Coffee heat rising

Just Hang Up!

Seems like every day we hear about some new telephone or Internet scam — and, in the “one born every day” department, some poor soul falls for a convincing patter. Check out this story: A crook claiming to be from Apple cons a woman into forking over almost two grand from her bank account, claiming that someone had been trying to hack her phone.

She falls for his tale, follows his instructions — even after she questions his authenticity — and loses $1,980.98. Then, incredibly, her bank refuses to refund the stolen money on the grounds that she willingly paid it to him!

So, one wonders: might her homeowner’s insurance cover the lost funds, since this is a theft not altogether unlike a burglary or a stick-up?

The answer is probably not, unless you’ve already arranged for it. Most standard homeowner’s policies  offer no coverage for cybercrime, and many insurers do not cover it at all. However it is possible to buy such coverage: if you feel you or someone in your home may be vulnerable to a fast-talking hustler, talk to your insurance agent or broker about buying coverage when it’s time to renew your policy.

Meanwhile, the best way to protect yourself from phone hustlers is simply not to answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. You can install automated assistance in this endeavor: for cell phones, check out this spectacularly delightful call blocking app. If you still use a landline — as some of us do to accommodate a home-based business — an in-line call-blocking device is many times more effective than the phone company’s half-baked efforts.

I use the CPR Call Blocker, which blocks most of the dozen or more nuisance calls that hit my phone number, every day. The hustlers spoof nearby area codes, hoping to trick you into thinking a number is coming from a neighbor, an acquaintance, or a local business. I’ve set the device to intercept numbers from the local area codes where I never do business and where none of my friends live. If for some reason I have to do business with someone in one of those areas, I tell them my phone doesn’t work and they need to email me — this works just fine. A number of such devices are on the market, and some landline phone sets come with built-in call blockers. Check the reviews on Amazon by way of making a choice.

Failing an electronic firewall, though, there’s a much simpler and infinitely better strategy: HANG UP.

The victim of the scam in question today believed the crook when he introduced himself as an Apple representative. Despite her initial skepticism, he fast-talked her into buying his story.

The obvious response to this? Hang up.

In this case, our victim’s next steps would have been pretty intuitive:

  1. Hang up on the caller. If you think it may be a genuine call, say something like Oh dear! The dog is peeing on the carpet! or Eeek! The baby just fell in the pool! Can I call you back? Then get the phone number the caller says will reach him or her.
  2. Call the bank. Tell a customer service rep what the caller claimed and ask a) is it likely to be true; and b) one way or the other, what can done to prevent hacking? Follow the customer service rep’s advice.
  3. Email a description of the call to abuse@apple.com, a service available to her as an Apple computer user. This won’t help you personally, but it will alert the company to the specific scam.

Even those of us who are pretty wary and wise to phone hustles can fall for a convincing pitch, especially if the caller knows something about you. The best defense is to avoid hustlers altogether — or at least, as well as one can — through the use of an effective call blocker. Second best is never to answer a call from a number you don’t recognize. And never, ever divulge financial or private information over the phone. Period.

Bum’s Paradise

Having taken to walking the pooch twice a day on mile-plus rounds of the ‘Hood and the Richistans (upper and lower), of late I’ve found myself noting the amazing number of places where homeless folk (who abound in our parts) could pass the night without harassment.

Most of these people are pretty harmless, except that they steal. Apparently few of them have the energy to commit a rape (except for the guy who jumped over one family’s back fence to show off the family jewels to a couple of toddlers…he was a little strange…). They rarely heckle women. Their burgling skills do not often rise to the level of breaking and entering. At the park, the poor souls just sit there and zone out, far as I can tell. They will, of course, take anything from your yard that’s not red-hot or nailed down, by way of peddling it to support their drug habit: bicycles, trikes, children’s toys, decorative plant pots. And at any rate, one would just as soon not host uninvited guests in one’s side yard, especially since some of them will leave a bit of a mess at their campsites.

