The menacing neighbor‘s house is starting to look very nice.
It’s slate blue with white trim now; the workmen finished the front today. I think slate blue with white trim is one of the prettiest combinations for siding. I also like lemonade yellow with white trim, white with deep green trim, schoolhouse red with slate trim. Sometimes I take a handful of those paint sample squares from the hardware store just to admire them and daydream about colors. When I someday buy a house of my own, I’ll make it the prettiest house on the block.
This isn’t all she’s doing to improve her house; I also saw a truck with the name of a heating and cooling company on the side yesterday, and a pickup truck full of furniture parked down the street. The entire time the workmen were in and out of her house, my neighbor ranted at them a mile a minute. She was ranting about us, how disgusting we are, how we never trim our lawn or trees or bushes, how we repair our cracked window with duct tape. At the restraining order hearing, she ranted to the judge about the same thing, comically exaggerating the height of our weeds as if they were tall as trees. She insists she’s improving the value of the neighborhood by raising the price of her house by redecorating, and we’re dragging the neighborhood down by being pigs.
It’s ironic, because there is nothing I’d like to do more than yard work and gardening and sprucing up the house. I am nearly obsessed with gardening, but when I grew a garden she tore it apart and even cut down my sunflowers. I like nothing better than pulling weeds and doing yard work, but she comes out of the house to call me obscene names when I poke my head outside. I want to mow the lawn more than once a month, but when she sees Michael coming outside with the weed whacker she gets her camera to film him while screaming hate speech to see if she can get him to repeat it for a viral Becky video. I can’t trim the sapling trees before they end up destroying our porch because they’re our only privacy shield to keep her from dumping the ashes from her grill on the porch as she used to. And as for the dreary house with the taped window, it’s not ours to fix. It belongs to the landlord. We pay through the nose for the privilege of living in LaBelle: property taxes here are about a fifth of rent. But to pay a property tax, you’ve got to own your house. And to own your house, you need a down payment. Money costs money.
I have so many plans for if I ever get money– lots of money, I mean, a great big pile of money. They go far, far beyond a house of my own.
If I ever get the money, I will buy up every rental house, every derelict and every vacant lot in LaBelle. Town Council is trying to gentrify LaBelle by banning new rentals so the value of the rich people’s houses at the end of the neighborhood will go up, which only makes matters worse; now no one will buy a house to rent it out, so the houses are rotting empty and the situation for the poor is even more dire. I’ll buy those rotting houses for more than they’re worth. I’ll make deals with the landlords all over LaBelle and buy their properties from them. I’ll buy the vacant lots where there used to be houses and now there are tall weeds growing in house-shaped dents. I’ll buy the church whose pastor went to prison and the nice flat vacant lot next to it. I’ll buy the weird little building on the corner, the one that looks like it used to be a store. I’ll buy everything.
And I will fix up the houses and make them beautiful. Slate houses with white trim. Lemonade-yellow houses with white trim. White houses with deep green trim. Schoolhouse red with slate. Burnt orange with teal and teal with burnt orange. Nice clean red bricks and nice clean gray stucco. Architecturally sound porches for sitting and sipping iced tea. Solar panels on every roof. The very best plumbing in every sink, toilet and tub. Central air conditioning for the heat waves that always leave so many poor people crowding into the Friendship Room with severe heat exhaustion. Energy efficient appliances in the kitchens. Nice new furnaces for the winters so nobody dies in a house fire caused by a space heater anymore. Clean white walls and bamboo snap-together flooring. Clover lawns instead of grass. Indigenous flowers and bushes in the garden beds. Shade trees.
On the vacant lots with the house-shaped dents, I will build community gardens, orchards of dwarf fruit trees, apiaries.
In the building that used to be a store down the street from me, I’ll open a market. I’ll buy healthy vegetables, meat, dairy and eggs from local farmers at a fair price and sell it cheap, food-stamp eligible. Once a month we’ll do a giveaway of boxes of the same food, free to anyone in need.
In the disgraced church, I’ll organize a daycare during the day with activities for the children in the afternoons, a small lending library, a social worker on staff to help with any serious problems that came up, lessons and lectures and classes for grown-ups in the evenings. On the vacant lot, a playground.
And I will “rent” the fixed up houses to the poor tenants on some kind of zero-dollar-a-month lease, as long as they agreed not to use chemicals on the lawns. And I will find some legal loophole to do the same with the derelicts I rescued. And as the tenants are able to inch out of poverty because I relieved them of the cost of paying rent every month, I will “sell” them their houses for some comically low price so they can own their own home and be safe.
And then I will do the same to some other horrible neighborhood in some other miserable abandoned steel mill town along the Ohio. And I will never stop.
These are the kinds of things I fantasize about doing, when I can’t be gardening as I wish to do.
And in case anyone reading this gets the mistaken impression that I’m a good person, I’ll tell you the rest of my fantasy. In the middle of my beautiful fantasy neighborhood will be my menacing neighbor, going into debt trying to improve the value of her home while taking her wrath out on us. I’ll have stymied her plan. Because when a decent and beautiful place to live is free, then a decent and beautiful place to live has no cash value. You can’t sell a nice house when everyone’s got a nice house. Her investment will be ruined. That will be my vengeance.
Maybe she’ll move out, and I’ll buy her house from her– at a very low, stingy and unfair price.
And then I’ll live in it.
It really is such a pretty color.
I think it might be the prettiest house on the block.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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