Good Neighbors

I got back from Canada earlier than expected yesterday, and having seen that the sky was ominously gray thought it a good moment to pull out the lawn mower and induce some real rain. The mowing was extra slow going. First, our neighbor to the south stopped by, full of congratulations and advice about the move. It turns out he didn’t know what, if anything, Otto did for a living. Somehow the fact that he worked, and he worked at Microsoft, had never come up in our conversations. It makes me profoundly happy to tell this, because these are our favorite neighbors, and I have always appreciated knowing people who care more for who we are than what work we do.  This neighbor admitted to Googling Otto on his phone and being very distracted with the results.

Next, my neighbor from two doors to the north passed by, with a letter for the mailbox in his hand. He had seen and read the actual article about Otto in print in the newspaper on Wednesday of last week.  We exchanged news of who is graduating this spring, and how many  graduation ceremonies we will be attending. This neighbor is a retired college English professor; many teachers of all levels spend one day each June sitting in a nylon robe and a silly hat for several hours, listening to the drone of Elgar’s graduation march “Pomp and Circumstance.”

We agreed that graduation ceremonies for elementary school children are strange and unnecessary, and that high school graduation is more of an expectation than an achievement.  Reader, no matter how wonderful your children are, their graduation ceremonies are boring.

My third neighbor to visit came from the house to our immediate north. She had learned our news chatting with her older son on the phone. While her son read it in the paper, our neighbor told me she looked Otto up on Google.  We ended up having a good long chat out on the front lawn. By the time I actually was able to squeeze the handle of my electric lawnmower, I was enthusiastic about cutting the grass.
You might find it interesting to know that the last division of Microsoft Otto worked in was Bing.

Bad Neighbors

I am a bad neighbor. Before we left for Hawaii I realized should have cut the grass.  Seattle has two seasons: Wet and Dry. The Season Dry in Seattle is three months long, and if you time it properly you can get away with mowing your grass only once a month or so. By mid-September it will be thoroughly yellow and dormant.   October will be punctuated by the raking of wet leaves which will continue until mid-November. Until mid-March you should be able to get away without cutting your grass, but once April is in full swing, there will be a new crop of dandelions and moss to deal with.
We got back Wednesday, and Thursday I cut the grass in the rain. My husband asked me why I did not check the weather forecast before starting, but he does not cut the grass and so does not understand that waiting for a nice day means waiting until July. He helps with yard work if he comes home while I am still doing it and I have not yet finished. He is much better at yard work than I am, having infinitely more patience for proper sweeping and thorough raking.  He also does not succumb to fits of giving up like I do.
People walk around in this neighborhood, and sometimes I have to talk to people while I am doing yard work. Usually, I pretend that I cannot hear them saying hello.  Sometimes they can tell I can hear them. Also, sometimes people will say things like, “Nice job,” which I believe I am supposed to be gracious about.  If I cannot muster a real “Thank you,” I give them the bright-eyed, pissed-off grin for which both my older brother and I are famous.  Once, a yard crew made the mistake of telling me that they’re hiring.
Thursday, I found that while we were gone, the neighbors’ dogs have been pooing in our front yard. Evidence includes small assaults from the white dog to the north and epic bombings from the enormous St. Galumphin three doors to the south. In both cases, the dogs are walked by teenagers who carry neither a bag nor a leash. The white dog to the north belongs to a family with a single dad  so I cut him plenty of slack. The St. Galumphin is the first dog the neighbors to the south have ever owned, and somehow they still do not know that when you have a 700 pound dog, it makes poos of a note-worthy size. Or maybe they do know.
When I was a kid, we lived in a suburban sub-division with a triangular traffic island directly across from our house.  People used to let their dogs poo there, and my dad and brother liked to play catch from the island to our yard. I once heard my father tell a neighbor that if he let his dog poo there again he would “come and shit in your yard.”  I think he would have done it, too.
I can take a bit of dried poo, I guess, in comparison to the much more horrifying situation with our immediate neighbor to the north. While we have lived in our house since 1994, she has lived in hers since the early 1970s. A widow who lives alone, this neighbor is someone I actively avoid running into outside. A good neighbor would know her comings and goings, and check on her from time to time, rather than wondering silently why her house was dark for a few months this winter.
Our houses, built starting in 1909, are about 12 feet apart, and three stories high. This is typical of Capitol Hill. Homeowners get to choose between being able to see into each others’ homes year-round, keeping their curtains closed, or planting something tall and skinny that can grow with virtually no sunlight.  It turns out that a Washington native species, the vine maple, is perfectly suited to this job. Multi-trunked and skinny, these understory forest dwellers do just fine in the narrow, dark alleys formed by tall, closely-set houses. We have four on one side of the house and four on the other.
My neighbor believes that these trees are an invasive species.
Every time I see her, her voice rises higher and higher as she explains that the roots are taking over and killing all her grass, that the trees are not trees at all, they are vines, sending runners. They are bringing insects into her home, leaves into her gutters, and she really needs me to remove them.
I have tried to explain that they are trees, not vines, and that we like them, and that we will happily cut back any limbs that are too close to her house. I am willing to help pay for the leaves to be cleaned out of her gutters. Once a year I have a tree guy who trims our monstrous laurel hedge and removes any offending vine maple limbs, and every year he, too, has to have this same the same conversation with her.
The neighbor’s adult son supervises the care of her yard. He has two young boys, who were taught to push the gas-powered lawn mower just as soon as they were tall enough to reach the handle. I cannot bear to watch, only able to block out the vision of the bleeding, footless child from my brain by pretending I do not know what is going on. The neighbor’s son also regularly prunes her enormous and beautiful hydrangeas to a mere cluster of sticks, and they manage to rally every August. Once a year, he will treat her lawn with a moss-killing compound, which turns her yard a startling shade of black for a number of weeks. While we were in Hawaii, the new spring crop of broadleaf weeds (like dandelions) emerged. I have a cool tool that you use to pull them out without bending over. The neighbor’s son seems to have sprayed their weeds with weed killer, for they have turned a strange purplish gray.
If you walk three houses down, slightly down hill to the end of the block, there is a storm drain. You can see the faint outline of a salmon painted on the pavement, with the words “Dump no Waste Drains to Lake.” All the moss-killer and Round-Up washes here, where it travels through the ravine near my house, and does indeed end up in Portage Bay. I guess some of it also sticks to the paws of the dogs to the north and south of us who poop regularly in her yard. I do not ever let my dogs out in front of the house anymore, but that is another story.