JAIMIE VERNON: NEIGHBOURING RIGHTS (AND WRONGS) – Part One

vernon_19972Sorry. This is not the music industry blog you were looking for.
Instead, I have an admission to make. I have become Roxie RokerGladys Kravitz.
No, not the mother of Lenny Kravitz; that was the late great actress Roxie Roker from the TV show ‘The Jeffersons’ who was also cousin to White House pants sharting TV morning man Al Roker.

GladysKravitzGladys Kravitz was the fictional busy-body on the 1960’s sitcom ‘Bewitched’ played first by Alice Pearce (1964-1966) and then by Sandra Gould (1966-1971) following Pearce’s untimely death. The character was an irreverent aside on the show each week –usually relegated to a 30 second cameo – who believed that under cover modern-day witch Samantha Stephens (played by the late, great, Elizabeth Montgomery), in the guise of a suburban housewife, was up to some kind of shenanigans. The character was comic relief and would go on to define the stereotypical nosy neighbour despite being absolutely correct in her suspicions about the Stephens household.

neighbourhood_watchIn the faux Politically Correct 1980s they’d call people like her agents of The Neighbourhood Watch – a program that was implemented to make children and women feel safe in their community and someone that could be counted on to help in case of an emergency. Ironically, the program was deemed so successful that the government abandoned it in the 1990s and now we have more sexual assaults and child abductions/murders than ever before.

My spying on the neighbours isn’t quite as altruistic. I do it because my neighbours ARE up to some kind of shenanigans. Everyday some asshat (usually my now notorious upstairs neighbour) is causing a disturbance or just doing stuff that’s batshit crazy. But it wasn’t always that way. I never gave my neighbours much more thought than a fleeting “Hi, how are you?” until my family and I moved into our current home – which was out of necessity and not by choice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs a kid we lived in apartment buildings until I was 12. My mother knew everyone in the building – all the kids, all the Moms & Dads and everyone acted as guardian and babysitter to everyone else’s kids. Little Johnny’s doing something stupid? Mom had permission to smack his ass and send him home. Similarly, other parents watched over me. I once tore my leg open while stupidly trespassing with my bike while on private railway property. The downstairs neighbour patched me up and sent me home. Only in this case, she didn’t rat on me. Some neighbours were pretty cool that way – and there was usually milk and cookies without fear of a backroom buggering.

75 BlackwellHowever, when we moved into a townhouse complex during my Tweens, I learned that not all neighbours were created alike – at least in the eyes of my folks. Seems they had a problem with immigrants. Especially the brown-skinned kind. And it aggravated them to no end that a few of them became good friends of mine. Still, the peace was mostly kept and both my folks and my sister and I developed some life-long relationships with the immediate, white (and Hungarian) neighbours.

Neighbourly relations never really played into my own life until my first wife and I rented our own apartment in Toronto at Marlee and Eglinton Avenues. It was a slum-lord dive that we only found out had been condemned as unsafe by the city many months after moving in. Initially, the only intrusions we had to deal with was from the cockroaches who used our apartment as an intercity bypass to and from other apartments. But then we had issues with the Jamaican neighbours upstairs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, let me make this clear from the start. I, unlike my parents, don’t have that racist streak. I don’t care what colour your skin is – I only have a problem if you act like an asshole. At First it was just atypical communal noise. Every Sunday these folks played very loud Reggae music. Being the upwardly mobile working 20-somethings that we were, our beauty sleep was important for getting a good start to the week on a well-rested Monday morning. They were having none of it. Usually by 1AM I was out on my balcony banging on their balcony above us with a broom. It usually stopped. But one day the noise was different. It wasn’t music. It was a loud pounding and then a crisp and penetrating clacking sound. Like high heels on hardwood floor (which all the apartments had). And it was happening on Thursdays now. I’d pound on the balcony and it would stop. This went on for weeks.

I was not interested in confronting these people. I’d seen my folks in action with Jamaicans and folks from the West Indies and there’s no delicate way of handling a conflict without somebody issuing the race card in the middle of a heated discussion – it’s the racist equivalent to yelling out “Hitler!” to derail a disagreement. We were beside ourselves with having to listen to this every week. My wife was pushing me to bang on the door and just get it over with. I refused and started wearing headphones to bed.

