RL454 - The Ghost Bushes

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Street car construction work outside Merlin’s office (Merlin Mann)
  • John’s sump pump in his basement, atmospheric rivers in the Northwest (Mid-century modern)
  • John being in disputes with his neighbors about adverse possession of a part of his property (Normandy Park)

The Problem: John needed to get the sump pump functioning, referring to the setup in John’s basement where a pump removes the water that comes into the house during a strong rain.

The show title refers to bushes that John wanted to plant on the far end of his property that his neighbor had taken over and turned into part of their lawn.

John had a long conversation with Dan about Brit Pop (see RW249) and halfway through he realized Dan was not Merlin.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Street car construction work outside Merlin’s office (RL454)

They are doing some road work outside of Merlin’s office, replacing tracks for the street car and lots of other things, and in keeping with the mood internationally things have escalated. The San Francisco Transit Authority has not threatened nuclear war, but they are on standby and one piece of shit guy standing by a tank was telling civilians to stay calm right before he was shot with a fucking grenade launcher.

Merlin found a really good list on Twitter of ra-ra-Ukraine writers and maybe he is going all Louise Mensch, but he is really excited to browse through that list and see videos of people throwing Molotov Cocktails into tanks that are out of fuel, which is so fucking funny. John doesn’t want to go on Twitter, but he does want to see that!

Merlin has been calling the equipment that makes noise outside his office the bang bang machine. It is like a super-jackhammer where you get a cool big-old John Deere or a Caterpillar yellow things where you can change the kit and put different stuff at the end of the big claw crane arm. It is like the way they did tanks in World War II where everybody laughed when they made scissors at the front of the tank. In this case they put a Caterpillar-sized jackhammer at the end of the arm to break up the pavement and then there is a different Cat to scoop up the pavement.

Merlin just goes out to watch because it is amazing! Now they have even started putting down big pieces of metal to cover up holes, and they also started putting in planks of metal like a super-rebar to keep an area open like a surgeon, and that made the entire block rattle like thrice the biggest earthquake that Merlin has ever been in. Today: Enter the concrete cutter, a big saw, and Merlin went outside with the noise gauge of his Apple Watch and it was about as loud as a concert by The Who.

There is also a guy out there directing traffic with an airhorn.

John’s sump pump in his basement, atmospheric rivers in the Northwest (RL454)

There are some sounds at John’s place, too, because they are getting another atmospheric river, but this one is not one of the Gaia bombs that they had earlier, but they did have record freezing temperatures of 22 degrees (-5°C) only last week and it warmed up just in time for a tropical cyclone to dump unprecedented amounts of water and unlike the last rain event, this time John has his sump pump functioning (see RL448). Merlin asks John to explain what a sump pump is in pigs and bunnies.

John’s house is built on the side of a hill and it should have good drainage because water goes downhill and should go around the house, but because it is a mid-century house that is built long and narrow like a train station, it is athwart the hill and on the uphill side water collects and because the downstairs is half-buried it has been known to collect water against the uphill side of the basement wall and then the water seeps in. The family that was selling the house was trying to remediate the problem.

There is a thing called a French drain where you dig down along the foundation, lay a bed of gravel, it is an elaborate thing with a pipe with holes drilled in it, and the water seeping through the ground will go into the pipe and pipe will run the water out and around and down, it is Roman technology from a time where the French were whom we turned to for new technology. John had assumed that they had built a French drain because they had excavated, but then inside the house in the corner closest to the problem they slammed a giant hole and put a pump and a basin in, and the water that would normally go into the home would through a series of pipes and tubes to the basin where the pump would automatically pump it out.

John doesn’t understand what is happening because he doesn’t have X-Ray vision, although people think he has, but he suspects that the French drain, rather than run along the outside of the house and around the corner and down collects the water at the outside of the house, brings it into the house, and then into the basin and pumps it out.

In the summer the sump pump started beeping at John because it needed a 9V battery, only a year after he had already replaced the battery. It is like the smoke alarms that are hardwired into the home but still need a battery. John was getting frustrated because he couldn’t get this thing to stop beeping, even when he took the battery out, and he unplugged it and forgot about it and one time during the winter he had 6 inches of water in the basement. When he plugged the sump pump back in it pumped the water out in 30 seconds, but the damage had been done and John had ruined everything that he had stacked on the floor that he was in the process of sorting through.