The tide of bums that came with the extension of the light-rail boondoggle up Conduit of Blight Boulevard has receded a bit, of late. Dunno why. My guess would be that either the city has finally heard the nonstop complaints from outraged neighborhoods (hah! fat chance!!) or maybe the lightrail has stopped forcing people to get off at the end of the line, up at the intersection of Blight and Gangbanger’s Way. Over in the Richistans, a well-connected and ambitious neighbor led a charge to make the city install gates on one of the alleys. That alone seems to have interrupted the invasion: apparently that alley was a Bum’s Highway, and now that passers-through can’t get to where they want to go via the neighborhood short-cuts, they stick to the main drags.

The main drags are surely where they congregate. Between Conduit of Blight and the freeway, sometimes I’ll count 10 to 15 panhandlers begging for handouts along Gangbanger’s way. If you try to go into the Walgreen’s at the corner of Main Drag South and Conduit of Blight, you’re likely to be swarmed by a crowd of panhandlers — I will no longer get out of my car in that store’s parking lot, nor will I visit the Albertson’s across the street at that intersection. One reason for that is that the city has kindly installed a meth clinic on Main Drag South, a few blocks to the west of Blight. Users ride the lightrail up to M.D. South, walk over and get their fix, then loiter around the convenience market across the road from the clinic, where they dig through the trash and pester customers for handouts, and hover around the parking lots and bus stops near the intersection.

Makes Sun City look good, doesn’t it?

Well. No. Not yet, it doesn’t. But there’s still Fountain Hills, Prescott, and Patagonia… 😉

So anyway, back to the point: Yesterday afternoon I’m counting. Since we often walk through the Richistans after dark (yeah, I know. But a] if someone is going to pounce you, they’ll pounce you in broad daylight as easily as after dark; and b] well…ahem… Make my day!), I’ve noted the number of nooks, crannies, shrubs, unused spaces in carports, pony walls that hide space from street view, and the like.

When SDXB and I spent three months backpacking and camping through Alaska and Canada, we rarely stayed in campgrounds, unless we’d bummed a ride with someone who was given to spending time in those places. Most of the time we just set down wherever we happened to be. Occasionally we would set up camp in parking lots — and interestingly, no one would stop us or roust us. So I’ve developed an eye for decent places to camp in urban settings.

  • Oleander hedges with enough space between them and the yard’s fence to fit a sleeping bag
  • Empty carports
  • Side yards with no motion-sensitive lights over them
  • Pony walls that create comfy hiding spots, right out in front of God and Everyone
  • Vacant properties
  • Alleys

The alleys here are long, perpendicular flophouses. The bums use them not just to camp in but as toilets of convenience. And on pickup day, they’ll go through the trash before the trucks arrive, looking for credit-card statements and other documents that they can sell to identity thieves.

We passed six such alleys, which in theory could accommodate dozens of bums in peace and quiet. In the low-rent section, the original alley right-of-way included an alcove for trash cans behind each residential lot. The little strip of alley behind my street has about a dozen of them. These provide comfy, semi-private hideaways for the weary traveler. They make convenient outhouses, too. And just in the mile and a half circuit that Ruby and I traverse on a routine doggy-walk, there are forty eight properties with comfortably dark side yards or pony walls that block the view from the street.  In addition, some months ago a house caught fire, rendering it uninhabitable. Apparently the residents had no insurance — or maybe setting fire to your shack whilst cooking meth renders it uninsurable, I dunno. That place has been abandoned, apparently with the furnishings intact: a perfect bum’s hideaway!

In addition, the neighborhood fly-by-night nursing home entrepreneur (Yes: Tony the Romanian Landlord found a new money-making gambit!) had bought and converted a big old ranch house on the northern end of Lower Richistan, right before the covid plague struck. His client nursing-home operator shut it down, evidently trying to cut their losses in time of covid, and so that house stands vacant. To his credit, he keeps it maintained…but with a quarter-acre backyard, covered patios, and an empty carport, it still is a perfect site to throw down for a night.

So that’s about 60 potential campsites. Just on a walk that doesn’t even cover a tenth of the neighborhood’s area.

Think o’ that! No wonder the place is overrun.

 

 

 

In the Village Cluster

Ever think of a city not as a single vast sprawling entity but as a set of villages that, for whatever strange reason, happen to have clustered together? That, sometimes, is what lovely Phoenix seems to be. Not just in relation to its endlessly sprawling Southern-California style suburbs, but where its own internal districts are concerned.

