Monday, May 09, 2005

A Neighborhood Conundrum

While we were doggie sitting Saturday Cha and I walked Chalupa up to the Burkleigh Square Community Park. One of the local community association busy-bodies was there and asked if we'd seen Nancy recently--Nancy's our next door neighbor in #3, and she's really nice but is also, quite frankly, not firing on all synapses. Her house, which she owns, is falling down around her, but she has neither the inclination nor the money to fix it up, and she refuses any and all help (though I do cut her grass and shovel her snow and allow her to use our trash cans because she doesn't have one). Her gutters have all fallen down, her plumbing is a catastrophe, she has no refrigerator, her windows are broken. The house is an eyesore.

"I have not," I told said busybody as her new Doberman puppy tried to eat my right shoelace, "seen Nancy in months. Nor her cat, nor her boyfriend. I assumed she'd moved in with her boyfriend because her pipes burst again this winter and there was a glacier on her front porch for much of February." I'd actually spoken to Cha a few times over the winter about her curious absence. When we returned from Honduras in January there was a week-old snowfall frozen on Nancy's sidewalks, and no footprints in either her front or back yard.

The busybody informed me that Nancy's boyfriend had stopped by and knocked at Nancy's door for an hour just last week, with no response. It's not atypical for Nancy to ignore people knocking. She's a bit of a recluse, and tends toward wackiness:

  • Last summer she got a library book wet and put it in her gas oven at 500 degrees to "dry it out." I smelled something burning and after tearing around my house in a panic I saw smoke coming from her kitchen window and went in via an unlocked window to find a singed and mutilated copy of a holistic healing tome baking away. Nancy was upstairs the entire time I'd been knocking on her window and door shouting--she simply ignored me until I climbed through her window. She was apologetic but mostly amused by this incident.
  • When we first moved in she told me the deceased previous owner of our house liked me, and that she often saw him smiling down at her from the upstairs window of our house.
  • I often heard her wailing and yelling to herself in the wee hours of the morning.
  • She often left us small gifts on our back porch, including a frog candle holder, a blue glass, a gauche daub featuring a bullfighter portrait on black velvet, some parking meter tokens from 1960s Towson, a small iron table, etc. Her cat Monkey has left me headless birds and mice as well.
  • Her dog Happy died last Spring and she covered his grave with impatiens and then stopped doing any yard work--the only upkeep she'd ever done in the nine years we've lived next to her was to tend her plants.

Today before work I decided to call the police. There's mail in Nancy's box from March, and before that I'm sure the mailman simply couldn't deliver anything because of the ice cascading out of burst pipes over her front door. Two young musclehead cops showed up and banged on her door, opened her window and shouted, and asked me a bunch of questions. "We can't enter the property despite its delapidation unless we, uh, you know, smell something. Or, if there's some upkeep issue damaging your property, or if a family member calls."

I told them she has no family, and mentioned that she keeps a key in her yard under a seashell that she showed me to use if she accidentally almost burned down her house again. "Would it be ok for me to enter the property to see if she's ok?"

According to them it's not, but I might just do so this week anyhow to satisfy my curiosity. I'm worried about her. We used to chat over the fence every few weeks, and the last time I remember talking to her or seeing her was shortly after Happy's death last fall. Is it appropriate for me to enter her property, or an invasion of privacy? If I can't find the key she showed me, should I go in through her living room window? What would I find--and am I prepared to find something unpleasant?