Tag Archives: inglewood

It Started with Succulents

Image result for huge bulldozer forest black and white

It started with succulents. It ended with a commercial grade rototiller and a crater between citrus trees.

It wasn’t my idea. Thumb pots with tiny cacti do not sing to me. So it was never going to be love at first sight. But things escalated quickly. Emotions ran high. And a year ago today I drove away from a plant nursery with the number of a man who didn’t want to, but was considering, doing some work for me.

He really didn’t want to do the work. It wasn’t about the money. The last time he came back to a customer’s house afterhours and did some unaffiliated work not wearing the emblazoned logo of the nursery, it ended poorly. I told him I didn’t see his planting an avocado tree in my backyard ending in violence. He said, You don’t know that.

In 2017, a man had approached him about some Marathon II sod. He ordered pallets of it from the nursery. His son was turning eight and he wanted a nice grassy backyard for the birthday party. The man from the nursery declined. It’s against the rules. The man buying the Marathon II pressed him, bullied him a bit. The nursery man figured it was just rolling some sod. Shitty, but uneventful work. So he did it.

At the birthday party, they had a flag football tournament on the newly laid sod. Then because he didn’t have sprinklers or the patience to water the grass turned to straw. So the man with dead grass showed up at the nursery, chased the nursery man through agave plants, French lavender and those weird trees that grow lemons, limes and oranges all on the same tree. When he caught him, he beat the shit out of him while landscape architects bought perennials bulbs by the pallet for houses in the Palisades.

Image result for transplanting mature treesHe declined the extra fifty bucks I had in my hand. Besides, the nursery man told me, it’s not that hard to plant a tree. Put it on its side, cut it out of the box and slide it into a hole that’s three times the size of the root ball. He got in his truck and drove off. 

It’s not that hard became the mantra of the afternoon, and then the year. Of course the root ball alone weighed about two hundred pounds so it was actually very fucking hard to slide it into the clay soil. Impenetrable soil that did not want to be dug up three inches, let alone three feet. But eventually the tree stood tall and noticeably crooked.

It was his son’s birthday party that drove a man to speedbag a nursery employee who didn’t want to roll sod for what was probably not enough money after work.

I didn’t remember that until 9 p.m. last Friday night when it was pointed out to me that I wasn’t making the sort of progress that I needed to be making if we were going to have a lawn by my son’s birthday party on the following Saturday. It was also pointed out to me that I had been railing against grass for over a year. She quoted back to me: We live in a desert by the ocean, and lawns in Orange County and golf courses in Palm Springs are draining our reservoirs for people who live in Nevada for six months and one day of the year to avoid residency anyway. Now I was going to put in something that needs to be watered three times a day for the first week and two times daily the next and then semiweekly until the end of time?

Yes, I said, knee-deep in dirt. I cut the engine on the tiller, which I had learned how to use from watching a few videos on youtube.

There were questions that I hadn’t considered. There was mention of needing to haul out “cubic yards” of dirt, leveling the ground, installing a sprinkler system, and maybe buying some sodcutters because our yard is shaped like a kindergartener tried to cut a maple leaf out of cardstock. And what were my qualifications? A membership to the Writer’s Guild West?

I had been inhaling exhaust behind that rototiller for all of the hours of daylight and a few after. My brain was starting to flicker in and out. I saw stars not above me but right in front of me. And then there was the question of my commitment to a sod supplier in Chino.

I’m happy to stop now, I said.

The moon hung crooked and she tried not to laugh. The thing about my ears, which were recently drilled and are still thick with ointment and congealed blood, is I didn’t hear most of what she had said. In fact the only thing I could hear was the same Slauson Boy album that my neighbor has been playing since Nipsey Hustle died.

I don’t know what would’ve happened if the man at the nursery would have agreed to help me shuffle my Hass into the ground. But I don’t think I would be standing in a cavity of pulverized clay and compost that had pipe dreams of being a misshapen, poorly laid and likely short-lived patch of grass.

Anyway, there’s a guy with a truck and a trencher, decomposed granite, drought tolerant plants and native grass coming later. I’ll probably just pay him more than my car cost to make it look like the patio of an Abbot Kinney coffeeshop. That’s what the kid wants for his birthday anyway. Grass is for cattle, baseball fields and Walt Whitman poems.

