By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Then, a most dastardly deed took place. Mail was purloined from in front of The Lawyer's house in the dead of night.
"This is a federal crime," The Lawyer told me in an almost hysterical phone conversation. "In addition, that mail contained photos of my family and my travel plans, as well. This information, in the wrong hands, could endanger our lives."
"If it's a federal crime, why don't you call the FBI?" I asked. I wondered: Did he actually think I was taking his mail?
Then, a mysterious truck appeared one day and dropped off a portable toilet in The Lawyer's yard. The big truck, The Lawyer charged, also damaged some branches on his trees.
The Lawyer was turning into a regular Sherlock Holmes. I can imagine him shouting exultantly: "These are the footprints of an enormous criminal hound!"
All of this was too much for him. So he acted.
Perhaps they teach you at Yale to deal with pranks by summoning the cops.
So, that same day, a Phoenix police officer appeared at my door to ask me a series of probing questions.
The officer wanted to know about the toilet that had been delivered next door . . . the missing mail . . . the mysterious strangers spotted lurking in the area.
Apparently, I was a suspect in these matters. What else is one to think? I was dazed.
Luckily for me, it happened that late evidence turned up to clear me.
The portable toilet had been delivered to the wrong house. It was not meant for The Lawyer at all. It was addressed to a house at the opposite end of the neighborhood, where construction was under way.
"I thought the toilet might be a prank," The Lawyer said. He never bothered to apologize.
"But there's lots of weird shit happening," The Lawyer muttered. "My water in the backyard has been shut off. And then it was just as mysteriously turned on.
"Strangers are walking across my property. My little child is growing up. He must be protected. Workmen have peered into my windows. We need more privacy."
I told him I'd put up an electric gate on my side to close off traffic from the main street.
I went to the credit union and borrowed five grand or so for an electric gate. I settled back. Our troubles with The Lawyer are now over, I figured. We'll all live happily ever after.
Turns out I was wrong. It was not enough to have an electric gate constructed. To satisfy The Lawyer and his wife, it also must be closed at all times.
The Lawyer's wife called up and bellowed to me over the phone:
"I noticed you had left your gate open last night. What time did you finally close it?"
Is it possible to answer a question like that in a civil tone?
The Lawyer decided to demonstrate his disapproval of my lax gatekeeping. He blocked off his driveway by night with Erma Bombeck's old Mercedes.
During the day, The Lawyer's wife blocked the driveway by parking her shiny, black Saab Turbo directly across it.
The mail carrier asked her to move. She refused. So my mail and my neighbor's mail went undelivered. We had to drive up to the post office to pick it up.
I turned the other cheek. I spent another $100 or so to buy a new mailbox and placed it at the opposite end of the property. The post office rerouted the carriers to accommodate this new move.
Certainly, this will solve everything, right? Wrong!
Next, I received a call from The Lawyer's office. It is important I contact him at once, I was told.
"You apparently walked through our backyard yesterday with your dog," he said. He was almost hysterical.
"My baby sitter was frightened to death to see this big dog and a strange man that she didn't know. We've got to protect ourselves. We've got to keep these strange cars and people away," he said.
He was going to buy his own gate and block off the drive, after all.
I should not have been surprised. The Lawyer's wife is very careful of the company she keeps.
She once propounded her philosophy that the only kind of ethnic restaurants she likes are those in which there are no ethnics. People who have low incomes make her terribly uneasy. Obviously, she prefers neighborhoods in which neighbors are not visible.
I reminded The Lawyer that I had only signed the right-of-way memorandum to make it possible for him to get a loan for his house. And I recalled his fervent assurances that he would never try to close the drive.
"I never said that," The Lawyer said, not looking me in the eye. "Besides, if I did, I now regard the circumstances as being changed."
The gate never went up. Obviously, though, relations in our neighborhood had cooled.
Then, the other day, we had a new incident.
The potted palm, set in a 100-pound pot, was placed directly in the center of the drive to block it off.
On the following day, two big pieces of concrete rubble were placed behind the potted palm, as if they were a second line of defense.