Thursday, April 16, 2020

N is for Neighbor

When my husband and I bought our first house, we looked long and hard before we found what we wanted. We first looked in the western edge of the San Fernando Valley, but the homes that we could afford were either very small and on narrow streets built into the hills, or they were bigger but in neighborhoods with bars on the windows.

We moved our search out of the Valley and into Ventura County, finally setting our sights on a couple of neighborhoods in the Agoura Hills area. They were neighborhoods with wide streets, sidewalks, and homes with nice yards, and there were families taking walks and children playing outside. We loved the area, and it wasn't long before we were homeowners.

The house on one side of us was empty; it had been badly damaged in the Northridge earthquake about 8 months earlier and had still not been repaired. But the house on the other side of us had a married couple living in it, probably 20 years older than us. The day we moved in, we noticed the gentleman pretending to work in his front yard so he could watch us move in.

Then we started doing work on our front yard, and he came over, and from that moment on, he came over every time we were in the yard. Every. Time.

He offered us unsolicited advice about any and everything, especially as it pertained to gardening. As we were planting bougainvillea on either side of our garage doors, he told us it wouldn't grow there because of the winter. He told us we had the wrong kind of grass, used the wrong products, or needed to do any number of things differently than we were doing them. 

Between the two of us, we called him Newman.

He was outside a LOT. His front yard was some kind of drought-resistant, clover-like ground covering (not what we had; see above) that he weeded every day with a butter knife, so that kept him outside a lot. and that seemed to be a pretty full time job for him.

We were polite at first, but it didn't take long for us to find out why the other neighbors would give us a sly smile when they saw him talking to us, and we began dodging him when we could.

We would scan the yard for him when we pulled in the driveway, and if we saw him, my husband would say, "Nnnnewman." We would then try to make it inside the house before Newman could make it through his carefully-tended roses (which were scraggly and unattractive for all the work he put into them) to corner us for a conversation. When he caught us both at the same time, it became a game to see which one of us could come up with a reason to go in the house first (I was the MASTER at that game). 

Newman didn't limit his visits, riddled with largely unwanted advice, to the front yard. Until the cinder block wall between our two houses was repaired about a year after we moved in (another Northridge earthquake casualty), he could see us on our patio and would hang over the wall and talk. One of my most memorable fence lectures from Newman was shortly after my son was born, when I was having a horrific time with breast feeding (super long story and I'll spare you at this time), and I was, per instructions from the lactation consultant, sitting on the patio with my raw and bleeding nipples exposed to the sun. Next thing I knew, Newman was hanging over the wall, talking about how my husband was planting the wrong ground cover on our hill. He was so engrossed in his lecture that he never seemed to notice my full frontal exposure.

"The problem," my husband once said, "is that he occasionally has some good information. But the other 95% of the time, he doesn't."

We had a big change of plans a couple of years after we bought that house, and we moved to Missouri to be near our families. When we left the house for the last time, the last thing we saw as we drove away was the two enormous, flourishing bougainvillea plants on either side of the garage doors.


  1. Neighbors can be tough and Newman sounds especially challenging. Glad your bougainvillea plants flourished! Weekends In Maine

  2. I knew the bougainvillea was going to make it big time.
    Finding Eliza

  3. I had to laugh when I read this because a couple weeks ago we were working on an annoying jigsaw puzzle that my grown son nicknamed Newman. All the pieces were cut into two shapes and all of them fit together even if they were wrong. When our son would stop by and start to help (again) with the puzzle, he'd mutter, "Hello, Newman." Cracked us up. (And... when I finally finished the puzzle, I threw it away.)

    1. Hahahaa! Great story! I would have pitched that puzzle out, too!