When we bought our home on the outskirts of Winter Park we didn’t mind that the house next door was a rental unit. It looked a bit run down, but not as bad as the worst examples in our old neighborhood in Orange County. And we had rented houses for nearly all of our married life and had been responsible about the upkeep of the properties. My wife and I had no fear of being tormented by the folks next door. We were lulled further into a state of complacency when the first three families beside us turned out to be friendly, reasonable people.
The first sign of trouble came when a couple moved in with a beagle named Copper. Copper was an aggressive, territorial dog who charged the fence separating our two back yards. He never accepted us as natural inhabitants of his environment, and saw us as invaders hovering on the edge of the land that he had sworn to protect. Sometimes he dug his way into our back yard and would bark and charges at us when we went to open the side gate. He apparently believed that he had a right to defend any piece of property in which he currently found himself enclosed.
We moved to Gainesville for Judy’s first sabbatical after earning tenure, and when we got back we discovered that three young men lived next door. One came over soon after we unpacked the last box, and he showed us his two Dobermans. He said that they were really friendly, but that was hard to believe when I saw the predatory look in their eyes. Our neighbor also gave us his phone number and told us to call if he and his housemates ever played music too loudly or if a party woke us up at night. He was more than willing to personally address our concerns, and there would never be any need for us to call the police.
We discovered about a year later that the police were interested in our neighbor without receiving any complaints from us. My son looked out his bedroom window one morning and saw men wearing black hoods in the rental’s back yard. They had guns drawn. Alan reported the news to us, and I yelled, “Get down!” I heard a loud bang just as I entered his room and saw white smoke billowing out of the French door of the neighbor’s house. Two hooded men charged inside.
I didn’t call the police. There were officers in the front yard and more men in black hoods. When I looked closely at their jackets I saw the initials, DEA, on their chests. A half hour later I walked down to my mail box to deposit a letter, and startled one of the officers in the rental’s front yard when I opened the squeaky lid. His hand went to his gun and he stared me down. When I backed my car out a few minutes later to take Alan to school the same officer reacted the same way when the brakes squeaked at the bottom of my driveway. I began to wonder if the police expected an imminent shoot out.
When I returned I saw them handcuff the young man who had befriended us and stuff him into a patrol car. We found out that he had been involved in a grow house operation, though the rental house hadn’t been the actual site of illegal, agricultural pursuits.
We began to miss the druggy Doberman guy a few months after a fresh set of tenants moved in. A young couple and their disabled boy were our new neighbors. When Judy said “hello” to the mother and began a conversation, the father stepped out of the back door and yelled, “No! Stop that. Get away from there.” His wife obediently turned on her heel and left Judy standing there.
They mostly pretended that we didn’t exist if we encountered them at the mailboxes by the road or in the adjacent driveways. I was content to ignore them, but had to engage with them several times when the father’s brother moved in. The young man liked to do yard work while playing rap at high decibels. I went over several times to ask him to turn it down, and at first he complied. He figured out eventually that I had no plans to assault him and grew more and more reluctant to do the decent thing. Sometimes he left the boom box on after having gone to meet up with friends.
I called the police and made a complaint two months after the two brothers installed a pool table in their carport. Judy was awakened night after night at three or four in the morning by the crack of pool balls and the loud, obscene conversations held by the men. I listened in once and discovered that human beings could construct sentences that included a noun, adjective, adverb, and verb all built around the root word of “fuck”.
The younger brother moved on shortly after a police officer gave the two brothers a chat about being responsible neighbors. Silence, intensely hostile silence, reigned once again between the two households. But a few months later The Chihuahua Scourge began.
Our neighbors owned two female Chihuahuas that occasionally barked at us when we worked in our back yard. One day the father brought over a stud, a male Chihuahua with a jaunty bandanna tied around its neck. He mounted the compliant bitches, and a few months later the two dogs pupped. The tiny, newborn, bug-eyed creatures looked cute until they grew up to the point where their ears stretched long and pointy and their barks got loud enough to be piercing. After that they became very aware of their environment and yipped at butterflies, crickets, airplanes passing high overhead and phantom intruders that only they could see. We began to close the blinds when we discovered that they could spy us within our bedrooms and would consequently yip whenever we came into view. Our backyard became a forbidden zone: the high pitched barks of a chorus of seven Chihuahuas were devastating to both the eardrums and nervous system.
I hired a man to enclose my carport and turn it into a studio after my last workshop closed down. We needed a place to store the garden equipment, bicycles and mower, and I paid a local company to put up a shed in my back yard. Two lean, muscular men went to work sawing, hammering and using a nail gun to erect a wood frame shed. They worked at a high pace, and when they finished after a couple hours I approached them with checkbook in hand. One of the men was covered in sweat and his chest heaved as he struggled to catch his breath. I asked them why they had driven themselves at such a furious pace. They told me that the seven Chihuahuas had pestered them the whole time that they had been working. Three took up a position across the fence and near to where the men worked, and they barked and yipped. When they grew tired a second shift of dogs took their place near the fence and renewed the harassment with fresh vigor.
The man with the heaving chest held on tight to a nail gun, and I could see him flexing the muscles in his forearm. He looked over his shoulder at the Chihuahuas who still tormented him with their barking, and he grimly said, “I want to kill those little motherfuckers.”
A month or two later our hostile neighbors sold the five pups and used the cash for a down payment on a house further north. As they pulled out of their driveway one last time I was glad that they and their two remaining dogs were gone for good, but I pitied their new neighbors.
We visited Bill and Carmen after the Chihuahua people left. They were an elderly couple who lived on the other side of the rental house and had suffered torments similar to ours. We compared notes about how many exterminators had visited the rental during a massive clean up operation, and speculated that the house must have been crawling with fleas while all those dogs were in residence. Bill shook his head and said, “I can’t believe that they were here for seven years. Seven years!” I answered, “Seven Chihuahuas!”
We talked about how it would be nice if the rental management company left the house vacant while it took its time making the repairs, and Judy related her dream of buying the property, razing the house and turning the lot into a garden. But I just hoped that the next tenants would not surprise us with something worse.