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Me, a Would-Be Arborist

Image result for cutting down redwoodsIt’s seven a.m. and my neighbor is shirtless. From his porch, he greets the children walking to school. Most of the men in my new neighborhood don’t wear shirts in the morning or the evening. But my next door neighbor is the only one who is committed to going topless all day. I imagine his closet is forty pairs of tan shorts on the bottom, forty pairs of Adidas sandals on the floor and where shirts would be it’s completely bare.

I leave home, wearing a shirt and hoping the other men on my block won’t judge me for it, to meet a novelist. He’s an ex-Angeleno who is also an ex-New Yorker and is now a Texan. From what I can tell he’s living in Texas as a sort of social experiment. He’s interested in America. He enjoys the novelty of eating brisket. The weather is torture but that too seems to be part of the experiment. Sure, he could move back to LA, live in perfect weather and eat Persian food whenever he wants but instead he tells me he might buy a ranch, acres and acres of open land. There he’ll build a recording studio. And as for the rest of the land? Frankly, he doesn’t give a shit. This is the thing we need to understand – he might do it. There’s not a callus on his hands and he might buy a fucking ranch. In Texas no less. You could probably buy a ranch in the valley, but that won’t do. He’s going all the way. He’s committed.

He’s heard rumors of my new way of life, my forays into the world of doing shit I’m completely unqualified for and doing it poorly. He wants to join. I tell him there’s one rule: we don’t wear shirts down here, and I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing. He’s in. Of course he’s in.

We go to Home Depot because that’s how I begin every day now. We’re there for a chainsaw. I ask a twenty-year-old woman in orange if she’s knows anything about stump removal. She laughs it off, which is weird because I’m being sincere. Try aisle 2, she says.

Along the way we flag down two gentlemen in orange.

The easy way to do it is to get some root killer, drill some holes, dump it in and then take it out in 6 weeks. The other way is gonna be a shit ton of work.

Say we want to do it the hard way.

It’s gonna be a pain in the ass. I wouldn’t do it. It’s no joke, back-breaking work.

Tell us more about this hard way.  

We never find the chainsaws. We find some other saws. I won’t even venture a guess at what they’re called. They look terrifying. I’m scared of losing a leg. I don’t want to 127 hours myself. I buy a pick axe and some gloves.

Chainsaw Pack, Black, 1000D Cordura(R)

It’s about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we start the work. The sun is blazing but apparently it’s nothing compared to Texas. Luckily we don’t wear shirts. I can’t because I live here and this is the way of life and I want to fit in. My neighbor is likely snoozing through the afternoon but I know he has eyes everywhere. He once saw me putting my surfboard in my car and he said, “you like to surf, eh?” I mean, nothing gets past this guy.

We have two pick axes, a shovel, a crow bar, a hatchet and a drill. Most of this stuff was in the shed when I moved in. Now the backyard looked like shit before we started but two hours and six beers later, the once impenetrable ground is splattered fence to fence. The dirt is made of concrete. Concrete and clay. We dig about six inches deep on all sides and that feels like a miracle. And the roots? They’re as wide as La Cienega.

Let me start at the beginning. This tree, what’s left of it, people are saying it’s the biggest tree that ever grew in Los Angeles. Luckily, a man named Bob cut it down before I moved in. But Bob died of heart attack while playing tennis so he never removed the stump. He tried. God, he tried. There are slashes and chains to prove that he attempted to drag it out but it’s simply too big. From what I’ve been told by acquaintances who haven’t seen the tree but who have heard me describe it, the roots could go down as far as a hundred yards. Maybe even hundred meters depending on which is farther. (Personally, I’m too much of a patriot to fuck with the metric system.)

kevin garnett GIF

We’re about a quarter of the way through a root, one that has been bludgeoned with a pick axe, hacked with a hatchet, speared with a shovel and kicked for good measure, when the man from Texas via NYC via LA concedes that it can’t be done. He’s sustained an injury. My injuries are more of the emasculating variety. Tomorrow he’ll get on a plane with a catastrophic hangover to go see a girl in Arizona who he’s never met but who I gather has fallen in love with him. But tomorrow for me means I wake up and have to watch a guy on the Celtics scream “Anything is possible” just to get out of bed, then go about digging a hole, wrestling a root, jumping on a crow bar only to discover that these roots go well beyond the earth’s crust and maybe even its mantle.