John spent a few weeks to solve that problem and now it is like a magic machine and it is very random when that sump fills up enough to activate the pump. It is like a medication issue, where now he needs to check on the sump pump 24 hours a day for the rest of his life. John’s house is a wonderful house, it is a wonderful life, but any time there is an atmospheric river event, which there are more and more of, as God has decided, it has nothing to do with Man, we make plans and God laughs, and now John buys the 9V batteries by the case because he doesn’t want this beeping at him and it needs to be on even in the summer when there is no rain because if John unplugs it he will forget until the winter.

In Merlin’s park with the confederate soldier ghosts (see RL2) if it hasn’t rained for a long time and then there is sudden rain then the water overwhelms the land, and the snails and ants get thrown out of heir house and move into Merlin’s house, it gets saturated and then the Eucalyptus fall over and you better not be on the path then! Those are some shitty-ass invasive exotics that were cheap to get a long time ago, but they have a shallow root and that is going to be your undoing! Over time they have taken down a lot of them preemptively because they know they are going to come down.

John sent Merlin a video of the creek and there are some tall ladders in the shot which makes it not the most beautiful video, but he took it from where he is sitting right now. You can see the stakes that the hippies left at the 900 plants they put in. Merlin’s in-laws live in Gold Country, or increasingly Fire Country, on a body of water that looks very similar and Merlin loves to go and walk around there because it reminds him of his childhood when you go walk around the creek and throw things in it.

John being in disputes with his neighbors about adverse possession of a part of his property (RL454)

John had a weird couple of days involving invasive species, talking about people, where halfway through the process he wasn’t sure if he was the invasive species.

John’s two neighbors

John has been restoring the native habitat on his land, he is very involved, he has two neighbors and has been in low-key disputes with them over their conduct. They both encroached on the property years ago when the previous owners were old and couldn’t defend the other side of the river, they got away with it so long it started seeming okay, and one of them, the lady who runs the daycare center, actually throws real garbage, bags and bags, a dumpster and a half of actual pure garbage.

John was interacting with them over the last 2 years and then found their garbage, she is very nice, she is the one neighbor always leaves a tin of Christmas cookies on the holidays, she is the type of person who learns your birthday and gives you a gift, even though you are not friendly with each other, which feels very insincere when later the same afternoon you pull out old Dr. Pepper bottles where someone has put 7 cigarettes and then pissed in it and put the cap back on out of the backyard.

The second neighbor is a little lady who used to be a stewardess and she threw a lot of food waste down the ravine, but not any garbage, she just used it as her yard waste dump, but she also landscaped an area, probably 30x15 feet that is part of John’s yard that she just claimed over time, built grass, installed in-ground irrigation, the whole bit. For decades nobody was even aware what they were doing because it was on the other side of the forest. John hired a surveyor and she showed up, he was very friendly to everybody, he is here now, not the old people, and he knows where the property boundaries are, and both of them were well over the line and he was going to claim the land back because it is part of what he bought.

Over the last two years, little by little, the relationships have deteriorated in different ways and John came up with an elegant solution. He came up with an elegant solution and he wrote them both that he didn’t want to build a fence because it is too intrusive and it would be a bad vibe, but he wanted to plant all native plants in the ravine and he wanted to build a giant hedge along the property line that would be made of all native bushes that support the native wildlife, and all he needed from his two neighbors was that they would not fuck this up somehow (see RW257).

The second neighbor was the one who said that one of the trees was threatening her driveway and John went up there with a couple of arborists and concluded that even if the top of the tree would break off and fall to the ground, it might touch part of her driveway, but it was not an emergency and they would deal with it when it happens (see RL442).

John’s neighbor’s son inviting him over to talk about the situation

Now John got a message from the second neighbor’s son who is in his 30s, a big guy with a long beard who lives at home, and it is a lovely home, and he said they really wanted to figure out what the plan was with the hedge and he invited John over and walk the ground and tell them what he was planning to do, which was exciting because he was finally going to meet the son who seemed like a reasonable guy, and John was going to explain his plan that he got a little monomaniacal about, a little single-minded because he has read 40 graduate student research papers on creek restoration and he a little bit in the weeds.

They invited John in and talked about their refrigerator that was leaking and John talked about his sump pump, but then the son go serious and asked about the hedge John was going to build and said that they liked to keep everything just as it is. There are not only survey stakes in the ground, but you can also see the line of sight from where John’s fence ends and where the street is, that they go all this way over the line.

