My Plate Runneth Over

I'm sure I either say or think a similar sentiment at the start of every month, but I can't believe it's September already. This was a very busy Summer between my race, a plethora of band jobs, and some particularly busy times at my day job. We're a little stretched thin right now, due to some special projects and our busy season, when we send out more mailings in conjunction with television campaigns. So I think I took maybe 3 days off the entire Summer, two of which were to play gigs. Only one day was to rest and recuperate. I hit all my deadlines, and kept my head above water, and I know easier times are ahead, probably around the time I need to start my Christmas shopping.

Even though the Summer is unofficially over, I'm booked every weekend between now and the middle of October. On one weekend in September, I rescheduled a dental appointment and actually told a band leader I couldn't make a gig, clearing the way for hopefully a return trip to Atlantic City. I need to squeeze in some kind of a vacation. I might also play paintball on another weekend, and depending on how long my annual Columbus Day obligations last, I might sneak away for a few hours to ComicCon. I still can't believe they moved that to a holiday weekend; it was so much better in February when nothing else was going on.

In times of adversity, I've always been fond of the idea that God never gives us more than we can handle. Of late, I've been feeling at my limit. And it's not because I've been busy at work or with my bands or with any of the stuff I normally do. I've got that routine down. I can handle all of that, and still find time to blog, watch a few movies, and run a few miles in the gym. No, there's one extra thing on my plate right now, one burden that's escalated beyond reason.

I've mentioned the story of my father's lot before, a 50' x 100' plot of land my grandfather bought for my grandmother back in the 1940s. It was across the street and up the road from where they lived, and had a garage on the property. To this day, fig trees, grape vines, a cherry tree, and a pear tree still grow, though only the figs and grapes still thrive. I never knew my grandparents, but take comfort in that things they planted are still alive. After my grandfather passed away, a legal dispute between my dad and his oldest sister resulted in a settlement in which his sisters ended up selling the family home while he and my mom acquired the lot. I was born a few years later, and grew up helping them tend to it on weekends. I used to hate the hot hours in the sun pulling weeds by hand, and it wasn't until we got the use of the garage back that I suggested we keep an old lawnmower there, and the job got much easier.

That garage, for many years, was rented to a local landscaper. Unfortunately, he fell behind in paying his rent, and my dad was a nice guy and didn't press him about it. But then the guy put a sign up on the garage with the name of his business, which caused the property to be re-zoned, which made our taxes go up. Since the guy was now costing us more money, and not paying rent, my dad had to ask him to leave. With the garage back, we were able to store that aforementioned lawnmower, as well as other gardening tools, and eventually old clothes and furniture that didn't fit in our basement at home. Life was good.

I always thought someday I might build a house there, or maybe a business. I could put in a building from which to run my own design firm, and maybe rent apartments out upstairs. Any of those ideas would take a tremendous amount of initial capital, as well as an investment of time that I just don't have. Between work and gym, I rarely get home before 9 PM during the week. Still, since getting a job in that town 3 years ago, I have thought about how nice it would be to have a much shorter commute. Sometimes I drive past there on the way home, to check on it for my dad, and think “If I lived here, I'd be home by now.” It's not a bad neighborhood, save for a warehouse on one side, and therein lie our current woes.

The lot is bordered by three neighbors: a residence behind it, one to the right of it, and that warehouse on the left. For years a moving company was located there, until they went out of business and sold it to a roof/gutter repair guy. For a time we let the moving company keep a few trucks in our driveway, until they settled in to their new place. The owner retired, but still kept in touch with my dad. As for the new owner of the warehouse, he was initially friendly. But as the fence between our property began to collapse, and my dad asked him to fix it, tensions slowly grew. He refused, and said it wasn't his, even though the previous owner put it up and it was on his property. One day, someone busted down a section of the fence and had a party, leaving broken bottles, cups, and metal frames as evidence for us to clean up. We patched the fence as best as we could. Still the neighbor refused to help.

