One recommendation for preparing for any future discontinuity in the culture or the economy is to collapse now and avoid the rush. My neighborhood involuntarily did just that and so it sometimes provides living breathing examples of the things preppers warn people about.
Our largest peach tree ripens at about the same time every year that our neighbor decides to hire someone to hack down the weeds in his back “yard”. This year he was also talking about making major changes in order to expand his parking area to provide weekend visitors to MGM with a place to deposit their cars. As has happened every year his grand gesture falls short of his vision, but our garden becomes much more visible and easier to access from Union Street.
(The defect in our neighbor’s fence which allows entry from Union Street)
We’ve had incursions into our backyard before, especially when the three historic vacant buildings across the street and their environs were developed; the neighborhood lost an easy place to duck in and out for sex, drug use, or to defecate. In response we locked a gate in the back which led to an alley off of East Park Street and we placed a tiny gate in the alley leading to Maple Street as well; that one creating more of a psychological than a physical barrier. It worked and the drug fueled orgies ceased immediately.
The peach situation is different. We like to share with our neighbors. Some of them are our friends, others help us out with various issues whether regarding trash, parking, or ice and snow removal, and others simply keep an eye out for things when we’re gone, and even when we’re here. The problem is not that our neighbors and friends want a bag or two of peaches, it’s that there are enough people of questionable character wandering about that every once in a while they wander into the yard for a little treat.
This year our visitor was named Aeneas. My wife confronted him in our back yard after he had had a long and aggressive conversation with a neighbor first about her, then about our garden. He wriggled through a weak spot in our neighbor’s fence and began to harvest some peaches. He revealed his name and that he was staying in a nearby shelter having recently been released from prison. Some on line investigation uncovered that he had spent time in jail for stabbing a man 12 times and had also sexually assaulted a fellow patient at a mental institution. To quote my wife: “Lovely”.
(Aeneas on one of his foraging forays into our garden)
He reappeared a few days later offering us his services as a chef and caretaker; I demurred. He reeked of alcohol and, despite the fact that I believe that his intentions might be honest, too much familiarity with people who can easily fall into crisis can shift your role from ally to mark in a heartbeat. We locked the alley gate again (We don’t like to do that as a few of our neighbors enjoy the privilege of sitting in our backyard and of picking tomatoes, peppers and peaches). We called a fence company to investigate placing a fence between our property and our neighbor’s, we took the wire we had used to train our grape vines and created a temporary fence and affixed a “No Trespassing” sign to it. I placed bike chain and lock along the gap in our front fence.
Aeneas returned one more time, ignoring the sign and stumbling over the makeshift fence. I opened the window and told him that he was no longer welcome, that he had taken more than his share of peaches, tomatoes, peppers, and grapes already and needed to leave by the same route he came. He did so. He hasn’t returned. This may seem harsh to some, but his inquiries as to my work schedule among other things, perhaps attempts at pursuing friendship but also easily understood to be clumsy attempts at casing our home, along with his history of violent assaults, including those of a sexual nature, make me steadfast in my resolve.
We will likely not go through with the installation of a fence. We may ask our neighbor if he might repair the defect in his own perimeter fencing. We have enough in the way of grape vine and fruit tree branches to improve the “natural barrier” we built in the spring to delineate our yard from our neighbor’s. It has been heartening that so many of our neighbors noticed what has happened and have offered to be more vigilant in securing our back yard and its contents; by sharing so much of our abundance with so many people around us it has made them take an interest in seeing our garden space protected.
As a coda to this story, one of our neighbors from the large apartment building out back did some of the “weed work” for the aforementioned patch next door. He used some tools made available to him, we suppose, by that attorney. He told me, in Spanish, that the attorney wasn’t sure where they came from and so he could keep them when he was done with his part of the job. The day after providing him and a friend with a dozen or so peaches he came by and gave us those tools as a gift, since he has no land on which to use them.
They were our tools; stolen many years ago now, obviously, it turns out, by one of the random individuals our neighbor employs to do the consistently “half-ass” job of clearing out the weeds in his back yard at the same time our peaches begin to ripen. It’s not exactly an O. Henry short story, but it’s still pretty weird that I got my garden tools back in exchange for some peaches from a guy who had nothing to do with stealing them but whose work unintentionally led to this year’s peach peril predicament.
P.S. My wife suggests a naming contest if we do install a fence. Dibs on Fency McFence Face.
P.P.S. As I finish up thi post yet another stranger contemplated entry into our back yard, upon finding the gate locked he came around to the front where the bike chain was sufficient to discourage him.