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Update: It’s been a week. The stump is still in my backyard. I’ve hacked through three-quarters of a root the width of a Mini Cooper. This is maybe my greatest accomplishment. All around me my dog is eating dirt and for some reason onions. Or maybe they’re shallots. While I haven’t successfully removed one of the fifty-seven roots, I’ve apparently discovered a graveyard of shallots. Or maybe a bed of shallots. Maybe that’s how they’re grown. How should I know? I’m not a gardener. I’m an arborist.

Two Week Update: The stump is still there. So is the dirt around it. A friend recommended a bulldozer. Tragically all I have is a Mazda 3 hatchback.

Three Week Update: I’ve decided that the tree is part of the land. Would we take the redwoods out of Northern California? Would we take the Joshua Trees out of Joshua Tree? Then why would I even consider taking a tree of unknown origin out of the clay parading as dirt in my backyard?

Four Week Update: I think I’m going to hire a pro but I’ll have to do it while I’m out of town. I can’t face the guys who are going to take this out. Or maybe I’ll lie and say that the last owner left it like this. What an asshole. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.

 

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Victor Charlie Locksmith

Image result for lawrence of arabiaWe go for a leisurely walk. We celebrate the gift of a breeze and a sunset after a day so hot that the neighborhood dogs can’t work up to snarling at me. The stroll ends with me jiggling a locked door to which I do not have the key. It’s not in my pocket, not in my car, it’s inside the house, which as I’ve mentioned, is locked.

I scale the fence, confirm that the back door is locked, then sit down with a six pack  meant to be consumed in an air-conditioned house but will instead be drunk outside and slowly. The locksmith says it’ll be a 2 hour wait.

Between slugs of an increasingly less cold beer, I pick up limbs of the mutant cactus that haunts my backyard. I’ve been trying to get rid of the remains of it for weeks. After my fourth beer, the job is finally done. A small victory.

Victor Charlie shows up at 10 pm in a black low rider. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with the logo Frequent Rocker and sports a black pony tail that tickles his ass. He starts by trying to pick the lock. This means he pushes in a pin then grinds a tool in the keyhole. It’s like he’s playing a very short xylophone and the chorus is, “Dammit! Goddammit!”

After 10 minutes, he switches from picking to –  I don’t know what to call it but he sticks in a random key then bangs it with the butt end of a screwdriver. This last for 45 minutes. I’m beginning to be concerned he might not be good at his job.

He switches to picking then back to pounding the shit out of the door handle. He smashes his finger with the screwdriver, “Fuck!” He sucks the blood from his pointer finger then keeps banging. Every five minutes he flings his ponytail back and whips me in the face with hair and sweat. I’m not standing behind him because I’m especially curious but rather because my iPhone is the sole source of light out here.

So here we are, like a prom photo, with my arm around his as he bangs and bangs and bangs at the lock. It’s loud work so I look around for concerned neighbors who might be alarmed by the sight and sounds of a break-in. I figure someone might even call the cops. I have no way to prove that I live there. They never come. The locksmith never asks me to prove that this isn’t an elaborate break-in.

Covered in sweat, Victor Charlie tells me it’s been one of those nights. I imagine that as a shitty locksmith he probably has a lot of nights like this. Finally, he gives up. He’s out of ideas. He can’t pick it. He can’t do the thing that he bloodied his finger doing. He only has one choice: rip off the fucking handle. His words.

And of course, sell me a new one for $100 plus re-keying fee. Naturally, the lock won’t be as good as the one he’s hellbent on destroying but it’s decent. And if he ever needs to crack it again, it’ll be much easier. This is supposed to be reassuring, but I assure you it’s not. Yet I agree. Let’s rip off the fucking lock and put on a shittier one.

It’s now midnight. In about two seconds he cracks off the lock. He pulls out the new, lesser knob and starts the re-keying process by immediately dropping the lock. This sends springs flying everywhere. Fuck, goddamnit, damnit, fuck! I put my iPhone down and invite Victor Charlie in to use the kitchen table and indoor light. I offer him a water, and because I’m sort of drunk, I almost offer him a beer. But because he’s already a horrendous locksmith and I can’t imagine he would be better with a buzz, I decide against it and drink the last beer myself.

