Birmingham elected a new mayor last week, and it reminded me of a small story that recently was in our local paper and caught the Schnauzer's alert eye. And in a perverse way, it sort of did my heart good.
The story involved Birmingham City Councilwoman Valerie Abbott (who ran for mayor) and her husband, Rod. (Abbott lost, by the way; the winner was Larry Langford, in a landslide.) The Abbotts live on Birmingham's Southside, in the Glen Iris area near UAB. And they seem to have had an ongoing problem with their neighbors, George and Teri Smith.
The Abbotts sued the Smiths last August, claiming their neighbors damaged their fence, posted a vulgar sign on it, and encroached on their property. The Smiths countersued, admitting to the sign and other activities, but claiming the Abbotts fence encroached on their property.
According to a Metro Brief in The Birmingham News, Rod Abbott said the parties reached an agreement in mediation, and the Abbotts were vindicated.
A News reader, David Wells of Eagle Point, took issue with the notion of the Abbotts' vindication. "The Smiths' story is as good as the Abbotts' and much more believable," Wells wrote in a letter to the editor. "Having known the Smiths for more than 20 years, I have no reason to question their honesty."
Based on court documents I've seen and a followup brief in the News, Wells might have a point. Under the settlement, the Abbotts paid $6,000 for about a five-foot strip of the Smiths' property that was inside the Abbotts' fence. That seems to indicate that somebody installed the fence improperly on the Smiths' property. Smith said the fence was put up before he moved into his home 12 years ago.
Why did all this catch the Schnauzer's eye? As I've noted, my legal nightmare started from this kind of neighbor problem. But I've got news for the Abbotts and the Smiths: Their spat is minor league compared to my feud that is straight from the big leagues. I bet nobody in the Abbott/Smith spat has eight criminal convictions. My neighbor, Mike McGarity, does.
And want to talk about fence problems? My neighbor built a fence that took in a strip of my property that was about 4 feet by 80 feet. In other words he took more than 300 square feet of my property, and he had it for six months before I realized what was wrong. Did I ever get a dime? Nope.
News reports and court documents say the Abbotts paid $6,000 for a five-foot strip of land. But it doesn't say what its overall dimensions were. Was it five feet wide? Five feet long? Five feet by five feet? Five square feet?
I don't know. But I do have this question: How much money should I have gotten for 300 to 400 square feet of property my neighbor stole for about six months--and it would have been probably forever if I hadn't noticed it? And when my wife and I paid $200 to have our yard resurveyed, proving he had stolen our property, he refused to reimburse us.
And the fence was only part of our neighbor problem. An extremely loud barking dog, adult trespassing, juvenile trespassing, vandalism, a lawsuit. The list goes on.
Think I will call the Abbotts and/or the Smiths and see if they want to trade neighbors.
So why do I take a perverse sort of pleasure in reading about the Abbotts and the Smiths? I don't know either couple and certainly have no ill will toward either. But at the risk of sounding terribly shallow, I guess it does me a little good to know that someone else has had to put up with some semblance of the headaches my wife and I have endured.
Does that make me a bad person?
And there is this: Numerous times since our legal woes began, I've looked to the sky and said, "Sweet Jesus, why did we ever buy a house in Shelby County?"(Answer: We liked the house, we liked the lot, and we thought the price was reasonable. And houses in our price range closer to town were mostly fixer-uppers, and neither one of us is particularly handy. After looking at umpteen expensive houses (to us) with all sorts of problems, we loved the idea that this house was in move-in condition. So we decided to bite the Highway-280 traffic bullet and buy a house in Shelby County. Yes, I'd heard it was a fairly conservative county, but I had no idea that meant it was run by a bunch of sociopaths. And yes, I knew the courthouse was in an inconvenient little hellhole called Columbiana. But I figured once we got our "home-buyery" stuff out of the way, we'd never have any reason to go there. Heck, neither my wife nor I had ever been involved in any kind of criminal or civil case. What reason would we ever have to go to the courthouse? Ah, the voice of youthful ignorance.)
You see, the Glen Iris neighborhood where the Abbotts and Smiths live is near UAB and the cool Five Points South area in Birmingham. It's an area of mostly older homes and considerable diversity--in terms of color, socioeconomics, and ideas. Artists live there. Academics live there. Heck, some honest-to-God Democrats live there!
Several times since our legal nightmare began, I've thought about Southside and said to myself, "That's where enlightened people live. We would have been so much better off buying a house there."
But now, thanks to the Abbotts and Smiths, I know that neighbor problems can happen most anywhere--even in enlightened neighborhoods.
I hope the Abbotts and Smiths will forgive me--and I hope God doesn't smite my soul for saying this--but I just might sleep a little better knowing they've had neighbor problems, too.