Then one evening, just by coincidence, the slum-lord sent up a maintenance guy to have a look at the gaping hole over our bathroom shower where these folks had let the bathtub drip for 6 months straight. If you looked up into the hole you could actually see the underside of the bathtub – American Standard, 1969. The maintenance guy shook his head and said he was going to have to go up and repair their tub first before he could re-plaster our Dominoesceiling. My wife jumped in and said, “Ask them what that God-awful clacking sound is we hear every Thursday night”. So he did. When he reported back he told us that they were playing dominoes – a game that requires the slamming of the game tiles on the floor, copious amounts of Red-Stripe beer and laughing uproariously for maximum enjoyment. Now it made sense, but they never took a hint that they should stop and it continued unchecked.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowing a year of night-raids by the cockroaches, the domino tournaments and four separate occasions where our car tires had been slashed in the underground parking by vandals, we finally got the hell out and moved east to Pickering Village where we moved into the same 2-story apartment complex as my, then, mother-in-law. God love her, but she was the neighbour from hell. At the door constantly looking for any excuse to come in and socialize. My wife grew tired of it as well and learned to deflect her loneliness by having them both retire to the front porch with a beer and watch the village folks walk by every evening after dinner (well in the summertime anyways). Luckily I was in a rock band and playing frequently through the winters.

FallingThen there was the single alcoholic welfare guy living on the second floor who made a habit of missing the first step when coming down the back fire escape and landing, crumpled, in front of our bedroom window at least once every weekend. What was alarming at first became comic as we’d be lying in bed and hear the ‘thud. OOOPH!’ and self-recrimination.

I’d yell at the window, “You okay, Frank? We need to call the ambulance for you tonight?”
“No, man, I’m good this time. Didn’t mean to disturb anyone.”
“We’re good, Frank. You need help back up the stairs?”
“Would you mind? You guys got a light? I broke my lighter when I hit the ground”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so I’d usher Frank into the apartment’s back hallway and have him climb the carpeted stairs. We eventually got away from mom-in-law and the constant stream of drunks, n’er do wells, and creeps ogling my wife and bought our own home. We had zero neighbour problems in that home – well, for the short period I lived there. We split up soon after.

I ended up homeless and rented a room in a monster home in Ajax, Ontario that appeared to be a communal collective of students, criminals and rehab survivors where we shared the common areas of the house – including the kitchen. Everyone had to bring their own food. I stashed most of mine in my locked room and would bring it downstairs where we all sat, silently, staring at our cereal bowls in silence. The noise came at night when I tried to sleep on the love seat I inherited from my great grandmother (one of the few possessions I was able to extract from the grip of my ex-wife during the divorce). Luckily, there was a curfew with a lights out and a front door locking no later than 11PM. The criminals living there took that as a Coe Drivechallenge. I never left the room at night except to hit the bathroom so I’m not sure of the exact nature of the crashes and banging occurring after curfew time. But I suspect there was a lot of climbing in through windows.

It would have been an untenable long-term situation had all of us not been evicted simultaneously because the home-owner had sold the property without telling anyone. I found out one day when I got a cheque in the mail notifying me of my two weeks notice…and a complete refund of my last month’s rent.  I was now dating again and the woman who would become my second wife took me in to live with her and her roommate sister. I stuck my stuff in storage and took OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAup residency in a two-story walk-up apartment on Danforth Avenue at Woodbine where we lived in the back apartment of a double unit over top of a dentist’s office.

I don’t recall hearing too much from the neighbour in the front unit but the constant noise from outside was a whole new ball game. It seemed that the entire neighbourhood was filled with ass hats. Fornicating cats in the back alley, Italians screaming out happy and ‘fuck you’ greetings at the top of their lungs, hookers yelling at pimps (and vice versa) and children roaming the public park long after they should have been in bed.  Worst of all was the predictable drone of car alarms going off every night (and only at night it seemed). Sharon and I made a game out of it after awhile – mocking the various chain of horn noises that would cycle over and over again. Eventually, you just had to barricade the windows and ignore it.

One day my car was broken into on Danforth Avenue. Someone smashed the passenger window and stole my briefcase which I had stupidly left buried under a bunch of crap in the backseat. Joke was on them though –  it contained nothing but court papers for my divorce.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASharon and I got married in 1996 and moved out shortly after – much to the relief of my sister-in-law who was no doubt tired of our own nightly noises. We had become the roommates from hell. Out of sheer luck we found a two-story rental house in Whitby – on VERNON STREET. When we looked at the place, the landlord’s son said we didn’t stand a chance because there were 20 people on the waiting list. That night the landlord phoned us to ask if my last name really was Vernon. She wanted a copy of my driver’s license. If it was true, the place was ours for no other reason than she believed in Karma.