And one of the quirks of living here is that you tend to hang out a lot in your own village and, for long periods, to visit only a limited set of other villages. One reason for that, of course, is that you have a routine that puts you on a fairly set path. The other is that driving in this city is not very much fun.

It used to be fun — driving, I mean. Back in the dark ages, when the roads carried about a quarter to a third as much traffic as they do today, sometimes one would actually get in the car and go exploring, just for the helluvit — because yeah, driving here used to be a pleasant way to pass the time. Now it’s just a giant, sprawling headache.

Today I had to revisit the dermatologist whose office is halfway to Yuma. This time I and my fellow homicidal drivers escaped the panoply of wrecks. But I had a couple of errands to run on the way home. This required me to visit my old stomping grounds — the historic Encanto District — and then cruise up Central Avenue to AJ’s fancy overpriced grocery store. Usually I evade driving on Central, because I hate the accursed lightrail train, which makes a hair-tearing mess of the traffic signal timing. But today cruising north on that tangled road seemed like a path of…well, less resistance.

Mid-central Phoenix is one of the “villages.” It’s one my mother and I used to hang out in a lot, and it’s also one I used to drive through with some frequency when the ex- and I lived downtown. Today it occurred to me that my mother would barely recognize it, here in the 21st century. For that matter, the 20-year-old me would be lost there, too. Our favorite venue, the formerly upscale Park Central, no longer houses stores at all, leastwise not so I can see. It’s mostly offices, a modern art gallery, and clutter. All up and down Central Avenue, developers have built four- to six-story apartment buildings, as well as a few new high-rises. These apartments are real rabbit-warrens…all shiny and new now, but the sort of junk that you know will be just that — junk — within a couple of decades: crowded and cramped and tenementy. A few places persist, but most of our old hangouts are gone, replaced with smaller, shinier, more harder-edged hangouts.

So after driving and hassling and driving and driving, I finally arrive home. Let the dog out. Sit down. Turn on the computer. And find this amusing message in the email from WonderAccountant, my neighbor across the street:

Hi–

I guess this is the happening corner.  This morning I looked up from my computer to see a police car parked in front of my house with the officer walking towards the northeast corner of the house.  They began talking to a person that I could not see.  A few minutes later two policemen escorted her to another waiting cop car down in front of Felicia’s house.  Not sure what was happening.  The woman was youngish, African American, wearing leggings, boots, and a knitted cap.  It struck me that she was dressed for the weather.  I didn’t see anything else.

 Perhaps you did?

Perhaps not, this being the first I’d heard of it.

Felicia is Other Daughter for this blog’s purposes, the lesser offspring of the Perp, known to the real world as Tony the Romanian Landlord. Between me and Felicia lives Terri, another freelance accountant. That gives us three lone women living in a row on this side of the street. And of course, facing us we have W.A., who is alone all day while Mr. W.A. works at his partnership’s office.

{sigh}

Yesterday I was mooning on to myself about how much I love my house and how much I love my neighborhood and how really, when ya come right down to it, I can’t imagine moving (because no place is any better and precious few places are as good) and how for sure I’m going to age in place and stay here till I croak over.

Today Prescott and Tucson look better and better…

Burglar Hacks: How to discourage prowlers

Occasionally when I chat with folks — especially strangers — I’m reminded that living in a central-city neighborhood poses certain risks that those in middle-class suburbs escape. Truth to tell, most of the time I don’t dwell on the dangers presented by the meth colonies directly to the north and to the west of us. My house is secured, I have a barking dog, and I’m armed to the teeth, so…well…make my day. 😀

Today, though, in response to a Quora query, I was led to articulate the steps I’ve taken to secure my home. These are strategies most of us can use and, with the exception of the security doors and the drill-resistant deadbolts, modestly priced. And none of them include owning a shotgun or a baseball bat…