He can’t do the job alone so he solicits my help. I hold the knob steady while he attempts to rebuild the lock. I’m also tasked with holding a flashlight because he keeps saying, “Well I can’t see a fucking thing!” Maybe it’s his eyes. Maybe it’s his lack of dexterity. But he is a truly awful locksmith.

Finally, he finishes assembling the lock, re-keys and installs it into the metal screen door. One of those nights, man.

He has me pay through Square. I’m surprised when it prompts me with the option to tip. How much to tip your locksmith is not something I’ve ever even thought to google. But I figure he’s not long for this trade so I tip him 20% and consider it a contribution to his future unemployment fund.

Before he goes, Victor Charlie asks if he can use the bathroom. I tell him that our main line is clogged, showers are backed up, toilets are brimming. I can see he’s hurt. The two of us have worked hand-in-hand destroying my front door and now I won’t even let him piss in my non-functioning toilet. He’s disgusted with me so he takes his 20% tip, urges me to write a positive Yelp review and then drives off looking for another door to decimate for a fee.

I crawl into bed and wonder how long I can get by showering at the gym. Probably pretty long.

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GOOD FENCES

How do I know if my neighbor is a gang member?
Do felons in California have to register their address?
Concrete vs cement?

But before I can dive into my google search history, I have to dig a hole. Three holes to be precise.

The ground is hard, nearly impenetrable. Jonathan Swift said, He was a bold man who first ate an oyster. But I say, He was a self-loathing man who first dug a hole. I have a myriad of tools: a shovel, a thing that requires two hands and looks like it could be used to serve an enormous salad, and something like a jackhammer that’s not a jackhammer which weighs as much as a Shetland pony.

Unskilled Laborer.jpg

Around each new turn I realize I know nothing of hard work. Last time it was a Jurassic Park-level cactus in my neighbor’s backyard. But that freakish plant is no more. Thanks to some version of hard work, it’s been slain and laid to rest in four trash barrels, each weighing three hundred pounds. Three hundred pounds of cactus gut and spikes. Some of it is still on the ground. Some of it is harpooned in my hands, legs, nostrils. I can’t sneeze without discovering a new alien spike lodged in me.

The mutant cactus is what brought me to the holes. Over time, presumable from when crack ravaged this community until last weekend, it flourished. It ate the fence between myself and my neighbor, just swallowed it whole. And since I now live in an area where people set off fireworks around the clock and the dogs never stop barking, I have taken to believing good fences make good neighbors. Or whatever Robert Frost wrote that people interpret for whatever case they’re attempting to make. So that’s what I’ll do. Misappropriate Robert Frost.Related image

A fence is a good thing because I don’t want to see the toilet that’s been sitting in my neighbor’s backyard for a decade and I don’t want my neighbors to see the toilet that’s been sitting in my backyard since Saturday. Also, my neighbor, who I’ve yet to meet, is allegedly a bipolar schizophrenic who I’ve been warned to not talk to. And he isn’t even my crazy neighbor.

It’s all new to me. Digging holes, a backyard full of toilets and cactus innards, seeing dogs with balls. The only thing that is familiar is not talking to my neighbors. I have that down pat. Other than a guy in Hollywood who I shared a hallway with for half a decade – who I’d drink beers with and talk about how we should find some place nicer to live than section 8 adjacent but we couldn’t beat the rent – I’ve not met one. I’ve just gone about my business not giving a shit about other people except for when it comes to institutional change. There I care. Here, in real life, I’m a bit more self-involved. I have holes to dig, walls to paint and a stack of New Yorkers that aren’t going to read themselves.

But lately I’ve wondered about meeting my neighbors. There is a new version of myself where I am a stranger in a strange land. I’m curious about this other way of life that exists south of the 10 freeway in places that people know from Mack 10 songs and documentaries about the Rodney King Riots.