CryingBabyKarma, meanwhile, had other ideas. The place was really nice. And, initially, it was quiet. A single college student moved into the basement so we were probably noisy over her head. But then a couple moved in upstairs and let their baby cry for five or six hours at a time. It became apparent in zero time that these two were not taking care of the kid. We called the police and found that the kid was crying because the two parents were so wrecked on drugs and booze they were passing out and leaving the kid to cry for food. The Durham Police did nothing. Not even a call to child services. We decided that having a kid – and weekend visits from my daughter – was going to require an extra room and so we moved.

Off to Ajax again – this time in the southern part of the town – where we shared a duplex with an older couple. All went well for the first little while. My son learned to walk in this house. We had several BBQ’s for the artists on my record label. Two of our dearest and oldest friends lived kitty-corner to us. But the older couple decided that as a retirement gift for themselves they would completely renovate their side of the duplex from the ground up. It took an entire summer. Sharon went certifiably insane – no sleep, a crying child, isolated and alone. We had to move somewhere that didn’t involve additional tenants or attached neighbours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe exact moment we decided to get out became perfectly clear the day the new downstairs neighbour – a single divorcee with a young daughter – came running up stairs to ask if I had anything to kill beetles with. Beetles? I went downstairs to see what she was talking about. Under her kitchen sink were two of the biggest mothereffen cochroaches I’d ever seen. They were black and looked like Egyptian scarabs with armour and cannons on their backs – and they were driving Subarus. Within two weeks they’d populated the entire house…and had migrated to our kitchen. I found a new place in Scarborough within days.

I’d been hired by Sam The Record Man.com and the offices were in downtown Toronto in Liberty Village. The New Years’ blizzard of 1999 had trapped me in the previous house for nearly a week (Sharon and my son were visiting the in-laws in Ottawa) so Scarborough – where I grew up – was strategically and economically better for getting downtown in decent time every day. A trip from Ajax then, as now, is a near 2 ½ hour ordeal if you 66 Alexmuir-1want to get downtown. The new Scarborough home would cut that time in half. It was located in the Asian community of Agincourt and was an entire 3 story, four bedroom house we would have all to ourselves. No additional tenants to worry about. No construction projects. No noise.

And so it was.

Until a knock came on the door the first fall we lived there. It seems the leaves from our 50 foot maple in the backyard were falling in the yard of our neighbours to the north – a Jamaican couple with teenaged kids. The husband was a mild-mannered business man, but his wife was Weezy ComplainerJefferson – all bobbing head, waving finger and hand on hip. Attitude and sass. Fuck. I couldn’t NOT confront this situation. She was standing on my front porch. She wanted us to cut down the tree…or at least half the tree that faced her yard because she was gonna be damned almighty if her or her husband were going to rake leaves. I told her I’d look into it and shut the door.

This was not going to happen. And when I called to tell my landlord she agreed. Weeks passed as the weather grew cold. The woman was back at the door. I told her that I’d left it with my landlord. The landlord was in fact working on it. She had an idea. I had previously worked for the City of Scarborough and she wanted to know if I still had ‘friends’ there. I certainly did. She told me that there had been a dispute years before with the couple when they’d erected a shed in the far corner of their yard – right where the leaves were falling. The couple had moved the backyard fence between the two properties so they could squeeze the shed into the back corner. The boundary had always been in dispute as we backed onto two other streets – creating a nine property pie of connected yards. The couple decided that part of that ‘undecided’ property was theirs.
Property DisputeThe landlord sent me to the City to get a survey of our property. Sure enough, the couple had built the shed three feet into my landlord’s yard. Not only was the fence in the wrong spot, but the shed was too. I was sent next door to point this out and to re-assure them that my landlord wouldn’t give them any grief over the infraction as long as they shut the hell up about the falling leaves. The woman didn’t speak to us again – and was visibly agitated when we walked by for the next few years.

However, she became my hero the first day of the massive Northeast black-out of 2003. A sales weasel from Direct Energy – who was actively attempting to steal customers from Enbridge Gas Company (which we were one) – was going door-to-door and soliciting the black out captives in our neighbourhood. I was sitting on my driveway in a lawn chair listening to the radio reports about what was going on. This guy attempted to sell me on switching to Direct Energy. I told him in bold language that he was a scum-Woman withhosesucking parasite and to get off my fucking lawn (I’d always wanted to say that to someone). He turned to go to the next house and the Jamaican woman came running full-speed across her lawn with a garden hose and sprayed the shit out of this guy until he was forced to retreat to the other side of the street. Everyone in the vicinity that saw what she’d done cheered. I gave her a smile and we were good with each other from then on.