Assuming you live in a place you own, as opposed to a rental…

  1. Install motion-sensitive light fixtures outside all the doors.
  2. Also install, motion-sensitive floodlights that will light up each of the exterior walls. Place these up under the eaves, where a prowler can’t easily reach them to unscrew the bulbs.
  3. Install good-quality steel security doors on all exterior doors, and equip these with tamper-resistant, drill-resistant locks such as Schlage or Medeco.
  4. Equip exterior doors and windows with “screamer” alarms that you can set to squeal if the door or window is opened (this assumes you’re not fond of whole-house burglar alarm systems).
  5. Or, if you don’t mind the expense and nuisance, call a burglar alarm company and sign up to have them alarm every entrance and send you a bill once a month.
  6. Attach timers to a few lights and a radio inside your home. Set these to go on and off at various times (for example, to make it look like you have moved from the living room to a bedroom or family room). Leave the radio playing just loud enough to be heard through a closed window…but put it on a timer, too, because most burglars are smart enough to know you don’t have the radio blatting 24/7.
  7. Get a dog with a gawdawful bark, if you’ll be around enough to take care of it. If you’re unable to care for a dog adequately or don’t want the expense, then try this sort of thing: The 5 Best Barking Dog Alarms Reviews for 2019 (Expert Advice)

Some of these, such as #4, #6, and #7’s barking dog alarm gadget, apply to rentals, too. Also, you can get motion-sensitive light-bulbs, so if your apartment has porch lights, in theory you could replace the regular bulbs with these — I’ve found they don’t work very well, so personally would not spend the money on them. But nothing ventured…

What WERE we thinking?

So I’m sitting here thinking about the ’Hood, about whether I should stay here, whether I should move. It really isn’t very safe. Over the past couple of weeks it’s been one damnfool thing after another:

  • Drunk driver swerves off Main Drag South up Feeder Street N/S, crashes across a resident’s front yard, and ends up rolled in the park.
  • Sh!theads recorded on Ring cameras serially raiding neighbors’ cars.
  • Sh!theads retrieve garage door opener from a car an idiot resident left parked overnight in their driveway, open garage door, rifle cars and contents of garage.
  • “. . .white Subaru WRX sedan with loud exhaust and no rear bumper racing up and down Neighborhoood Ln . . . . must have been going 50 mph zooming up and down the street a couple times. He nearly hit my six year old son.” (FB Nextdoor page)
  • “. . . 3 very loud bangs (like 5 mins ago)? Sounded like gun shots to me.” (Ibid.)
  • “Today a horrible thing happen to me outside of Target on 19ave and Bethanyhome a women tried to kidnap my girls! As I was walking out with Mila in the target cart and Ella in her car seat inside the target cart a women talking very loudly in the parking lot said oh she has beautiful eyes… I looked at the women about to say oh thank you but she shrugged at me and said oh I’m sorry so I assumed she was talking on her Bluetooth and not to us. as I start getting closer to the Jeep she comes up behind me and my mom and says that’s my daughter she has my eyes! In that moment I couldn’t believe what this crazy bitch was saying and she kept repeating it and getting louder and then I hear her say Travis! Hurry up the baby is right here come get the baby!!! In my mind I was freaking the duck out I grabbed Mila and told my mom stay right here with ella I’m gonna put Mila in the car. I strapped Mila in and locked the door just Incase that women tried and opened it. I came around and told my mom we need to go now! As I’m getting the car seat out the cart this crazy women is still yelling that’s my baby god is going to strike you dead! I turned to put Ella in the Jeep and she grabs me by the hair and pulled the car seat and all I remember is my mom pushed her and I frantically started hitting her in the face! This women ATTEMPTED to take my child!!!!! I was yelling at her I will KILL you!!!! As all this was happing people are coming out their cars recording me with their fuxking phone instead of helping! Like are you fuxking serious my kids are in danger and all you idiots are just there recording me!!! Only one person tried to help me and asked if I was ok! I had no problem beating that women up but the only thing I could think of was who is this Travis she’s calling for??? What if he comes and hits us and takes my girls!!!! I finally got all of us in the Jeep and god knows I could careless if I ran her over! She took off but I did call the police and they arrested this crazy bitch!!!! She will be charged with assault and attempted kidnapping! Please please don’t ever ever look away not for one second! I was gonna do everything in my power to prevent her from even touching my babies.” (Ibid)  (She’s talking about the Costco shopping center that serves the North Central district…the one where we’re told the company will close the store when the lease runs out…)
  • “Be on the lookout for a grey car (possible Chevy Malibu) with a busted out back window. The driver stole lawn equipment about 30 minutes ago from our landscaper’s trailer. My husband opened the garage door and the guy took off, but had already loaded several things in the car. So bold in broad daylight and heavy traffic! And terribly frustrating for someone who works hard for a living.” (lbid)
  • ” I came home from work tonight (5:15 pm) and discovered my truck had been ransacked today. Definitely today since it was fine when I left for work this morning. They stole a couple of small items, pepper spray and a multi-tool.” (lbid)
  • “Person walking our neighborhood checking mailboxes and then got in this vehicle. [Photo of nondescript pickup posted.] Keep an eye out! Non emergency called with description.” (lbid)
  • Number of drug rehab outfits in our zip code: 7. Number in next zip code directly to the east: 0 (AHCCCS, Annual Report: Substance Use Treatment Programs, State Fiscal Year 2018)

