Sunday, May 31, 2015

Horrible Neighbors or Horrible Me - Part 4

Our roof in the foreground and the neighbor's in the background
This part of my story begins about ten days ago, but really, it is a continuation of stories, challenges for me in a physical reality mixed with personalities, some of them polite and some of them nasty.

My partner (Apple) had received a notice from a local government official, that he was going to come over and check our roof to see if it was safe or not. For more information on our ongoing housing situation, see, the previous posts, Horrible Neighbors or Horrible Me, parts 1, 2 & 3. I had driven up the previous day because I had decided that this battle or should I say war between our house and the 4-5 in the community had gotten out of hand. I figured that a government inspector could, might, would, should finally put an end to the dispute by simply stating, safe or unsafe. Unfortunately, I figured wrong.

In the room behind the guard office, there is much yelling. Stanley, the one who calls my wife, garbage lady is filming the meeting even after the government man asked him not to. It's the second time I've sat in this room for a meeting. For some reason, no one ever takes the chair at the head of the coffee table, so I sit there. Stanley, who is almost a foot shorter than me, but perhaps physically stronger, suddenly sits directly across from me and begins making strange faces, kind of like a comedy scene from TV. A woman, one of the group of 4-5, hits him on the knee and seems to tell him to behave himself. And then there is more yelling, name-calling and arguing, but I remain sitting calmly.

The yelling back and forth went on for a while, nothing getting accomplished - the same old arguments from different angles. Then Stanley moved behind me and I guess he called Apple “garbage lady” again. She walked straight up and got in his face before I calmly urged her back, telling her not to play children's games. Then a little later, Stanley got very close to me and put cellphone or recording device only a couple inches from my face, yelling “I'm recording, I'm recording, what are you going to say.” At that point, I stood up and started singing as loud as I could, the first verse of Heart Break Hotel. Although at the time, I didn't have a clue as to why I did this, I now realize that it was a reaction in self-manipulation disguised as a response. Suddenly Stanley banged his chest into mine three times, and that's when I raised my fist very high, aimed it at his face and told him told him to go ahead and touch me again. I didn't throw a punch, I didn't even push back at him. The government man stepped in between us and I'm thankful to him for that. 

As I've stated before, a big section of roof-tiles fell down from the 6th floor of one of the 90 degree roofs in our community. I don't think it was Stanley's roof, but soon after that, some the tiles on his 90 degree roof also began to fall off. Not too long before that, a 20 story apartment complex had just been completed right next door. They had pounded relentlessly for days on end, driving steal girders (like railroad tracks) 3-4 four floors deep into the clay ground and I was certain that these impacts had had the effect of loosening the roof tiles. I told the group of 4-5, but no one seemed to listen. All they kept saying was it's the building company's fault, the design was flawed and all the roofs are unsafe.

At that meeting, one of the women of the gang told me that we must take apart our roof to prove to them that it wasn't dangerous. It's all about the safety of the community she said. I replied that, her logic was flawed. If it was really all about safety, then why had they all (including those with 90 degree roofs whose tiles had begun to fall) waited almost three years to replace those roofs? She didn't seem to hear this argument, ignoring my response to once again state that our roof was unsafe and we must either replace it or tear it up to prove that it's safe.

In the end, even though I asked the government man several times to inspect our roof, he refused, which I found strange considering he had written a letter stating that this was the reason he was coming. By the end of the meeting (just before we walked out of there) the group of 4-5 had resorted once again to calling us names, saying we were too (financially) poor to live in their community, that we didn't deserve to be there and we should just move out. That's when Apple and got up and walked out of the meeting.

About half and hour after we had left the meeting, I saw some people in the courtyard walking towards our next-door neighbor's house. As it turns out (via the surveillance camera that I had openly installed inside our window to see who was putting obstacles in front of our house), it was the government man who when into our next-door neighbor's house and stayed there for about ten minutes.

Not only do we have our own proof that our roof does not require to be replaced, we also have (as a matter of public record) twenty-three pages of a ruling handed down by a judge, which includes the expert opinion from a government architect that clearly states that only the safety of the eleven ninety-degree roofs is in question and that whose ones should at least be reinforced. 

I have been asked: why do I stand my ground on this, why not just pay the $6,000 to replace our roof and make peace with everyone? The word stubborn comes to mind; yet so to does the word resilience. As I stated in previous posts, the building company initially offered to fix and/or reinforce any and all of the community's roofs free of charge. This offer was rejected by a small group who went around telling everyone that all of their roofs were unsafe and that the building company (even after ten years) must compensate us all.

Of the forty-two town houses, 38 decided to sue the building company. Somewhere along the line, someone also decided to tap into community funds to fund the personal lawsuits, which was once again illegal, but they did finally return the money after this was repeatedly pointed out. 

Surprisingly, even after every complainant lost their combined lawsuits, they still decided to sue the building company again in a higher court. What's all the more fascinating here (in what I'd call another case of cognitive disconnect) is that, even the homes that the judge specifically said had no grounds to sue are still listed as complainants in the second suit.  

When I look back on this whole issue, I do admit, there is very little that I did not foresee. In the beginning, I had decided that I neither needed a new roof, nor did I want to replace ours. Where I made mistakes though, was in deciding to sit on the sidelines. Even after Stanley had physically pushed me to the side when I had attempted to speak at a community meeting, I should have persisted and shared with others my considerations, but I didn't.

I have also asked myself: if we now agreed to replace our roof, would this be enough for the neighbor, the one that banged me in the chest and still calls my partner, garbage-lady? Most of the neighbors have never been unkind or impolite to us; it's only these 4-5. In fact, I would guess that, whether or not we change our roof makes no difference to most of the neighbors, only these 4-5. Why? Because it was these 4-5 neighbors who led the push to reject the building company's offers and sue them instead, not just once, but twice, thereby staking their reputations to what I would call a lie. As long as our original roof is still in place, it's additional evidence of a baseless legal case against what I consider to be an upstanding building company. 

Should I give in to the name-calling, coercion and intimation of a few? We offered to compromise on several occasions: basically, all that these 4-5 people including the community leader needed to do was carry out a legal procedure in order to legalize the change in color from black to silver. However, instead of doing as Apple asked, they once again used flawed logic and ordered us to just obey “their” decisions. We were even prevented (as per a private agreement between the community leader and the roofing company) from negotiating directly with the roofing-company boss. Four or five people handled all of the negotiations and had all the residents sign contracts that didn't even include specific prices. Then the community leader kept all the contracts himself. In my view, these are underhanded tactics; the idea of not being permitted to negotiate with the contracting company, having to sign a contract without a specific price, and not being permitted to keep a copy of the contract is simply ridiculous. I understand that it's basically a no win situation for us; however, if I agree to change our roof to the different-color lower quality tiles, I'll be out $6,000 and I'll be stuck with the lower quality roof tiles. 

The other day, some of my students gave a presentation on woman's rights. At the end of it they stated following: If not now, then when? If not us then who? I say that, just because the majority allow themselves to be led into wasting money and resources doesn't mean that I/we should follow along because a few command us to.

All the roofs in the community (except for ours) have now been replaced with lower quality metallic/silver colored roof tiles. Our roof is now of a different color and a slightly different style than every other roof in the community. Do I have any problems whatsoever with this? None at all.

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