Last week I was on set in what was supposed to be Columbus, Ohio but was actually the city of Hawthorne. East of the airport, most famous for the abandoned mall where Chris Brown shot “Party” and where gangs shoot each other as often as they can. While the location was being lit, I saw a police officer taking advantage of an ice cream truck that the production bought for the crew. She was 5’2 and her bulletproof vest came up high enough that she could rest her chin on it. While she ate a banana split, I asked: Had development from Inglewood overflowed into Hawthorne? No. Any shifts in the population? What? Any signs of gentrification? Um, we have a brewery now, she said.

I cut to the chase: I have a neighbor with the kind of face tattoos that you can only get in Salvadoran prisons. Should I be worried?

She shrugged, He’s probably a gangster.

Should I introduce myself? How does one exist with a gangbanger as a neighbor?

Under no circumstances am I to do that. Give him a head nod to show that you acknowledge and respect his presence, but then go inside. Stay in your lane.

I keep hearing this. Apparently, that’s how one maintains here: keep your head down. But also on a swivel. The cop tells me I shouldn’t do anything that people aren’t already doing. So no running up on cholos with blueberry pies and smiles.

Then she pulled up a map and systematically relayed the areas that I’m to avoid. All of Imperial. Most of Century Boulevard. Oh and stay out of Lennox. She said, You don’t go to Lennox.

Besides the homicide rate, a quick search revealed that Lennox has an air quality problem (thanks to LAX) that’s Flint, MI water level bad. But it’s in the hood, so apparently no one cares. My own air quality isn’t great. I’ve been huffing paint fumes every weekend for as long as I can remember (read: 2 weekends).

At the end of the day, there were three holes in the ground. Then a post was set. Then concrete that was mixed in a wheelbarrow was shoveled into the ground. I used to be stunned by One Last Poem for Richard. Now a dent in the earth, filled with concrete to support a fence post blows my mind. I think, this must be how they built the pyramids. Me and the Egyptians. We get it.

Of course I didn’t build the fence, but I was there. Across the street, my gang affiliated neighbor lit fireworks then rolled them under unsuspecting cars at the stop sign. I think I might go out of town for the 4th of July.

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In which I Do Two Days of Hard Work

I’m thinking about writing a book: My Life as a Moron. The trouble is that I’m too busy living it.

There are many things that I know nothing about and I’m all too willing to accept this and return to the stuff that I do know and enjoy. But not everyone in my life accepts my shortcomings. So this weekend I bought a sander and alternately crouched, lay, sat, squatted and bent to sand baseboards.

This was, at the very least, a stupid thing to do.

I spent the weekend punishing myself because a professional casually recommended to the person in my life who refuses to accept that I know nothing about paint or paint-stripping or paint-scraping that I sand every baseboard in the house. In retrospect I recognize that this idea came from someone who speaks English as a second-language and my information was second-hand yet I took it literally. I bought a sander and boy did I sand.

It did nothing.

For ten hours, I exhausted myself while huffing lead-based paint and accomplished absolutely nothing. As I tirelessly made no discernible progress, I thought about all the times I’ve come home exhausted from a day of sitting in a room on a studio lot talking about how to make and execute episodes of television which would be produced, financed, acted in and directed by other people. And yet I thought I knew exhaustion.

I did not. I thought I knew tedium. I knew nothing of tedium. When people talked about back-breaking work, I thought it was a metaphor, hyperbole. And sure, I’m not so soft that I’ve never had a sore back but that was all done in good fun. Hell, I’ve even gotten a few calluses from deadlifting a couple times a year to remind myself that I’m not just a person who sits in front of a computer all day amusing myself with words. I can also pick up weights and drop them in an air-conditioned space surrounded by other people who spend their days hunched over keyboards alternately drinking coffee and La Croix (and don’t want to look like it).Image result for bad before and after jesus painting

As I lay on my stomach on a skateboard with a paint scraper digging into first 9 layers of paint and then because I’m unskilled: wood, I laughed. Probably from inadvertently snorting paint chips. It was the end of a long day of making a fool of myself in an empty house while my new next-door neighbor sang Drake, Shakira, Outcast then switched to a Spanish language radio station and listened to that for so long and so loudly that I learned the words to a Cal Worthington Ford dealership ad. In Spanish.