Claro que this area isn’t very safe, even though it’s hot with the young gentrifying set. If I were to unload this house and net, say, $325,000 on it, I could afford to buy in a number of much less drug-ridden, crime-ridden venues:

  • Sun City
  • Fountain Hills
  • Oro Valley (a Tucson suburb)
  • The vast tracts of elbow-to-elbow ticky-tacky north of the 101
  • Yarnell, by damn!

Trouble is, big-city headaches aside, I like my house. I like my yard, I like my pool, I like my neighbors. And for what I could get on a sale of the house, I could not buy anything comparable, anywhere.

Adding another layer of complexity to the issue: I’ve been here and done this before. The first house DXH and I bought was a beautiful old place in the historic Willo district of mid-town Phoenix. Like my present neighborhood, this area suddenly became a favorite of the young, the affluent, and the upwardly mobile. We all flocked in there, bought the pretty old 1920s and ’30s houses, madly fixed them up, inflated their value, and created a HOT gentrified district. To give you an idea: that house, which we bought for $33,000 and sold about 15 years later for $130,000, was recently on the market for one million dollars.

The Willo area and its adjacent, more upscale Palmcroft district were indeed dangerous, especially to a woman who didn’t happen to have a German shepherd or a man watching over her 24/7. Like the ’Hood, the area was overrun with homeless drug addicts and (in those days) alcoholics. Per capita drug use in our zip code was the highest in the city. How dangerous was it?

Well, let’s see…

  • In the first week we lived there, we were awakened in the wee hours by cops swarming around our yard, glaring flashlights and spotlights shining in our bedroom window.

“Should I call the cops?” I asked Hubby, reaching for the bedside phone.

“No,” said he, “I think it is the cops.”

Yea verily, they were soon at the front door, demanding to search the house. Their crew was pursuing a cat burglar/rapist who was on the run from one of the neighbors’ houses. This fella’s MO was to slip into a darkened house, make himself to home for awhile, then pounce the sleeping residents, tie up the man, and rape the woman in front of him. Poor fella had been caught in the middle of a midnight snack by an awakened occupant, and he ran off before he got to the main act.

After the excitement subsided, we went back to bed.

Right at dawn, we heard a strange noise: S-c-c-r-a-a-a-a-p-e rumble rumble rumble…THUMP whack whack whackety whack WHACK!

Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’ in dry garden with Euphorbia myrsinites, Lavandula and Gaillardia

Turned out the perp had indeed run into our backyard, as the cops suspected. But when he got there he found an old, rotten wooden ladder that DXH had propped up against the back side of the house (the walls were about 20 feet high) in a failed effort to figure out how to turn the rooftop heater on. He’d left it there for the service guy he planned to call the next day…and forgot about it. When the poor schmuck tried to climb down, a rung broke under his weight and he fell all the way down to the ground, narrowly missing a Spanish dagger agave.

  • Then there was the time I was sitting on the floor typing a seminar paper in front of the TV set, while DXH was at a firm meeting. It was well after dark — he usually didn’t get home until after 10 p.m. I keep hearing this “rustle-rustle-rustle” sound from the service porch, which I think is the cats (we had several) scratching around in their sandbox. I reach a stopping point in the research paper I’m typing and get up to see what the cats are doing out there. When I walk into the laundry room, I see the latch on the side door wiggling up and down.

