor actually serves quite an enjoyable function, as the focus for lots of scandalized gossip. These are the two commoner sorts… blissfully, rare indeed is the malevolent or deranged bad neighbor. This would be the kind of person, which when they finally snap and melt down, usually involves automatic weapons or explosives, a number of messily dead bodies, and headlines in the local paper above the fold for days. And none of the neighbors, interviewed by minions of the press, are quoted as saying “Oh, very quiet. So nice. Kept to him/her/theirselves. Wouldn’t hurt a fly… we were just that shocked!” No, when they talk about this kind of neighbor, everyone says, “Well… we’re surprised it didn’t happen sooner.” Or “Human catastrophe, looking for a place to happen.” Or even, “They fought with everyone, and we all hated their guts.” And usually, someone throws in a lament about the authorities not having seen the danger signs and acted promptly, saving (fill in the blank number) lives.
My parents had such a neighbor when they lived at Hilltop House— and I was glad on one account when they moved down to their very own hill in Valley Center, as I was afraid that this particular neighbor would snap, and mow down half the neighbors with heavy artillery… as opposed to just harassing them with spurious complaints about manufacturing drugs.
Mr. F. and his wife (I will call her Mrs. F.) lived in a house on a cul-de-sac lower down the hill, and ventured only rarely into our ken, so were spared the full malevolent blast. (According to his mythology, with our house full of teenagers and the yard full of old cars, we must be in the distribution end.) His immediate neighbors were not so fortunate, as he gradually developed a bizarre delusion that they— immensely respectable, middle-aged home-owners all—were all manufacturing, selling, and transporting illegal drugs.
He insisted there were pipes full of drugs, running between all the houses. His suspicions were as strong as actual physical evidence was weak; over the course of several years he cut a swath through every law enforcement body in the state of California. Initially being interested enough, then increasingly disillusioned, and finally writing him off as just another unbalanced crank, Mr. F. would move on to another agency which knew of him not, and repeat the process. All this was terribly difficult for the immediate neighbors— everyone up to the DEA eventually wore a path to their various doors. Mr. F. was well spoken, immensely convincing at first, but as law enforcement increasingly declined to humor him, his behavior became freakishly bizarre. He took to prowling the streets at odd hours, taking pictures of visitors, or carrying around a box he claimed was taking samples of the air to test for drugs. Pippy’s wedding reception was held in the garden at Hilltop House, with Mr. F lurking in the oleander hedge by the front gate. We felt rather like the mafia family in the Godfather, with the shrubbery full of FBI agents, on this marital occasion.
But by that time, Mr. F. had well gone past the point of being an amusing local nut-case. One of the closer neighbors, a woman in late-middle age, was slowly dying of MS; Mr. F. insisted that it was actually the result of drug abuse. Even if no one credited that, it was a cruel thing to say. Other neighbors filed injunctions and suits, to no avail— Mr. F. could put on a pretense of rational normality in court. Eventually, Mom told me that people selling their homes nearby had to list Mr. F. as a sort of local toxic waste dump and inform potential buyers of his malign presence. Some time after I had enlisted and left Hilltop House for good, and Mom and Dad had decamped for the wilds of Northern San Diego County, Mom told me of the cruelest, most horrible thing he had done. A couple with two small children had bought a house farther down the hill— not on the same street, but a house where Mr. F. could see into their back yard from his. He called the child protection authorities, accusing them of drug abuse and neglecting their children— and because he was new to them, they believed. It took six months for them to get custody of their children again.
Several years later, I read of him in the “news of the weird” section of the local newspaper. Among other things, it seemed there was an injunction against him in the State of California, forbidding him to ever call 9-11. I can’t find confirmation via google, but that was a long time ago. With luck, he went undeniably barking mad, before the rise of the internet, and at this date, all the neighbors around Hilltop House are sleeping sound at night, knowing that Mr. F is not lurking in the shrubbery, or that gullible law enforcement officers are not wearing a path to their front door. We shall, with luck, not see his like again. Or very soon. And especially not on the same street.
(Accounts of horrible, impossible, malevolent and generally deranged neighbors are eagerly solicited, of course. I’d love to know that somewhere, some time, there was worse than Mr. F running around loose.)