Monday, February 25, 2008

Neighbors, Part I

Back in the day when houses actually cost money, the adage was that location was the determining factor in the value of real estate. I'd like to add that the type of neighbors also plays a role in whether or not a buyer finds your area attractive.

We've had our share of unique and interesting neighbors in the various places that we've lived. Most of the time, we don't know who we're going to get stuck with next door or on the same street. Even if we're happy with the personality make-up of our neighborhood, someone may sell and we still run the risk of a loon living within a stone's throw of our abode.

The second place we lived as a newly married couple was an apartment on Mesa College Road in Kearney Mesa (San Diego). (Just in case you were wondering, before that we lived downtown for six weeks, under the landing path of the San Diego Airport.) I walked to my classes at the junior college and my husband rode our tiny Vespa scooter all the way to the Navy Base in Point Loma (on the side of the road because it didn't go over 30 mph). We didn't know our neighbors there, but the lady next door had plenty of male company . . . day and night . . . one at a time. It seemed that she never left the apartment.

We moved out of there when we bought our condo in Point Loma (which was under the departure path of the airplanes). Our first son was 10 months old and we lived upstairs from a young couple. The guy was super uptight. Every time my son made a peep, the neighbor would be knocking on our door telling us to quiet down. A few years later, we had another son. It would bother the guy to no end when our children would run through the 800 square foot condo. He asked if we couldn't go to the library or park or somewhere when the boys wanted to play (mind you, I was working full time and we were rarely home). We were always polite until . . .

My son had had an accident and was released from the hospital just days before Christmas. It was a very traumatizing time in our lives and we were so happy to have him home (although much follow-up care was necessary). We were determined not to buy our Christmas tree until he could pick it out with us. Needless to say, we bought the biggest tree that we could find and my husband dragged it up the outdoor steps to our unit. We were overjoyed at the prospect of decorating the tree and having our son home for the holidays. However, just minutes after we walked in, Mr. Grumpy stomped up the stairs, pounded at our door, and irately stated that the tree dragging incident made too much noise. That sent me over the edge. I told him 1) he should seriously consider never living in a downstairs unit again, and 2) the next time we disturbed him, he should call the police and tell them that the people upstairs are walking around and decorating their Christmas tree. Otherwise, I expected that he never knock at our door again. And he never did.

Our condo complex of seven units was built on a lot that used to contain one house, so we were very close to the apartments next door. One apartment unit was a freestanding structure, like a house. This was directly under the balcony of our master bedroom. Unfortunately, it was occupied by two bachelor Navy seals. It was a party every weekend and we were tired of the noise lasting all night. We would call the owner at 2:00 AM (he was bright enough to have his home number painted on the perennial sign in the front yard). He was annoyed, but couldn't stop the seals from having a good time. We called the police. It would take them three hours to come out and break up the parties.

My husband, being in the Navy at the time, knew the power that the commanding officers had over the men in their division. We thought it might prove useful to videotape the party goers so that they could be identified by their superiors and be busted for disorderly conduct. So, one weekend evening, I stood on that balcony, with my giant camcorder (it was 1989), and called out to everyone who arrived at the party to wave at the camera. The night was over before it began. Within two weeks, the seals moved. It was just too easy.

Soon we were ready for a real house with a yard for the boys. We found one at an open house up the hill from Jack Murphy Stadium in a 50 year old neighborhood called Mission Village. When we went to view the home again, we noticed a few rowdy men in their late teens or early twenties directly across the street. Noticing our concern, the agent assured us that the parents were on vacation and the kids were home alone. Not to worry, she said, it was a very quiet street. We soon learned otherwise.

To be continued tomorrow, when I announce the winner of the "All Time Worst Neighbor" award. Stay tuned . . .