The Failed Exorcism of Annoying Neighbors
“Your presence is respectfully requested,” read the letter. But Stewart made it abundantly clear there was nothing respectful about it.
“If you fail to appear, our next course of action will be to subpoena you, Mr. Patterson, and, well, then you’ll have to appear.”
“Got news for you Stewart,” I said. “I will appear at your neighborhood association meeting next Thursday night, just like I’ve appeared at the previous three neighborhood association meetings I’ve been ‘respectfully’ requested to attend. You numb-nuts have never had to subpoena me and if you did, that would just be fuckin’ stupid. You can come have your goddamn neighborhood association meeting on my deck, you fuck stick.”
Stewart tossed his nose upward, turned and walked away. He’s not happy I won’t hide from the law. It drives him thoroughly insane that I mess with him, his house and his prize-winning flower bushes but never quite get caught.
If you’ve never been to a neighborhood association meeting, count yourself lucky. This random assortment of self-righteous, nit-pickers is what tattle tales grow up to be. Each monthly meeting consists of a 30-minute bitch session about Milton and Estelle’s kids parking on Cedar Lane, which is a thru-street with a no-parking ordinance. Then they go on for a half hour about Gary Walters’s RV. There’s apparently an ordinance against parking recreational vehicles in your driveway, too. Gary extended his behind his back yard fence technically getting around the rule.
Five minutes or less is spent re-voting to foreclose on Clayton Davidson’s house on the corner of Cedar and Tollhouse Road. He hasn’t paid his $100 per year association fees in nine years. The association can technically take their collective liens on his home, foreclose and weasel the money out of his mortgage company. His mortgage goes up, the association gets its money, plus legal fees and the Hickory Hollow Tattle Tale Association feels so self-righteous they need a moist towelette.
The last hour of the monthly meeting is normally reserved for one particular nuisance. Namely, me.
Jim Cleghorn, president of the Hickory Hollow Neighborhood Association and certainly a high-ranking member of some order of elk, moose, friar or swine club, actually carries a gavel to each meeting. He bought it at the “World’s Largest Flea Market and Bazaar” just off the interstate in Shepherdsville, Ky., the week after he assumed association presidency which was in June of 1981.
“I hereby call this meeting of the Hickory Hollow Neighborhood Association to order. Madame Secretary, please inform the membership of any alterations or changes to the pre-approved minutes from last month,” Cleghorn bellowed from his plump little self.
“You just told me the word ‘dissuade’ was misspelled, Jim,” Wanda Skidmore said, thick as molasses.
With a sigh of annoyance at her complete lack of parliamentary procedure, Cleghorn said, “Very well, then. Mr. Davis, may we have a motion to approve?”
Stewart Theodore Davis, STD for short and the neighbor to the backside of my property, rises as one would rise to be classified as rising in a patronizing fashion and proudly says, “I move that we, the Hickory Hollow Neighborhood Association on this, the 15th day of November in the Year of our Lord, two-thousand alt seven, hereby approve said minutes of the October meeting.”
“Dja get all that, Wanda?” I shouted from the chair inside the door.
Before Cleghorn could pound his gavel and admonish me for speaking out of turn, but just in time for Stewart’s first facial tick temper tantrum of the evening, Wanda shouted back, “How do you spell ‘alt’?”
“It’s A-L-T, Wanda. What the honorable S-T-D was trying to say is ‘aught’ as in 30-aught-six shotgun. But he’s an uppity college professor and must cascade condescendence upon us ignorant masses since it’s technically spelled ‘A-L-T.’ God forbid the sumbitch just say, ‘2007.’”
The next two minutes featured gavel pounding, Stewart facial tick tantruming, murmurs of either giddy laughter or exasperated irritation from the 30 or so in attendance and me laughing at it all.
Now, before we proceed with this little number, it is important to note that the monthly meetings of the neighborhood association are held in the fellowship hall of the East Jefferson Pentecostal Church. Of the 10 Hickory Hollow Neighborhood Association board members, seven of them are EJPC members. Five of those are what I would consider devout, or to put it frankly, Lord Loony. They pray the place doesn’t catch fire when they know I’m coming to the meetings.
After the commotion subsides, Cleghorn opens the official proceedings by skipping ahead to my part.
