As predicted last week the illiterate seventeen-year-old high school dropout continued to escalate his intentional noisemaking activities all week until Friday night, as I walked past our dining room window with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I saw the little rat coast his dirtbike across the front yard, revving the engine for all he was worth – which, admittedly isn’t much – while staring at my house and grinning like the proverbial possum.
He had ridden most of the last few days, from mid-morning until after dark, and started his riding activities just after 7:30 AM, Friday morning. I left for a job and returned just before 1 PM that day. It was quiet for a few hours that afternoon, and then, just after 5 PM, he started again. Shortly after, I observed the lap across the front yard and the shit-eating grin on his face.
Bear in mind, this kid has a fair-sized area behind the house in which to ride. He doesn’t have to bring that bike up to the street. The house he lives in with his great-grandmother and a couple of uncles sits about twenty feet behind the sidewalk; their front yard is tiny.
I called 911 and requested enforcement of our town’s noise ordinance. When an officer, our local detective, arrived I proceeded to explain the situation to him, how this has been going on for years with constant escalation despite my best efforts to ignore the constant harassment. The detective is familiar with the animosity I get from the so-called adults in that family, having witnessed it first-hand a couple of years ago when my aunt backed into a car illegally parked on the sidewalk across from my driveway.
I told the detective that I was willing to compromise on the noise issue: if they will keep the dirtbike and ATVs behind the buildings on the lot, on the track the kids have worn out in the back, I was willing to look the other way on the noise, provided they didn’t bring in anything louder than what is there now to the site.
The detective walked across the street, talked to the boy, and came back a little later. He informed me that the boy would abide by my offer, then he left. It was quiet for the rest of the evening, and all morning yesterday, until about 1 PM, and then Hell broke loose on Church Street.
I had accumulated a large pile of deadfall in my firepit over the winter, so yesterday after I cut the spring weeds in the yard I lit the fire. The old man across the street, I’ll call him B, came out almost immediately and began recording my activities, which I knew based upon a previous conversation with the chief of our fire department, when these people called them on me last year for the same thing, was perfectly legal. I smiled at the old man and gave a friendly five-fingered wave.
When I finished burning the branches it was about 4 PM. We usually eat around five o’clock and watch a few hours of television after that, so I put a tenderloin on the grill and began cooking it slowly. Meanwhile, all afternoon, the boy and his next-door neighbors had brought several additional ATVs to the lot, all running in tandem. There’s really not enough room back there for that many to operate safely at once, but that’s none of my concern.
And then it happened; the motorcycle got driven up past the buildings, not once but twice, and not by the boy, by the little girl next-door’s father. Now, the compromise I had offered was that the bike and all other ATVs would not be operated beyond the back of the buildings behind the house. When the little girl’s father rode it beyond that point the compromise agreement became void, and I called 911 again because this has gone on for years. I had followed the advice given me by our police chief, to simply ignore them, for a year, a pandemic year in which my family has been isolated in our home – especially my wife – and that strategy had gotten us nothing but an escalation of the bad behavior.
The detective showed up and I explained to him what had happened. He acted exasperated and stated that the whole thing seems petty, and it is, but not on my part. I’ve tried to get along. I’ve looked the other way. I’ve explained to clients on the telephone that no, I was not speaking to them from a motocross race. It’s just my shitty, disrespectful neighbors making noise.
While explaining the chain of events leading up to my call I mentioned to the detective that I had burned a few twigs in my firepit that afternoon. He interrupted me to point out that I had violated a town ordinance in doing so. I disagreed and his reaction let me know he was irritated with me.
He then tried to tell me that there was no violation of the noise ordinance because the property lines in question have to be more than fifty feet apart to qualify for enforcement. These two houses sit across a narrow street with less than twenty feet separating our properties.
I knew this was incorrect and said so. The detective indicated that needed to look the ordinance up and review it, and went to his vehicle to do so. While the detective reviewed the ordinance I called the town commissioner responsible for the police department, who also happens to be an officer at another local agency.
I related all of the above to the commissioner and was informed that, no, it’s not illegal to burn sticks in my firepit, and yes, the noise ordinance is enforceable for my complaint. The commissioner said he would call the police chief and get this straightened out. A few minutes later the detective exited his vehicle and went across the street to speak to the old people, Granny and B, who had taken seats on their front porch to observe the proceedings and offer commentary, like the old Statler and Waldorf characters on The Muppet Show when I was a kid.
Sadly, Granny and B aren’t nearly as humorous. I heard voices rising. The boy came up from the backyard and started running his mouth before being told to cease and desist by the detective. The boy then turned and told his comrades to “shut it down”.
Within a few minutes, every child and adult in the extended family household next door had migrated up to Granny’s front porch, all attempting to lodge irrelevant complaints about me or my dogs, all out of turn, yelling over each other at times. It was sad.
The father of the little girl from the house behind and next to Granny’s lost his temper at one point – he had apparently purchased a large, expensive ATV for his kid to ride that day – and stormed off, accusing me of having called Crimestoppers on him, which was news to me. This is the same man who was almost arrested a few months ago when my wife called 911 after she heard him threatening me one Saturday morning.
Anyway, the bottom line was that I have a right to force them to stop riding if the noise bothers me, period, and since these folks had decided to double, or I should say, triple down on the noise after the police came out Friday night, yes, it bothered me and my wife. It’s been bothering us for years!
I did finally get the little girl’s father to talk to me, and I let him know that as long as she only rides her ATV behind the buildings I will not complain about her activities.
Several of us stood out there talking for another hour, with the neighbors all trying to make arguments for why I should have to listen to the racket from that godawful bike, from dawn until after dark, seven days a week. The detective even tried to make the argument that if the boy was out there riding, “at least he’s not breaking into houses, getting people pregnant, and breaking laws.”
Really? I get that this is a small town and the police department has a difficult job to do, and that job involves keeping the peace, but sometimes when you’re a cop you have to do things that leave some people to see you as the bad guy. Those people are usually the ones intentionally breaking the rules; they are the bad guys.
At some point, my wife and I realized that there was nothing more to be done. We had made it clear to all, and I hope the body camera footage captured it, that well-maintained ATVs ridden behind the buildings are acceptable, but given the fact that the compromise I had offered the night before had been violated so soon, the bike must not run anymore, ever. Not even when I’m away at work.
Today, Sunday afternoon, there has been a steady stream of visitors across the street, including the boy’s actual grandfather, who has quite a history with the local police chief and a well-earned reputation for misbehavior. He parked his car as close to the street as legally possible, opened the doors, and serenaded us all with several songs on the radio before losing interest and turning it off.
This is only noteworthy because one of the countercomplaints Granny and B kept throwing out last night was my habit of practicing my guitar on my porch in warm weather. It’s an unamplified guitar, usually pointed away from the street. I don’t play it very loud because I’m not very skilled and unlike some people around here, I try not to disturb my neighbors with unnecessary noise.
The kids all got out and rode their ATVs for a few hours today, in the back as they should, but I did hear the dirtbike crank up a couple of times. The party seems to have broken up and all the guests have gone away. The neighborhood is quiet… for now.