Like A Good Neighbour…Backpacking Dad Is There

07/11/2010 By Shawn Burns

In an act certain to come back to bite me in the ass, I’ve chosen to be a good neighbour rather than limit my legal exposure. This is how movies-of-the-week begin: “On a quiet street, an honest man does an honest act….and then his world is turned upside down! Meredith Baxter Birney and Adam Baldwin star in “THE PVC PIPE.””

As we were remodeling this nightmare of a house we ran into a problem with the gas meter. We wanted to move it next to the garage from its original location, which, given the new floor plan, would have been in the middle of the kitchen. For some reason PG&E needed about an extra foot of horizontal clearance away from the house in order to inspect the pipe the meter was being installed on, and this extra clearance meant asking the neighbour if we could (1) take a part of the fence down that divides our properties and (2) dig about a foot into his garden.

He was very accommodating, requesting only that our contractor put everything back the way it was and that he be present when the filling and rebuilding of the fence happened. The contractor took the fence down, dug the hole, moved a couple of plants, and called PG&E to inspect. Everything went well and things were put back the way they were.

Today, however, while I was watching Dexter in the living room during the kids’ naptime (because serial killers are not allowed in the living room when the kids are awake lest they suffer from slightly less disturbing nightmares than the ones they already take with them to bed thanks to the Wonderpets. This is sewious.) I saw a head peeking in my front window, reflected in the TV screen that pretends to display everything in High Definition but which really only displays things in Toddler Fingerprint Definition.

The reason the head was peeking in the window was because I have a fake doorbell that people ring but which does not make a noise in the house. I think we broke it somehow during the remodel, and now it’s on The List. Or it should be. The neighbour, whose head was doing the peeking, had pressed the doorbell and had heard no movement from within, nor seen me stir from my lounge on the couch where I stared at Dexter as he performed a forensic analysis to prove that a police officer had killed her own family, thereby making her a legitimate victim for his dark passenger. How creepy to have someone peek in your window as you immerse yourself into the world of a serial killer? Not very. I’m kind of inured to the world by this point. But it could have been creepy, right?

The neighbour had come by to say that the pvc pipe running underground through his garden, next to the fence that had been taken down, had cracked and was leaking water. Could I come look at it?

Well, I’m no plumber, so the reason he wanted me to look at it was because he was certain the crack was due to the big hole we’d dug in his ground and then filled back in. At this point I had three distinct, though not all competing, reactions.

The first was THE MANAGER: When I used to run car washes I would get annoying people coming up to me fairly regularly certain that the car wash, the car wash employees, or a leprechaun hiding in the car wash somewhere had: stolen, broken, scratched, dirtied, or cursed their vehicle. Nine times out of ten this was unequivocally bullshit. (For the most part what would happen is the car would be clean for the first time in months and so damage that had been accruing over time was just now visible. I had one woman who was utterly convinced that during the hand car wash the employees had taken the plastic heads of the wash brooms and smashed them against her SUVs rear window repeatedly, leaving a buckshot pattern of chips just above the wiper. I was stupefied. I tried reasoning with her for nearly an hour, demonstrating the process (she was at first sure that we were a machine wash and that the terrible machine had done it), assuring her that, at the end of the day, the simplest explanation, and most likely the right one, was that the window had been chipped already and now the chips were visible, once the dirt was cleared off. She fumed, called me names, swore at me, and demanded my area manager’s number, which I was more than happy to give to her. She talked with him, showed him the “damage”, demanded that he take me to task for failing to offer to replace her window, and otherwise made him kiss her ass for a while. Then, a miracle happened. She went home. She pulled her car into the garage, took her groceries out of the back hatch, and went inside to call my boss again to apologize to him because she had been wrong the whole damned time. See, when she got home she opened the back hatch while she was in the garage, like she always does. And the door opened up…and up…and up…and stopped finally when it came to rest against part of the garage door mechanism that hangs down from her ceiling; the mechanism that tapped the window right above the rear wiper. Repeatedly doing this over a period of months had left a buckshot pattern of chips in her window. She was very contrite, to him. I never heard from her.)

My first reaction, as The Manager, was to wonder about all of the other reasonable, and simpler, explanations for what had happened, rather than to just assume that whatever the complaining party had concluded was right. Because in most of my experience that person was wrong. I was immediately suspicious that there would be a crack, and a leak, so far into the summer season when all of that work had been done in December. Why now? And he had been present when thing were put back the way they were, so wouldn’t he have noticed a big damned crack in his pvc pipe at the time?

My second reaction was THE LAWYER (or HUSBAND TO THE LAWYER since I am not actually a lawyer): If someone in the world accuses you of something, and it all ends up in court, there are acts you can have committed that might count as admissions of culpability even though you never intend them to be. When my neighbour said “I think your guys cracked this when they were doing that work” I definitely did not want to say “Oh yeah, that’s probably exactly what happened” or “You know, that could be it. Let me take care of it for you.” This is the kind of stuff that gets you a court decision against you for a million dollars of pain and suffering damages because his favourite roses died.

My third reaction, though, was THE NEIGHBOUR: I have to live next to this person (or his tenants, rather, since he rents the house out), and he had been very accommodating when we’d requesting his help with our gas meter issue. I was also in the middle of a pvc install in my own yard, so I have the tools, materials, and knowledge available to fix a cracked sprinkler system pipe all by myself. A good neighbour is someone who wants the neighbourhood to be a neighbourhood, rather than a collection of little fortresses, and I think I want to be a good neighbour.

So I said, “You know what. I have all of this stuff over there in my garage. Let me dig this out for you and fix it right now.”

And I did.

And now I sit back and wait for the other shoe, the smelly ironic one, to drop.

(Which it totally just did. Literally, literally, as I was proof-reading and about to publish this post, the neighbour came back over. He had tested the line for leaks since it had been an hour and I told him I’d go test it when the cement was dry in an hour, and lo’ and behold there is a second crack we didn’t know about two feet down the line. I am not entirely surprised, because the angle of the pipe looked so weird that there must have been more wrong than just a single crack. But damn. I can’t take care of it now because Emily went in to the office for a bit and the kids are awake. But apparently Dexter will have to finish off his murderous police officer without my help tomorrow. My nap time is all booked up.)