His mom is sitting there with her jaw clenched and he says in a very ”well actually” way that they have been there for 30 years using this property and they were prepared to sue for adverse possession, which is a pretty Punk term, a thing enshrined in English law back to ye olden times that says that if they were using his property as though it was their property and he didn’t do anything about it for 10 years and everybody who looked at it knew that it was their property.

John summarized it that they invited him over and served him biscuits on a tin in order to talk about his plan, but they were really telling him that he could go screw himself and they are going to sue him to take legal possession of the land that they stole, but the son said that he wouldn’t put it that way, they were here to negotiate, and their negotiating position was that everything stays exactly the same because they have been there for 30 years.

John’s neighbor threatening to sue him over adverse possession of his land

John had been so excited about his bushes and his native berries that he didn’t see it coming, and this happens to him a lot where he gets into a situation like this where he feels like a noob. He came over with his brochures of his berries and they were going to sue him to steal some corner of his property. John was trying to keep his cool, but he was not sure if that was going to fly and he couldn’t understand why they couldn’t see the beauty of his bushes and his wonderful plan.

The law of adverse possession absolutely favors he stealer, while you would think that in our capitalist society that is based in its first principle on private ownership of land, but possession is 9/10th of the law. As soon as a case like this ends up in front of a judge it is anything-can-happen-day, but recently Washington passed a further law that said that the loser pays the legal fees, which before both people had to pay their own legal fees and just the pain in the neck and the expense of it kept people from suing their neighbors over a 30 feet piece of grass.

John suggested to go look at it so he could tell them more about the bushes with the berries, and they did. Ken even did an Omnibus (see OM207) about how grass lawns are an environmental catastrophe, they squander water, all the pesticides, and John’s neighbor’s yard was a fashionable way to do a yard 30 years ago and times have changed. Their beautifully landscaped place is a habitat for rats and this muddy patch of grass where you never step is not better than a beautiful hedge.

You could tell that they both were very emotional because they perceived this to be their yard, they have lived there for 30 years, and John is the new guy who lives on the other side of the river, what is he even doing in their yard over there? They don’t understand it is a habitat, and think about the owls! There are berries, and there are so many articles he could share with them right then and there.

John feels like a noob in the sense that he is so persuaded that he doesn’t even remember what is was like to be back in a place where he would look somebody in the eye and go: ”English Ivy is a welcome decorative plant that we have trained!” - ”Well, we trained the ivy!” - ”The ivy you planted in your yard 30 years ago is 50 foot up in the trees around here because you can’t train ivy, it got away from you my friends and it is an environmental catastrophe of your making!” - ”Right here you can see where we trained it!” - ”You guys are training your ivy in a 15x15 foot planter box, but 20 feet over there outside of your yard, do you see that ivy? That came from you and that is a freaking skirch (?) on the land, it is murdering things! It is a habitat for rats, my friends!”, but John can’t get far enough back to a time before he knew all this stuff, where he would walk around the campus of an Eastern college and go: ”Look at the ivy, it is so beautiful!”

John’s neighbor calling the police on him because John raised his voice

They are obviously very upset and he was talking to John in a slow, pedantic, hyper-rational online libertarian style as if he was going to defeat him with logic. Are they going to sue him over 15x15 feet of grass? And they are playing is as if John is going to make a big issue over 15x15 feet of grass, but it is on John’s side of the property that he is going to determine the future av. This is one of those suburban issues where John is arguing with the son of a lady over whether or not he is going to put in some local berries or if they are going to keep on putting round up on their grass while on the other side of the world the Russians are on the outside of Kyiv and people are starving.

The guy told John that John was not willing to compromise, but a compromise is where two parties each come with an idea and then meet in the middle, but his view of a compromise is that John is going to agree with everything he wants, and that is not a compromise! They are trying to intimidate John, they have money, this is a wealthy neighborhood, they have money enough to live in this house and neither of them work, she is retired and he is living in the basement, but when dad died he left a bunch of money to them and they are living there now and it was very clear that they had already talked to their lawyer before they even invited John over for tea and crumpets.

At a certain point he says: ”We are trying to negotiate!” - ”You are not negotiating, you are just stipulating!” - ”No, we are negotiating!” and John raised his voice and said: ”That is not what negotiating is!” - ”I feel unsafe!” Merlin says that for this fellow the same is true that John probably said about Merlin in the first year of their friendship: ”There is nothing wrong with you that couldn’t be solved by a pretty solid ass-kicking!” and he thinks that beardo needs a punch in the nose and needs to pump the brakes.

