I have always been lucky my whole life when it comes to neighbors. The Universe has grinned benevolently and remarked, “Let’s give MOV the neighbor who makes homemade brownies and offers to watch her cat when she goes out of town.” So it came as somewhat of a surprise when The Husband and I bought our first house in California and lived next-door to Neighborzilla.
Oh, sure, she seemed nice enough the first time we met her, saying friendly good-neighborish things like, My favorite dry cleaner is Dazzle, or Here’s my electrician’s phone number, or Have you discovered the Caffeine Lounge yet? I got out my little notebook and scribbled these helpful tips down, thanking her profusely for the recommendations.
A few weeks went by and we noticed that Neighborzilla was doing bizarre things, things like weed-whacking her sidewalk and leaf-blowing with her industrial leaf-blower at 6 AM. Right outside our bedroom window.
“What is her deal?” The Husband asked me, as he groggily pulled the curtains shut. “Did you do something to piss her off?”
“Me? You’re the one who accidentally drove over her newspaper.”
Neighborzilla was 86 years old and retired. She had no family to speak of, and oodles of free time on her hands. She decided to invest all her extra time into noting our whereabouts.
“Your wife didn’t get home until 3 in the morning,” she informed The Husband one day, hoping to elicit a shocked reaction.
“I know, she’s a flight attendant,” The Husband replied nonchalantly.
When he told me about this conversation later, I first thought, “How sweet! She’s looking out for me!” and then I thought, “Wait—why is she up at 3 AM watching out the window for me?”
Neighborzilla repeatedly complained to us about our hideous exterior paint. The former owners, in a misguided attempt to make our Craftsman bungalow stand out, had painted it a teal green with burgundy trim. It looked like a bad Chinese restaurant.
“You know, MOV,” Neighborzilla would say, “Your house is the view I see from my windows. You really should do something about it.” Then she’d make a face as if she’d bitten into an exceptionally sour lemon.
The Husband and I pored over historically accurate books on paint colors and design. We lived in a beach community and wanted the house to look appropriate for the street. We finally settled on a dark navy blue with white trim and soft gray accents (porch ceiling, fine trim detail).
To be nice, I showed our planned color selections to Neighborzilla. This was the exact moment I realized she was bipolar.
“NAVY BLUE?!? Are you out of your mind?” she barked. “Why would you ever change the stunning green and red you already have?”
I started to laugh. I thought she was joking. I realized by the look on her face that she wasn’t.
“Don’t worry,” I said using my best soothing tone, the one I normally reserved for nervous first-time fliers. “Everything will turn out just fine. You’ll see.”
Everything would not turn out fine. It turned out, she tried to get us fined. After we had hired an expensive painter and the gorgeous new navy paint was barely dry, she reported us to the Historical Association of Los Angeles for non-compliance with pre-approved colors for preservation in Landmark neighborhoods.
A gentleman in a light blue seersucker suit, yellow bow tie, and straw hat (I’m not making this up) knocked on our door one afternoon. He looked like he should sit down with a good Mark Twain book and a mint julep.
I had just returned from a run, so I myself was not wearing a cute seersucker suit. I was in sweats and my hair was greasy. Hoping that he was here to tell me I’d won some sort of sweepstakes involving a free trip to New Orleans, I opened the door.
“Miss?” he began, “Is your dad at home?”
I was simultaneously flattered (my dad!) and annoyed (I am the homeowner!).
“Uh, no, uh … this is actually my house; how can I help you?”
“My name is Jackson Wyatt and I’m with the Historical Association. We’ve received some rather vocal complaints from your neighbors about your paint colors. I have to fine you $470. The navy blue is not on the list of pre-appro—”
My brain was a swirl of navy and white and green and red. $470?! It cost a thousand dollars to have the whole house painted; we certainly did not have an extra thousand left over to get it repainted again.
I cut him off. “Who turned us in?” I asked conspiratorially, “Was it her?” I was pointing in the direction of Neighborzilla’s house.
“Miss, that is irrelevant. And I am not at liberty to say. Anyway, I brought some alternate acceptable color choices for you to review and …”
“You can tell me. Was it her?” I couldn’t let it go.
He nodded his head yes, but said again, “I can’t say.”
I smiled. “Mr. Wyatt, first of all, there is not any type of homeowners' group in this area. Second, my husband and I did a lot of research before we chose these colors.” I gestured to a teetering stack of books on the coffee table, “These colors might not be on YOUR list, but they should be added.”
Forty minutes and two tall glasses of fresh lemonade later, Jackson and I were sitting on the couch perusing the books and laughing like long-lost college buddies. He had agreed to sign a temporary waiver approving our colors while I submitted the proper paperwork to have the classic nautical color palette added to the acceptable choices for the Historical Association.
When The Husband returned home that evening, I filled him in on what had happened.
“Are you kidding me? $470? Who does she think she is?”
We were beginning to sense a pattern with Neighborzilla, much like the five stages of grief. Neighborzilla’s five stages were: Interest, Inconsideration, Nosiness, Criticism, and Meddling.
Neighborzilla zipped on over like a pesky mosquito the next afternoon when I was out getting the mail.
“Hi, MOV!” she buzzed, “Anything new going on?”
“Nope.” I looked her right in the eye. “Same ol’, same ol’. Nothing new.”
Her demeanor shifted, “Uh, what about your paint?” She gestured toward the house.
“Don’t you love it?” I said sweetly. “This nice man came by from the Historical Association and he informed me that these were brand new colors that had just been added to the approved list!”
I knew it was a bit of a lie, but I wanted to see her squirm. Which she did.
“Those colors are NOT approved!” she screeched. “I know navy blue is not on the list!”
“Well, thank you so much for your concern. Oh, look, I have a coupon for Thai food,” I said, suddenly taking an intense interest in my junk mail. “Gotta run now!”
A few months later, we gave Neighborzilla the news that The Husband had accepted a job transfer back east. We were moving. She kindly offered to give me some extra boxes she had in her shed. I walked to her backyard with her when I saw him: a handyman who had just started painting the back of her house.
(“Magenta, Orange, Violet”)