Holy shit.

This was before there were wireless phone extensions, and LONG before cell phones. It was also before we inherited the neighbor’s German shepherd. I run through the house to front door, fling it open to the screened front courtyard, and scream FIRE!  FIRE! FIRE! CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT! HELP! F-I-I-R-E!!!!!!

This brings out the neighbors, who no matter how reluctant they may be to rescue you from an assault will cheerfully come out to watch your house burn down. It also spooks the would-be rapist — a couple of the neighbors watch him jump on his bike and take off down the alley.

That was interesting.

  • And the time my friend Retha and I were hanging out at another neighbor’s house. Those folks were out of town, and they’d asked me to keep an eye on the place and said we could use their pool as desired. So Retha and I were loafing at the pool.

We heard a lot of sirens down the street, cops carrying on. But we didn’t think anything about it. Police activity was commonplace, and with a fire station around the corner, sirens roared around all the time.

Yes. We didn’t think anything of it until the evening news came on. That was when we learned that the elderly lady who lived at the end of the street had come home from the beauty parlor, parked her car in her garage, strolled inside, and encountered a hopped-up burglar. He attacked her, grabbed an axe from inside the garage, and chopped her to death!

Lovely.

Retha and her husband Ron moved out of the neighborhood shortly after that. Huh. Wonder why?

  • Then there was the night that DXH and I came home late one evening. He crashed in bed and fell straight to sleep, which meant I couldn’t get to sleep, because he would snore so exuberantly that if I didn’t get to sleep before him, I wasn’t going to get to sleep. Sooo…I got up and went into the living room to sleep — in the altogether — on the sofa.

By this time we had inherited the neighbors’ German shepherd, who, thank God, came to us when those two divorced and moved away.

So I’m sleeping there, not very well, when I wake up and see a flashlight flickering around in the kitchen.

Here’s what goes through a young mother’s mind when she is awakened at three in the morning:

ooooohhh! The power must have gone out and John must have gotten up to get the baby a bottle.

I hear the Greta, the German shepherd — now quite aged and half deaf — go “boof?” from outside the bedroom door, off a hall on the other side of the house from the kitchen.

Still imagining the flashlight wielder in the kitchen is my husband, I go “John?”

When Greta hears my voice, she EXPLODES! She ROARS into the kitchen and goes after the poor schmuck whose flashlight beam is now soaring around as he frantically seeks a way out. The dog is between him and the door he came in, and she is about to send him back to his Maker. Instants before this re-introduction, he finds the side door (the one the would-be rapist had tried to enter, some years previously), yanks it open, flies out through it, and slams it shut in the dog’s face.

Still completely ignorant, I walk into the kitchen and find my husband standing there.

“Who was that man?” he asked.

“What man?”

Yeah. Well. I came rather too close to finding out, hm?

Still, we persisted in living in that house, living in that highly questionable neighborhood. Like the present ’Hood, Encanto was bordered on the south by a decrepit area (since much gentrified) and by slums on the west side, extending westward ever westward. The ’Hood, today, is bounded on the north side and on the west side by meth slums. The west side of Phoenix is, shall we say, low-income all the way out to Sun City, mile on mile on mile of seedy development that was cheaply built when new and is falling apart today. Falling apart, and crime-infested.

Retha and her husband Ron moved out. The divorcing friends across the street moved out. The neighbors with the pool moved out. Property values continued to increase. So did the crime rate. It was unsafe to let our son play outside unless the neighbor’s housekeeper was there with her employer’s little boy and would stand out there watching them every instant. We could, of course, not put him in the local public school — all of the lawyers’ and doctors’ kids in the area went to expensive private schools.

Finally, we threw in the towel and moved, too. I think what persuaded us was the transient who walked into a dirty-shirt law office on McDowell, the main drag just to the south of us, and caught the office’s legal secretary in the act of fixing coffee before her employers came in. God told him she was the Devil, so he murdered her on the spot.

  • Not very long after we moved out one of our former neighbors called to chat and reported that something had happened at Retha and Ron’s former house — right next door to the home of one of the women who used to babysit our son. The new residents were an affluent young professional couple. He traveled for work a lot, and was often out of town.

