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The Crazy Cat Lady Doesn’t Have Cats

November 17th, 2007 · No Comments

A close re-encounter with the woman who stole my rocks:

A few months ago, Matt started digging up our yard.

Technically, it’s not a yard, but an easement owned by the city and cared for us.  I think a water main runs beneath the easement, and since it belongs to the city we are not allowed to install fences or otherwise block it, even though a sidewalk will never be built there.

This is fine, except that after we moved in we realized the pretty stone path in our easement-yard was used by people on their way to the busy street a block away.  This was a bit of a problem because the pretty stone path was installed by a previous owner and the rocks wobbled and slid.  At night we could hear the clunk-clunk-trip of tentative steps right outside our bedroom window as people cut the corner and walked  home.  We were bothered by the noise, and worried what might happen if someone fell over the rocks and got hurt.  (Just because it was a path, it wasn’t meant to be a public path; those are to be approved by the city and meet certain standards.)  As people walked they threw trash in the ground cover.  Wanna-be-tough kid types wrote love notes on the wall, painted marks on our walls and windows, and wrote on our rocks with the child’s chalk from the house next door.  "You are dirty," someone wrote.  And then he wrote "you have SEX."  People who parked at the curb had little space to open their passenger doors because the grass mounded upward, and we watched people slid and trip getting in and out of their cars.

And in the fall someone let their dog leave a big pile of dog poo right outside our front door, like a package from UPS.

Our easement-yard was not intended as a trash can, shortcut, site for self-expression, or Old Yeller’s lavatory.  It was time to change the landscaping.  I called the city the week after Christmas and asked what I might and might not be permitted to do.

The woman on the other end of the phone sounded like she was from San Antonio, too.  "M’ija, you can landscape it however you want." 

"But I can’t put a fence around it?" 

"No, I’m sorry." 

"But I can put rocks there?"

"Sure."

"And some spiky plants so people’s dogs don’t poop by my door and leave it?"

"Absolutely, m’ija, and if you see somebody let their dogs go toilet by your house, you call the city and they can get a ticket."

Funny for not picking up after a dog, really?  I hadn’t known that.  How could anyone enforce it?  I imagined trying to follow my neighbors home so I could report them to some kind of pooper-scooper hotline.

So Matt and I made a plan.  We would terrace the sloped space, leaving a flat, level bit on the bottom for people to park their cars on the street.  We would eliminate the path, and make it harder for dogs and their owners to use my green space as a toilet.  We would install native plants, and turn the sterile, urban green space into something dynamic, interesting, and a little bit wild.  The easement would be safer and prettier for everyone.

But then I had the AVM.  We spent thousands on childcare.  More thousands on new windows.  More thousands on a roof and leaky siding.  There was no money left for rocks and lots of plants.  This was unfortunate, because we had torn up the path, and between Matt’s sporadic projects and the remodeling crews, our slope resembled a mud slide in Malibu. 

I felt bad that we had in the span of a few months created an eye sore on our busy street, and I felt frustrated that the mud and weeds laughed at me right outside my window.

Matt decided that since we didn’t have the money for rocks, he would install a much cheaper, simpler wall three feet from the curb.  The wall would allow visitors to park on the street, while discouraging dogs to hop onto the grass and stink up the place.  We imagined a green oasis in the middle of urban drab.

That was it.  The pretty little pathway and landscaping was coming up.  He dug and dug in the heat, moving our gumbo soil with a shovel.  When he installed the walls he put down landscaping fabric and gravel, then took our pavestones and pieced them together to make a level surface.  Then somebody started taking the stones.  Discouraged, we picked them all up, and concentrated on other things around the house and in my recovery.

Then, last evening, walking back from the grocery store, a woman walking a deranged-looking mutt passes us on the street and says, "Cute kids."  I held my breath.  In the soft orange glow of the streetlights, she hadn’t recognized me.  The Crazy Cat/Rock Lady wasn’t a cat lady, she was a dog lady.  She wore jeans but still looked ragged and tired.  I edged close to Matt.  "That’s the lady who took our rocks.  Let’s follow her and see if we can find them."  The corners of his mouth made a small smile.

We pushed the stroller casually behind her, stopping on frequent occasions to offer C&D a granola bar from our groceries, or to stop and point out the stars in the sky, no mind it was almost bedtime and we needed to go home.  The woman walked slowly, staggering occasionally from the pull of her zig-zagging dog.  When the dog dallied at a bush, she yanked his leather strap and pulled him ahead. 

Only a couple of blocks from the house, the woman walked up a sidewalk and into a run-down fourplex.  The streetlight was on the other corner, but as we craned our necks we saw a small path between the building and the street.  In the path we spotted our rocks, someone else’s rocks, and a few pieces of broken concrete.  She took the rocks to make a path.

I felt silly and excited.  I whispered to Matt that on Thanksgiving night, while my parents were here with C&D, we should steal the rocks back.  We could load them on the jogging stroller and run.  We could leave a note, I said, "We took our rocks back."  It would have been mean and unnecessary, but I enjoyed visualizing the whole affair. 

By the next block, Matt was shaking his head.  "She looks crazy," he said. 

"Or something," I said.  "She doesn’t seem well."

"If she was crazy enough to steal our rocks, what else is she capable of?" he asked.  "What if she remembers where the rocks came from and decides she knows we took them?  She could throw a rock through our window."

We pulled into the garage.  After one quick look behind us, we closed the garage door and walked upstairs.

Tags: Home Ec · Weird

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