Note No. 50

February 3, 2010

Yesterday began kind of badly.

At about 8am, there was the sound of paper sliding on the floor and then I was picking up a note that had been passed under the door and realizing that I was on someone’s Shit List. The neighbor’s.

Before we begin this little tale of friendly next-door relations, allow me to introduce you to the problem as it was first brought to my attention in December: I was out back doing something on the property, when the gate suddenly opened and in stalked the neighbor with someone trailing behind him. He sort of nodded at me before breezing past to scale the stairs up to the pool deck, where he began gesturing at it all like he was Andy Warhol scouting his next film and he had THE RIGHT to be there. I was all: “Helloooo? Does anyone want to tell me what’s going on here?” at which point he kindly took pity on me to inform me that our pool was leaking into his house.

It wasn’t, actually. Later, his wife came to town and said it was our garden. However, at that time we were also in the middle of trying to find out where the water leaking out of the staircase was coming from, and then there was the manhole incident, and then the hot water pressure was on the fritz, so his moldy wall got put on the back burner.

It didn’t help matters that the day that I told him I needed to get inside of his house with a measuring tape to find out exactly where the damage was, so that we could better deal with it on our side of the wall, he said Okay, and then promptly left, locking the house behind him. He does not live there, so to call him and make an appointment to get him to come over— well, I’d say the motivation factor is as high as the oxygen level at the top of Mount Everest.

Fast forward to yesterday. I read the note, which was complaining about what he called an ugly job sealing the manhole cover and of course, he was also upset that there was still humidity causing water damage in his house. Understandable.

I called him as soon as I finished reading the note and I apologized right up front for the fact that I had lagged in taking care of this. However, I continued, we still needed to get inside his house to measure the damage, at which point he interrupted me and he went off on a rant that resembled this: “Measurements! We are through with measurements! Enough of the measurements! No more measurements! We are beyond measurements!”

Okay, I said calmly, but in order to know what we are working with we need the measurem—


He hung up on me. Who hangs up on anyone anymore? None of the Post girls would agree with that tactic. Nor would Stephen R. Covey (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

After staring at the phone for a few seconds and indeed making sure that I had just been hung up on, I decided not to call him back. Instead, I wrote down a three-step action plan to take care of this problem. Then I e-mailed this plan to my bosses. Then I went to find Juan, the maintenance man. He was out front painting the planters, because they had started to chip and needed a little touch-up job.

Sidenote on Juan: he’s really good at painting. He always scrapes the surface first. Then he makes sure that most of the paint ends up on the surface that is to be painted, not on the floor or on the door frame or on the hardware or wherever it could possibly end up that is not the surface to be painted. He used to get it all over his hair but he has gotten better about that.

Hola, Juan, ” I said, as I took a seat on the front steps and watched him brush the shiny black oil paint around the bends of the planter.

Hola, Margarita.”

“Just a little question. What do you know about building walls?”


“Yes, we need a wall built in the garden out back, because there is water infiltrating the neighbor’s house. Maybe you know how to build one. Or maybe you know someone who knows how.”

“I know next to nothing about walls. But my brother knows.”

This was good.

Fast forward to today. I called the neighbor to say that we really, actually did need to get into his house and measure the damage, because we were about to construct a wall to insulate his house from the garden and we needed to know how long and how tall that wall should be, because it was, well, important. Okay, he said. He was eating breakfast and would come over in 20 minutes.

Nearly an hour later, when he still had not arrived, I called him back. “Hi. It’s Margaret again.”

“Ahhh. Yes. I’m coming. I’m coming.”
(See why this was so difficult to start with?)

About 15 minutes later, he showed up in full police uniform and let us inside, so that Juan and I got busy taking measurements, crawling around on the floors, stretching the 10-foot measuring tape from corner to corner, adding up all the inches and hoping we would arrive at a reference point in the garden.

It was all very pleasant and afterward, Juan and I retreated to the back patio space to figure out what these magic numbers meant. Final diagnosis: we should build a wall that is 90 inches by 8-1/4 inches, beginning just where the pool ends and stretching along the length of the largest part of the garden.

Then Juan and I started planning the logistics of it all. First, Juan would clear the dirt from the neighbor’s wall, so that it could dry out before we built the insulating wall against it. Next, Juan would figure out what to do with all the extra plants that we are bound to have, because surely there are nooks and crannies on the property that could use some green space. Next week, we will begin construction on the new wall, which will be painted with some extra special thick paint that should also help keep moisture out of the neighbor’s house.

That’s the short version, at least.

I still haven’t heard from Juan’s brother, the one who’s supposed to be building the wall. I didn’t even know Juan had a brother. But I do know that when I was outside later planting some basil with one of the housekeeping staff, the neighbor walked by and when I smiled at him, he full on smiled back at me.

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