Over time it got worse. No one else trespassed, though we'd still find the odd bit of litter and to this day I still find broken glass when we weed. One day, a coworker who lives on the block told me sections of the fence were down entirely, lying on our side of the property. I went and propped them back up, the next day they were down again on our side. My dad had tried to get through to this guy, and called city hall for his next course of action. They referred him to the number “311”, which the old man called. It turned out to be a code enforcer, who checked out the situation, and made the guy take down the fence. That should have been the end of it. We didn't want to get the guy in trouble, nor did we want a legal battle. My dad had a heart operation earlier this year, he's 80 years old, and he has better things to worry about.

When the neighbor called my dad after taking the fence down, he said, “I did you a favor. I took your fence down.” My dad reiterated that it wasn't his fence, and asked why would he build a fence that went around the guy's property(it continues past where we border him). “I don't know what you would or wouldn't do.” said the guy. He then “warned” my dad that a code enforcer was driving around checking things, at which point the old man was honest and said he was the one who called the code enforcer. The gutter guy blew up, and threatened my dad about some wall that was five feet into his property. We had no idea what he meant. It turned out to be a retaining wall made of about three railroad ties, stacked along the warehouse driveway where their ramp dips lower than our lot. Like the fence, this was built by the previous owner when the warehouse was dug out. And like the fence, it was on their property. A few days later my dad got a warning from the same code enforcer he had called, giving us 5 days to remove the unsightly “excess vegation”. It's okay that there are always three full dumpsters and various landscaping trucks in the neighbor's yard; God forbid we have weeds higher than a few inches.

Worse, a few days later we got a summons giving us 45 days to address the failed retaining wall. It was littered with personal pronouns, stressing “...YOUR wall has failed...”, so now that's in writing. But my research, and the advice of a lawyer, says that we need to have the property surveyed, which will establish definitively where the wall is. That should resolve the problem, or at the very least give us a solid defense should we have to go to court over this. Meanwhile, we're all stressed and snapping at each other. We spend the weekend doing a massive cleanup of the weeds, and I'm pretty proud of the way it looks right now. We got an estimate from a surveyor, so hopefully we'll have that taken care of soon as well. My dad tried speaking with the previous owner to see if he had any record of building the fence, but he did not. The guy he sold the place to is his neighbor, and I'm starting to not trust the old owner either. He mentioned something about us not having a Certificate of Occupancy, and now I'm afraid they might make us tear down the garage. There's no plumbing, heating, or electricity. We certainly don't live in there and it's not a store or a restaurant. I don't think a standalone garage needs a C.O. by the definition I've read, but this is another question for a lawyer. If we do need one, it will require a series of inspections, and may require some work to bring it up to code should it not meet whatever standards it needs to meet. More agida.

So, we'll be spending a lot of time, money, and stress on this thing, all because of a lousy fence. Garbage pickup is one day a week, so we had to put everything else we bagged this weekend in the garage rather than leave 30+ bags out at the curb. On Monday and Tuesday, I went after work and took as much as would fit in the car, and brought it home so we can throw it out here. The less ammunition we give this guy the better. He's apparently still fighting the fence thing, and in the meantime he's going after us with a vengeance. The previous owner told us that the new guy is under the false impression my dad is also responsible for making him take down an illegal tower that was on top of the warehouse. We didn't even know about that until one of the local residents told us. People in the neighborhood complained anonymously, but because my dad admitted to reporting the guy over the fence, he made himself a target. Maybe we should have just put up our own fence alongside the old one. There's a lot of points in hindsight where all this could have been avoided. My mom joked bitterly that we spent the weekend at our “Summer home” and said it wasn't what normal people did. I figure it's all good practice for the things I'll have to deal with when I become a homeowner and/or when I inherit the family property.

I guess people deal with having a full plate every day, some moreso than others. I'm not used to being consumed with worry every second. Worrying about my deadlines distracts me from worrying about my family being sued and losing everything, and that distracts me from worrying about long drives on highways to various gigs. I guess I shouldn't worry so much, and learn to just go with the flow. We'll get through all of this. We've gotten through illnesses, we've gotten through tough real estate situations at home, and we'll get through this. God never gives us more than we can handle.



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