Ron and Retha had installed an elaborate burglar alarm system in that house, which was a large and sprawling place. The only window that was not alarmed was one of those tiny little bathroom windows, the kind of thing that slides open about 18 inches, just enough to allow air to ventilate the room after a shower.

The guy had been watching the wife for months, and he’d been studying the house. He knew where all the alarmed doors and windows were, and he had observed that this window was not alarmed. He also knew when her husband was out of town.

So one evening he entered the house through this window. Surprised the woman, captured her, and spent the entire night raping and beating her. How she survived, I do not know, and nor do I know what possessed him to leave without killing her. Maybe he thought he had killed her.

I really disliked our new neighborhood. It was full of snobs who wouldn’t have anything to do with White Trash like me, and the houses were 1950s look-alike ranchers, pretty boring by and large. What friends I had were all at the university, which was even further from North Central than from Encanto. For me, it was an unhappy place to live. But at least it felt safer.

Probably because by then we not only had the German shepherd, we had another big dog, too.

But really, the question is what possessed us to stay in Encanto as long as we did? We did love the house, which was spectacularly beautiful. We did have nice neighbors, though the older ones were dying off and the ones our age were moving away. It was close to DXH’s office and relatively close to the university. But…resident drug-addicted bums sleeping in your yard and any car you forgot to lock? Rapists? Ax murderers? What WERE we thinking????

So…{sigh}. Today I find myself in the same predicament: Great neighbors. Central location. Lovely home. Beautiful yard. And…constant cop flyovers, wackshit incidents every week, none of the inner-city medical facilities are adequate to the kind of emergency I’m likely to experience, and…hey! Listen to that! Here comes a siren wailing up Conduit of Blight Blvd, even as we scribble…

Among the several discouraging issues…

  • First, it’s an expensive godawful hassle to move. I really don’t wanna do that again.
  • I don’t know how much longer I’ll live, but I figure not more than another ten to fifteen years. Do I really want to make myself crazy moving to some other house for that brief a period? Can I really not hold out, pistol in hand, for a few more years?
  • Newer housing is just flat not as desirable as houses built on lots with some elbow room between the neighbors and with walls made of WALLS, not plasterboard and styrofoam.
  • The “safer” middle-class areas, while priced about the same as this part of the ’Hood, are mile on mile on endless look-alike mile of ticky-tacky. You may want to live in a house that looks just like your neighbor’s and your next neighbor’s and your next neighbor’s, but I sure as hell don’t.

So…what am I thinking? What on earth to do?

I dunno. What we have here are a lot of small to medium-size plusses and one HUGE negative (in the form of nearby crime- and drug-ridden slums). Or, we could say, a huge negative in the form of a society that does nothing to deal with its exploding problem of mentally ill drug addicts…possibly because no one has found any consistently successful way to do that.

Far as I can see, there are two potential solutions:

  • One is to stay here and hope for the best. I have a noisy little dog and I am armed to the teeth. And it’s never too late, I suppose, to adopt another German shepherd.
  • The other is to move.

Neither of those strikes me as ideal.

When in doubt, I suppose…don’t.

A Minor Triumph…and a YIPES!

So when I moved into the Funny Farm, lo! these many years ago, the flowerbed under the front window hosted four strange and rather dowdy plants. These things, a variety of bamboo (we’re told), were planted by Satan and Proserpine (the previous owners) as supposedly highly xeric. The path of least resistance has long been to ignore them. They need to be hacked back every couple of years — a task honored more in the breach than in the act. By and large, they’re forgotten until it occurs to me that I can’t see out the front window.

But fall being Arizona’s answer to spring — and fall finally having arrived in the past week — I decided I would spend the day cleaning up the gardens out here. And one of the things I’d like to do, thought I, is get rid of those damn bamboo-oid things and replace them with something prettier. Such as three or four dwarf bougainvillea.

The full-size boug over by the gate has thrived for years. It’s pretty well sheltered, so even a hard frost doesn’t faze it much. And it does appear that hard frosts are, once and for all, no longer in the cards. And a bougainvillea is truly a beautiful plant. Look up dwarf bougs online and indeed do find them…to the tune of around $30 to $35 apiece. Holy mackerel.