At this stage, a smarter person might retreat. They might beg the bank to take the money back – all of it – because really, what was so bad about renting a guest house in Silver Lake where I literally didn’t change my own lightbulbs? But I’m not a smarter person, so I’ll go back. I’ll change into an old t-shirt and strap on a pair of knee pads. I’ll put in ear plugs, don some safety glasses and I’ll run a sander aimlessly while wondering: where did my life go so wrong that I thought I could operate a power tool?

Next door Rampage will bark, my neighbor will blast Cardi B and in between battles with the apron of a window sill, I’ll watch youtube videos where people with tools that I don’t have and knowledge that I certainly don’t possess confirm that what I’m doing is futile and time consuming and should probably be left up to a professional. And yet… and yet.

 

 

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Welcome to the Neighborhood!

Image result for inglewood all american city sign

She told me her name, but I’ve forgotten it. She told me her dog’s name and I can’t forget it. Rampage. After the MMA fighter.

I can already see myself, on the ground, trying to pry Rampage’s slobbery jowls and shark-sized chompers away from my jugular. Rampage is sweet though. My new neighbor tells me he’s friends with the owls, squirrels, cats and mice that all live in her yard. She doesn’t feed the mice. They don’t bother her though so she doesn’t bother them.

And she wants me to know that she doesn’t have a problem with white people. She has no issue with white people all of a sudden moving in while families who have been here for a long time move out. But I shouldn’t be surprised if not everyone is so happy about gentrification.

For example, she tells me, she has this white friend from Venice who came over once and they were walking from her house to the park, which is about half a block and they somehow got separated, and some people were not very nice to her white friend. And well I’m not sure how this ties in, but her friend was also pushing a stroller – it’s unclear whether a baby was inside of the stroller or not – but anyway, my new neighbor was about to have a word with whoever it was who was not so nice to her white friend pushing the stroller half a block to the park, and she was about to say something, because she is not cool with anyone mistreating anyone else. But then she didn’t.

Why? She stays in her lane, she says, if I get what she means. She raises her eyebrows like, six times before continuing. She doesn’t make trouble for no one. And that’s the way she likes it.

She tells me she works as a mentor now that her long-haul trucking days are over. There are some kids, rough kids, the kind who don’t like white people on the block. She suggests I might know the type and I nod that I do because I’ll apparently concede to anything. Anyway, where these kids get in trouble is they’re always smoking weed in the park. But not my neighbor. She kicks the grass at her feet – I smoke right here on my own property. I hope you don’t mind.

I assume this is a test about staying in my lane, so I nod. Fine by me. Smoke weed in your yard. Hell, mainline heroin in Marco Rubio’s bathtub for all I care, just keep Rampage on your side of the fence.

She offers her number; says she can tell me a lot about the neighborhood. Her knowledge of the neighborhood and surroundings runs deep. So deep apparently that at first she thought I was an ATF agent.

Image result for atf seizure

She tells me why. Four days ago: a van pulls up, a bunch of guys get out and go inside. Did I know the man who used to own this house worked as a Corrections Officer? He might be the type to narc. He might’ve been the type to not stay in his own lane and call ATF. It wouldn’t be the first time. ATF had been there before. She wouldn’t say which house, looking directly at the white house across the street, she wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing information with me or anyone for that matter about who might’ve been running around with unlicensed assault rifles. At this point her entire body is pointed in the direction of the white house with a Cadillac in the driveway. She’s not the type to say anything. Anyway, she’s glad I’m not ATF. Because if I was ATF I would have to tell her.

I explain that the van was an electrician’s and the guys didn’t speak to her because we went with the lowest bid which means we hired guys who have no professional credentials and speak an indiscernible language. She tells me I’ve hired good workers. Not the chatty type. Guys who know how to keep their mouths shut.

I wonder if I’m not making myself clear. I’m about to explain when she tells me she sells oils. She says this like I’ve just won the lottery. She’s noticed that I have a termite problem in the shed and she has a solution: peppermint oil and alcohol, but not too much alcohol because you don’t want to start a fire.

I tell her I’ll think about her offer to spray my wooden shed with a flammable substance for a fee as we inch toward summer. Then I head toward my house, which we now own. It’s full of holes and surrounded by termites, extremely virile pit bulls, and someone who was once hunted down by the ATF.

Before I can get to the door she tells me not to be alarmed if I periodically hear screaming next door. Her father-in-law is deaf. And by the way, welcome to the neighborhood!

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