“Mr. Patterson. For the 14th consecutive meeting of this association we are going to spend a considerable amount of time talking about you. Frankly, this is becoming a hindrance to the forward progress of this body. After much discussion and consultation with our legal representation, which is in attendance tonight and will explain this in more intimate detail, we are setting forth for a vote tonight. It is a vote to draft a petition, that if signed by more than 50-percent of the 89 residents of Hickory Hollow will officially place a lien of $10,000 on your property as a fine for conduct unbecoming a neighborhood association member. This can either be paid in full within 30 days of issuance or waived should you elect to leave Hickory Hollow. This body has grown intolerant of your shenanigans, Mr. Patterson. Our community has grown intolerant of you, Mr. Patterson. And we are now going to do something about it. Ten Thousand Dollars or leave. Do you have any questions?”
“Yeah. Can you give me a second. I gotta go pee.”
I called my buddy Nick.
“Go find 45 people, it doesn’t matter who they are, but make sure most of them are adults. Offer them $20 each to go to a meeting with you, then tell them they’re all invited to my house afterward for beer. Get ’em here and get ’em here fast.”
Nick was confused, but said he’d go down to Beef O’Brady’s and see what he could round up. I then told him to call Gary Walters’s house, ask for his son Brad … the baseball player Gary follows around in the RV … and offer him and his buddies some extra incentive for a little fun.
For good measure, I did pee. On Stewart’s Buick.
“We were awaiting your reaction to our intentions, Mr. Patterson,” Cleghorn said rather impatiently.
“Well the first thing I’d like to know is why everyone … I’m sorry, not everyone … why the 10 high and mighties on the association board are so up in arms with me? Have I not paid my dues? Have I not provided beer for the Fourth of July picnic? Have I not salted the corner of Cedar and Hickory before 7 a.m. after every freeze using my own salt and not once asking for reimbursement? Have I not provided each of you with hours of entertainment watching Stewart Davis come within a heartbeat of convulsions at each of these meetings?
“Where’s the love, Mr. Cleghorn? You call this a neighborhood association, right? We’ll you can’t have an association without the ass.”
I kept close watch on the peanut gallery. Of the 20 folks watching, 11 of them laughed. I wouldn’t need all 45 from Nick, but more was better.
Stewart looked as if he would cry and Cleghorn responded.
“Mr. Patterson. Here’s why we are willing to move forward with a fine and declaration of unbecoming conduct. In the last year alone, you have …”
He rolled off a list of what I’d call “alleged” incidents, one of which was threatening someone with karate.
“And that, my friend, is on the first page,” Cleghorn sighed. “Shall I continue?”
“No sir,” I said. “I might ask the board to note, however, that only one of those accusations can officially or legally be linked to me and it is impossible threaten someone with karate, which is a form of self-defense.”
The neighborhood association’s lawyer spent at least 20 minutes going over the various and sundry legal documents, by-laws and ordinances that permitted the association to levy a fine on a member. I text-messaged Nick with several car descriptions. (Don’t get greedy. You’ll understand in a minute.) He responded that he was on his way with 24 people, saying it was the best he could do on a Thursday. I’d have to think fast for the numbers.
The lawyer finished and Cleghorn asked me to respond if I wished.
“President Cleghorn, members of the distinguished board of directors for the Hickory Hollow Neighborhood Association, association members, friends, neighbors … God,” I raised my hands in prayer for the last entry. “It pains me to hear that this board feels my behavior is detrimental to the forward progress of this body. I work hard to never prevent a body from progressing forward, then back, then forward, then back again … oooh yeah.”
“It also pains me to know that I am thought of as some sort of outlaw hooligan, running roughshod over the neighborhood and its decorum. Frankly, looking around the room the only decorum I envision is PBR mirrors and velvet Elvis paintings, so I’m not sure what the problem is.
“To address your list of accusations I claim no responsibility for the actions, but do understand a bit more about many of them than you seem to have represented. The lit arrow went into a book on someone’s porch, not inside their house. ‘Defacing’ property is a strong word to use to describe what a water balloon can accomplish. Power washers don’t ‘shoot.’ They spray. And as for the flaccid penis thing? Okay, that was me. But it was funny as hell and could have easily been mistaken for a scarecrow.