The guy outweighs John by 100 pounds and he is doing it in the liberation Internet atheist argument way by saying: ”I feel unsafe!” just like when John said to the guy at the Firestone: ”Are you fucking with me right now?” - ”There is no need to use profanity, sir!” - ”Wait a minute, you don’t need to go there!” and now he has the moral high-ground because John used a bad word and he has been to a training where they told him what to do when someone uses a bad word. This kid is the same situation and he pulled his phone out and said: ”I don’t want to have to call the police!” and John immediately got very calm and said: ”I am terribly sorry that I raised my voice!” - ”I don’t believe that you are sorry, I feel threatened!” - ”In that case I think you should call the police!” - ”I don’t want it to go there!” - ”No, you feel unsafe, I really think you should call the police!”

John hates more than anything a specious theatrical call to the police, but he does know they live in the suburbs where the police are not busy, they are probably across town dealing with another property dispute between two 65 year old men where someone else’s planterbox is 6 inches over the line. This is 99% of what living in the suburbs is, apparently! John was calling his bluff and the guy has to stick to his guns and he punched in a bunch of numbers and looked at his phone like it didn’t work and John asked: ”Does your phone not have 911?” and at that point John had pushed him too far and he did actually call 911.

The guy gave his address and the police wanted to connect them to the Shoreline police department, and both of them were now on the same team, dealing with someone at the police and fire who doesn’t know where they are because Shoreline is 50 miles away, and Edmonds (?) was not any better either. Eventually it got send to the right dispatcher and John had to listen to the guy explain that his neighbor was here and spoke to him in a threatening manner. John was loving it, he was like Red Fox with one hand on his chest: ”Take me!” and the 911 operator suggested they should go back into their home and they will send an officer and now John had to stay there and wait, he couldn’t just go home.

Waiting for the police, wondering how we got here

While he was waiting John was wondering how it got here. He was replaying the situation in his mind, thinking where he went wrong. He is a friend to all birds and animals, he has done his research and thinks he is doing the right thing and what he is doing is logical and sensical and explainable. He has tremendous powers of persuasion, he is articulate, and yet he is in a death spiral with both of his neighbors over the same issues, a thing that seems to be very basic: ”Don’t throw garbage into a forest! Respect the property boundaries and try and eradicate invasive species!”, but now he was standing there in the rain, waiting for the police, wondering if this was a situation where he somewhere back up the stream made some assumption or has behaved in a way that created or fueled this problem.

A lot of John’s friends, like Merlin, avoid conflict by avoiding conflict and they wouldn’t confront the neighbor who is throwing the garbage over the fence, and they would be upset about the putting green, but they wouldn’t confront them either, and there would be no confrontation because there would be no confrontation. John was never able to do that. Yesterday he did not have this in his life, but now he is standing there in the rain, with the police on the way, and his neighbors threatening to sue him for adverse possession of a corner of his property. He does feel a bit like Larry David or Ronny Dahms.

Merlin says he doesn’t like social media because he doesn’t like getting pulled down to someone else's frame.

John has been there for two years, and the entire time he believed about himself that he was gently helping his neighbors understand what his vision was, and for two years he has watched their faces harden at the suggestion that the property was his and as soon as he was talking about a butterfly sanctuary he had already lost them and could see it in his eyes. The one who is throwing the garbage is a sociopath, but the other lady has just absolutely a way that it has always been.

She was a flight attendant in the 1960s where people did not stand up and throw their yoghurt and piss on the flow and scream about vaccines, but she was wearing a pillbox hat and had white elbow-length gloves and served people steak tartar on flights where a first class ticket cost $70.000 or whatever it did in 1975, and her way of dealing with things is to get very sweet, to bat her eyelashes, to be charm-offensive, which is weird because she is trying to be cute, but John can see in her eyes that he is a threat and as soon as he was talking about a butterfly sanctuary she was back to the frame of: ”Well, I have trained all the ivy!”

John had done two years of patient tip-toe around the fact that she had lived there for 30 years and believed that she has trained the ivy, and yet he is standing there in the exact position on the property line with the cops on their way, he could have just as well two weeks after he moved in thrown up a shitty fence and they would have called the cops then! The two years he spent trying to be good have resulted in him being in the exact same position as he would have been if he had showed up as the biggest imperialist dick of the universe and had showed up on day 1 and taken a can of DayGlo spray paint and sprayed a line right across their grass where his property line was and put a sign that said: ”Keep off!”

