4 min

Good fences

Coping with the strangeness of neighbours

Credit: Xtra West files

I’m going to go against my better judgement and tell a little story about my neighbours. When I first moved to Vancouver from the Yukon some 17 years ago, I was really just a small-town kid, who grew up in a house on Hemlock St that my dad was pouring the foundations on when my mom went in labour with me. When I was in Grade 3 we moved into a bigger and nicer house my dad and all my uncles had also built, which was on Grove St, exactly four blocks up Twelfth Ave.

I didn’t have to even change schools.

When I first moved to the city, the only way I knew to treat my neighbours was what I had learned from back home, which is you get to know them. You chat to them as you are walking by with the dogs. You ask them their names, and tell them yours. You invite them over the fence to have a beer in your backyard, get to know them a little- strange small-town customs like that.

I attempted to practice these habits in this new land that was East Vancouver. One of the first differences I noticed was that knowing your neighbours can be harder to stay on top of when they are constantly moving in and out, as people who lived in cities seemed more apt to do. At the time I suspected that this was because it was the city, and there were more places you could move to.

I also soon discovered that for some reason some of my neighbours didn’t seem as interested in knowing me as I was in meeting them. I wasn’t Don and Pat’s kid anymore, a little tomboyish for sure, but from an old, well-known family, for better or worse. Here I was just a stranger, one who some of them couldn’t place anywhere known to them on the gender spectrum. They didn’t want to chat, or even chit.

I continued my custom of never moving very far, and I have lived, over the last 17 years, on 7th and Victoria, 3rd and Victoria, Georgia and Victoria, and finally, here, on 14th and Victoria for a renter’s record of 11 years, last September. I am now officially the guy who, by East Vancouver standards, has been here forever. I have met, supped, chatted, played music, and even hot-tubbed with most of the folks who live in a two-block radius of my house. I have what I always wanted since I left Whitehorse: my own little small-town neighbourhood. We swap recipes and beers and barbeques.

I was taking care of my friend’s plants last summer over in Dunbar Heights, so I had to leave the neighbourhood every other day, whether I liked it or not, throughout most of the summer. I couldn’t help but notice that almost as soon as I crossed Main St, when the house numbers were tagged west and not east, there was a whole lot more room in between the houses, and a whole lot more big trees. A lot more green space altogether. These people had elbowroom. The world seemed to get quieter the further west I drove. If I went to water the plants after five o’clock or on weekends, I didn’t even hear lawn mowers or weed whackers droning, because on the west side the lawns got mowed by other people during business hours. Folks who rented the place next to me had to mow their own lawn in their spare time, which seemed to be between the hours of 7 to 9 am on weekends.

It got me to wondering: were rich people quieter than folks in my neighbourhood, or were they just farther apart so you just couldn’t hear them as much?

Which brings me to my new neighbours, the bunch living in the basement suite of a house near me. Not the quietest lot. Unfortunately, the only door to their suite is under my bedroom window. There appears to be anywhere from four to six people living in this one bedroom apartment, and since their individual rents are probably fairly minimal, none of them seem to have to work that much. Giving all six of them plenty of time to party underneath my head. The misfortune of this situation is amplified considerably by my suspicion that their drug of choice seems to be crystal meth amphetamine, not known for its relaxing or quiet effects.

I don’t mean to slander all those hard-working, dependable, polite crystal meth users who make fine neighbours and friends, but these guys do not ever seem to sleep. They are not allowed to smoke inside their suite, so they do so at any and all hours right under my head.

I have repeatedly requested all of them on various occasions in a variety of tones if they could keep it down, as has the woman downstairs and several of the other neighbours, yet they still fail to see things from our point of view. I even went against my family heritage and called their landlord to complain. She insisted they were both nice boys. I guess she hasn’t met her other four tenants yet.

The police don’t seem to think my new neighbours are all that nice either, as they were camped out in the guy across the street’s upstairs bedroom most of last summer, doing surveillance on their house.

I have pretty much given up on them quieting down, and have resigned myself to wishing the police would bust them for whatever it is they are doing in there, or that they pull a midnight move and a quiet lonely woman with six cats moves into their place.

In the meantime, I am compiling a list of the absolute best things I have overheard the speed freaks next door saying while I was trying to sleep:

1. “Dude, could you try not to puke so loud, you’ll wake up those nasty dykes next door.”

2. “It’s easy for you to say, you’re a guy. It’s way more acceptable for guys to do crime.”

3. “I don’t know what you’re freaking out about man, so I punched you in the head. You’ve kicked the shit out of me tons of times. Relax, we’re roommates.”

I’m working on the rest of the list. Shouldn’t be long, as they’re a non-stop source of material.

I’d move, but where? Everywhere I’ve ever lived in East Van, there has been something going on next door. On 3rd it was the guy downstairs yelling at his wife when he was drunk, and the time we finally called the cops because it sounded like he was getting physical, it turned out it was she who had finally snapped and broken his leg with a cast iron frying pan. The cops took her away and then we had to listen to him scream at the dog.

I guess I could move to Point Grey, but then I’d have to get a real job to pay the extra rent. Besides, then I’d have nothing to write about. Nothing ever happens over there. It’s too quiet. Kind of creeps me out.