Meanwhile, the house to the south of us was owned by a young Asian couple who had just had a new baby. They nice people and kept to themselves. But Trash problemthey were struggling financially with the mortgage and trying to save up money to sponsor their parents to come to Canada. They rented their basement to a young guy that came and went at ridiculous hours of the night. I suspect either constant partying or part of a drug ring. His ‘guests’ usually left a trail of fast food containers strewn between our houses. I told the young homeowner. He apologized and said he would speak to the tenant. The trash stopped immediately – but bags full of garbage started showing up in MY collection container every week.
I spoke to the homeowner once more. Another round of apologies but the garbage continued showing up.

Fed up with disposing of this guy’s trash I took a bag of his crap, put a note on it and dumped it in front of his entrance. It still didn’t stop. So I waited for him one day as he’d leave for work at 4PM everyday for work. I followed him down the street with the garbage bag this time. He ran. I took it back and handed it to the young homeowner. He got the hint. The guy was evicted.

In 2004 our van died. My wonderful sister sold me her car and we were back in action. I parked the van in the driveway under the presumption that when I had the cash I’d get it repaired. That was the summer of the heat wave and massive rain floods. There wasn’t a single day that summer that the grass wasn’t either wet or the temperature wasn’t in the 100F range. I wasn’t mowing the lawn until it calmed down. Meanwhile, the community taxpayers association had been sniffing around looking for us to join their little homeowners club. I turned them down twice citing that we were renting.

Not long after my second invitation decline, we got a note in the mailbox from the City of Scarborough saying we were in breach of fire regulations, upkeep of our lawn and other by-law infractions. I phoned the City and asked who the asshole was that complained about us. “That’s confidential, sir”. We can’t tell you that. I had 3 days to correct all items of infraction and when that was done they were sending in the Fire Department to inspect our illegal basement apartment. WTF? We didn’t have a basement apartment – in fact, that’s where my massive record collection was being stored…and a computer to convert it all digitally.

Grow OpI called By-law enforcement and talked to the chief inspector – a friend of mine whom I’d worked with for 6 years during my years at City Hall. He came out and we talked. Someone had claimed we were running either a boarding house – or a grow-op. I laughed my ass off. He told me to mow the lawn, remove the van and let the Fire Dept inspect the house. I did these things and all was well. My buddy also helped me with a particularly pesky dead tree on our front lawn too that the City wouldn’t let us cut down – despite it being nothing but a dead stump. He looked at me, leaned on it really hard and it fell. “You mean THIS dead tree?”. With it lying on the ground it was no longer considered a ‘tree’ and was in fact considered a safety hazard. The City came and cut into fire wood the next day. So much for the asshats trying to get us to join their tenant association.

Continued next Saturday….

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.
Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS Button– Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

4 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON: NEIGHBOURING RIGHTS (AND WRONGS) – Part One”

  1. This is very entertaining Jaimie, keep those storries coming. Loved the story on that Jamaican lady who hosed down that sales weasel from Direct Energy.

  2. Nice read Jaimie! Neighbours can definitely make or break a living environment. I imagine there were a few stories that you decided were a little too graphic to put in print!….lol …I’ve been blessed with good neighbours until I moved to my house in OAK RIDGES. Here, I have the “Neighbour from Hell”; a single, old, crotchity, paranoid, anti-social, child and animal-hating, 1960’s U.S. draft-dodger and I’ve stayed awake nights thinking of ways (legal and not so legal), to get rid of him. He’s ratted me and my other neighbours so often to the By-Laws Dept. that it’s become a joke. When they show up, they’re so pissed that they roll their eyes to signal us when we ask who complained. This prick even grew a line of cedar trees along his property line to block my view of the lake!!! Karmic justice seems to take too long, if it works at all to set things straight, and I don’t plan to move. I’ve tried diplomacy, I don’t have the cash to buy him out and he can’t afford to buy me out. His house is bordered by old, towering, rotting weeping willow trees and, during severe wind storms, (I hate to admit it), I find myself looking out of the porch windows at his house, praying that a tree gets blown over onto it! They say that money can’t buy happiness but I’m still buying lottery tickets because the happiest day in my life would be to make him an offer that he can’t refuse and to buy him out!!!!

  3. Ray,
    I sympathize with your plight. Why can’t people just mind their own affairs and leave you and me alone?

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