“I am not at all afraid of your little ‘ten grand or go’ plan here, folks. Neighborhood associations are generally fascist little aristocracies without rank or merit. Three or four numb nuts who don’t like the fifth guy’s lawn care techniques, get together and form an association, force him to be in it, then make him mow east-to-west instead of north-to-south. This is juicy prime rib for any number of lawyers eight times smarter than Mr. Tighty Briefs over there.
“But the real reason none of this bothers me at all is something the 10 of you clearly aren’t good at: Math. Think about this, folks. I have seven neighbors who would rather watch Cleghorn’s great dane dry hump the mailbox than vote for anything involving Stewart. Add my wife and me to the list and that’s nine. There are 11 people sitting around this room that have not been appalled at what I’ve said, but laughed … sometimes out loud. That’s 20.
“And then there are just the average, everyday folks who live in this neighborhood. The only way they know me is because I’m the fun guy always inviting them to join the cookout or have a beer. The only way they know you is when they forget to pay their dues within 30 days of your stupid notice and you threaten to turn it over to a collection agency. In fact, I think I see a few of them outside … hold on one minute.”
I walked over to open the door. Nick and the 24 Ford factory, first-shift cocktail-hour gang piled in the tiny room, filling a U-shape around the conference table two-deep.
“If you need a little help counting, there’s 24 people here, folks. That puts me at 44 — one vote short of more than 50 percent. Now you can gamble that everyone else will be against me if you like. Or you can assume that since I know Jeb Haynes across from Stewart enjoys Cuban cigars and cognac, both of which I have on hand and ready to deliver this evening, then I’ve got you beat before the game even starts.
“It’s all about the math, folks. There are 89 people in the neighborhood association, not just you 10. You’re supposed to represent us and our collective interests, not just your own. What this body needs is to have its priorities flipped over. Stop thinking about yourselves and think about your neighborhood. If you don’t then the N.A. becomes the n/a … not applicable.”
Stewart openly sobbed as Cleghorn ground his teeth together and dismissed the motion for the petition. The Ford gang and Nick headed to my house and admired Brad Walters’s buddies’ handiwork.
As I rose to leave, Wanda Skidmore interrupted whatever Cleghorn was saying.
“Mr. Patterson … excuse me, Jim, but I have something to say to Mr. Patterson.”
“The chair recognizes Madame Secretary,” Cleghorn sighed.
“Mr. Patterson, I just want you to know that despite your rude and disrespectful attitude and wholly unacceptable use of language in a house of God, I am going to pray hard for you. I am going to ask the Lord to come down tonight, tomorrow and for the rest of your days and fill you with the spirit, Logan Patterson. Because the spirit will take you and change you. The spirit will lead you to a better life, a better place and to being a better person. I don’t like you much, Mr. Patterson, but the spirit guides me to love you and pray for you. I want the spirit to fill you and help you not treat us the way you do. I just wanted you to know that, Mr. Patterson. I’m praying hard the Lord will give you the spirit, sir.”
I pulled out my flask, shook a couple ounces of bourbon into my pop bottle and said, “Well, Wanda, if the Lord’s spirit tastes anything like mine, I’ll have two.”
By the time I got home there were 35 people in my back yard. Nick knows the code to my garage and with my kegerator freshly stocked, the beer was flowing. I’d stopped at the ATM to make sure the 24 folks who showed up all got a 20-spot for helping. Turns out only 16 of them lived in the neighborhood, but what the hell.
Thanks to Brad Davidson and his baseball buddies, it took a while for the 10 members of the Hickory Hollow Neighborhood Association Board to get home that night. I told them in my little speech they needed to have their priorities flipped over. When they finally made their way to the parking lot of the East Jefferson Pentecostal Church that evening, they found out that by “priorities” I meant “automobiles.”
Wanda Skidmore called me about 11:30 p.m. and, as calmly as an irritated old lady could, said, “Mr. Patterson, you wouldn’t have any idea how the 10 board member’s cars got flipped over tonight, now would you?”
“Naw, Wanda. Can’t say that I do.”
“You sure? Because that thing you said about the priorities getting flipped kindly got us all to thinking you were up to one of your tricks again.”
“Well, Wanda. I can assure you I didn’t flip anybody’s car over tonight. Heck, I was in the meeting with you almost the whole time.”
“Well, I wonder how they got to be that way, then, Mr. Patterson?”
I thought for a second and said …
“Maybe they were moved by the spirit.”