But I remain determined: these are the perfect plants for that spot. If I’m going to get them, I’ll just have to spay some stupid amount of money.

Amazingly, just as I’m about to finish my breakfast and get down to gardening, along comes Gerardo and his crew. I ask them to pull out the bamboo-oids, which they do…with enormous difficulty. The ground is dry and hard there, and the plants are firmly anchored into the concrete-like ground. They have to take a pick-axe to the things to get them out. But get them out, the eventually do.

Exit Gerardo and friends. And over to Whitfill’s.

The place is a madhouse, fall having sprung…you never saw so many pushy rich people in your LIFE! And all of the nursery’s numerous blue-shirted staff were collared. Open your mouth to ask a question and somebody barges in and collars the buy.

I finally manage to push my way up to the cashier to ask if the have any such critter, and she says all the bougainvillea that are staked are regular size; all the ones that are not staked are dwarf size.

Ohhh-kayyyyyy… Back onto the lot to explore two or three cluttered acres again. Just about to give up when I spot a cluster of small bougs in pots, but I can’t tell what they are, except to see they have wonderful classic maroon blossoms. And along comes a blue-shirted fellow, clearly fresh from the men’s room, who is unattached. Ask: “Are these dwarf bougs?”

“They are,” says he.

Since I haven’t been able to snag a cart, either, he helps me carry them to the cashier.

“Are those $10?” she asks.

“Uhhmmmm…” Say what? “Well, they have a number marked on the pot.”

“That’s ten bucks, then.”

Seriously? They’re upwards of $30 at the other merchants that stock them. I don’t argue. Outta there with four healthy little plants, only $43 lighter.

***

Back to the house. Loaf around for awhile. Admire the sparkling clean pool, visited this morning by the brand-new pool guy. He has fixed it, and apparently it is going to stay fixed, at least for awhile. He came by at 7, chatted, cleaned the walls and steps, fooled with the chemicals, chatted some more. Played with Ruby, who thinks (like all guests) he’s some sort of god.

Get up and clean the front window, which, for the first time in several years, I can reach.

Drag an old hose long enough to reach the excavated flowerbed out to the front; unkink it, and miraculously to get to work. Pour water on the flowerbed (we might note that an hour later said water has not soaked in: a sterling bad sign).

Ruby is coming and going (mostly going) during all this.

A little later, for reasons I do not recall I happen to look out the back door…and the back gate is standing open.

WTF?????

Remember, that gate has another barrier behind it, in the form of a padlocked steel gate. And that gate? Ruby can easily slip under it. Once escaped, she’ll run off to Timbuktu.

In a moment of real panic, I call and search for the dog.

Mercifully, she’s fallen asleep in her favorite nest under the back bathroom toilet.

This would mean, you understand, that she hasn’t noticed the gate hanging open. An  hour or three ago, she was soaking up the sun out by the orange tree that happens to stand right next to that gate. If it was open then she would have noticed.

You understand: Ruby can slide under that gate. I can crawl under it. And a fairly slender man could no doubt squeeze under it. Not only that, but this morning the cop helicopters were buzzing back and forth for a good hour, obviously looking for someone.

All of which that suggests strongly that somebody came into the alcove, over or under that locked steel gate, and unlocked the wooden gate into the yard. OR…more rationally, one of the lawn guys could have opened the gate, found he couldn’t get out to the trash can, and just turned around and hauled his leaves and junk out to the truck’s trailer…forgetting to close the gate.

Holy crap! The back door has been standing open most of the afternoon — the day is gorgeous and Ruby has been wandering in and out. If anyone actually got into the yard and he did it while the kitchen security door was hanging open he could’ve just walked right into the house.

Find another padlock and attach that to the latch on the wooden gate. So now we have to negotiate two goddamn locks just to take the trash out. Make that four: the deadbolt on the kitchen door and the deadbolt on the heavy-duty kitchen security door.

Well, thank God that Ruby slept through whatever happened there, or just didn’t happen to wander into the backyard while that gate was open. If she had, she’d have been long gone. Her collar has her name and phone number on it, but she doesn’t wear that thing in the house. And she is chipped. But either way, she’s quite a stealable little cherry. Chances are about 50/50 that whoever found her would never bring her back.