Pimp my neighbour’s ride
By Rose Simpson
When you live in the suburbs, there is a certain expectation that you will live the neighbourly life, cut your lawn, leash your dogs, curb your kids. But when you live in the city, all bets are off.
For one thing, most city folk studiously avoid their neighbours lest they be caught in the crossfire of a flaming drug war, or a standoff between police, pimps and crackwhores. Children growing up in the city learn to keep their heads down and their IPods concealed. In the city, when you start up a conversation with your neighbour, you do so at your peril. If your neighbour isn’t a criminal, he’s usually a nutcase.
Scott and I live somewhere in between the burbs and the core. We live in Elmvale a little enclave that is working class, founded mostly by immigrants back in the 50s. Today, it is populated by the same people, only now they are shut-ins; every other house has a wheelchair ramp and their occupants ride around on motorized scooters. There are a few apartment buildings around us, which makes for great fun. Just this Saturday, there was a domestic stabfest down the street. Our neighbourhood has also been blessed by at least one gang war — at the Midway amusement park involving machetes — and a couple of honor killings in the Elmvale Acres Shopping Centre.
For the most part, we have led a quiet life for the past seven years in our little house sandwiched between what is now a toxic oil spill (dudes, they actually zippered up the rooms like a crime scene last week!) and a house once owned by a little old lady, but now owned by mysterious foreigners.
Could have been worse.
When Mrs. MacDonald, our elderly neighbour, finally gave up the ghost and moved into a nursing home, the house remained empty and shuttered for at least a year. We were convinced the place was being used as a marijuana grow-op, but in reality it had been bought by a greedy Rockcliffe type who decided to renovate it and flip it. Trouble was, the house was on the corner, on a postage stamp yard surrounded by an ugly frost fence backing on to a Jewish funeral home. It didn’t exactly cry out: location! location! location!
Secondly, the flipper wanted $250,000 for it, which was a ridiculous price. And so it sat there. And sat there.
One day, a couple of years ago, the place finally sold to a nice foreign family. The father came by with the biggest jar of cookies I’ve ever seen, and ice wine. Couldn’t have been nicer.
In the spring, it became clear that the cookies were a bribe to keep us from complaining about what the family was about to do. First, they brought in 35 fir trees to cover the frost fence (blocking our view of the driveway), then they started building a lean-to, plasticized shed on the side of the house, a badly designed affair which held onto snow in the winter, then dumped it into our driveway in the spring.
At the front of the house, the busy bees constructed an elaborate fence — let’s call it a fortress — which meant not only could people not see out, they could not see in.
We began to feel like our neighbours knew something we didn’t. Scott and I, both born in the 50s, fully expected to hear sirens heralding the incoming or outgoing of a variety of incendiary devices. As a long-time liberal, I have tried hard during my life not to profile, but it was hard not to think that our neighbours were planning an attack of some kind — and I’m not talking about a Big Mac attack.
Turns out, the neighbours were just protecting themselves from bylaw officers. You see in our neighbourhood, you can’t run an unlicensed towing service out of your 50s style bungalow without going to jail for it. The fortress was built to accommodate three tow trucks and a small junkyard filled with smashed up cars, ATVs, motorcycles, even bicycles.
In my neighbour’s country, they might have been hailed as entrepreneurs; in this country they might be considered purveyors of underground services, which I believe could bring them both jail time and heavy fines.
Mostly, to us, they are a massive nuisance.
Every Sunday, as we read our papers and drink our lattes in the backyard, diesel fumes waft into our private space. At night, roaring engines, those annoying back up beeps and foreign-sounding rap music played at a decibel level have become the backbeat of our lives.
We’ve tried to complain — mainly about our obstructed view and the fact that we’ve nearly killed at least a dozen oldsters on motorized scooters — but the bylaw geniuses have said that the neighbours aren’t violating any laws. We could tell them about the curb-side towing, we could elaborate on our suspicions that the place might one day blow sky-high, fueled by cans and cans of oil, turpentine and paint. We could, we could, but we can’t, we can’t.
We live in the city — and they brought us cookies.