The police arriving

The cop showed up, a 5’1” blonde woman who looked like Ms. Mechane (?) from the TV show, she is a go-getter kind, and like all police now she is wearing 700 pounds of tactical gear: bulletproof vest, 17 different clips, 4 different weapons, a jetpack, all the different stuff! She came over, smiling: ”How is it going out here?” - ”Well, you know, just standing here!” - ”Did you call?” - ”No, I am the one that the property owner called about, I am the neighbor who raised his voice!” - ”Why don’t you fill me in?” - ”Oh, not much to fill in, we are having a little boundary dispute here!” John didn’t want to be the person who goes: ”Hey cop, be my friend!”, but was trying to say: ”I am standing here because I didn’t want you to drive up and have to come find me!”

John explained that the guy had called her because he had said: ”That is not what negotiating is!” in a raised voice about the fact they they were having a little property dispute, and at that point they both came back out from their house and the guy said he had to call the police because John had lunged (?) at him. She said: ”Let me just stop you right there! Here in Normandy Park we do a lot of property disputes, a lot of situations where two 65-year old guys are upset at each other over where the recycling bins are supposed to be and we deal with this a lot. Here is my job: I am going to mom this situation. I can’t really make you do anything but I want you both to look at each other and say right now in front of me that you are going to try and work this out!” - ”I am really sorry that I shouted at you and I really want to work this out!” and he didn’t add a ”but”.

John was not embarrassed for himself, but he was embarrassed for the world, and he was looking at the grass and at the Ghost Bushes that he had pictured in his mind 100 times and birds and he owls feating on the mountain beavers. What has he done? How much did his vision of this thing put him there? How complicit was he in the fact that he was standing there, talking to this police officer who was talking to them like they were children because form her perspective they were. ”Do we know where the property boundary is?” - ”Yes!” - ”Yes!” - ”Okay, that is a great place to start!” She was great! She was small and blonde and perky, like Reese Witherspoon!

John deciding not to fight them over this

John went back to his house, his hand gracing over the tops of all the native bushes in his forest, thinking that two years in he was now in a situation where he was at war with his neighbor. He called a lawyer friend who deals with property because he had read the statutes of adverse possession and he was afraid that they had a really good shot on it. There are 5 criteria and they meet all 5, even if they had only been there for 10 years. The property was unguarded by the old people who had lived there and John could tell the judge that they were 95 years old and incapable of climbing up the side of the hill and the judge would say that this meets the definition of not guarding your property.

There is a whole urban school of adverse possession, coming from a Punk Rock squat mentality where it is seen as a way of reclaiming buildings in Downtown, but a judge is going to be a lot less likely to award adverse possession to a San Francisco townhouse to some squatters than out in the suburbs where they did train that Ivy.

John was covered in a feeling of sadness. He doesn’t want them to legally get titled to the land and all he can do is back off. John’s lawyer friend is a buddy and he did an online introduction to an actual guy who does this actual work, and they just talked about the law in a funny way and what it came down to is that if the loser wouldn’t have to pay the legal fees, then let them sue, let them spend $60.000 to try and get 10 feet of land, but if the loser has to pay, then John doesn’t want to pay $60.000 to give them his land.

Last night at 11pm John got an email while sitting in his bath tub with the subject heading ”An olive branch”, a long email from the son where he said: ”Things have gotten so crazy… I still remember when I was just a boy, 5 years old, my parents in our old Suburban…”, trying to explain where he was coming from and that this was how it has always been and they love this land and this property that has been exactly the same for his entire life, and now John showed up and one morning there were 30 hippies in the bushes in Carhartts, planting little pink flags.

He argued that they are not hurting anybody, why was John trying to hurt them? John was not trying to hurt them. As John looked out across the ravine for the last 2 days it looked like a battleground because on the other side of that stream there was a family that was going to sue him, but this morning it no longer did because John is going to reply to the guy’s letter saying that he didn’t need to build a hedge there, he got all the native bushes he can handle.

All he was trying to do was make a habitat for the mountain beaver, and if those guys want their putting green to stay the same he is not going to be the one to change their lives. He had read too many articles about habitat restoration and believed everybody in world did. John is going to let them keep their windmill!

On one hand, if you have formally granted a person the right to use your property they can’t sue for adverse possession because you have allowed them to be there, and it seems that one of the only paths for John to avoid being vulnerable to this kind of suit is to in writing say that he grants them the right to have this intrusion on his property because the whole thing about adverse possession is that it is adverse. John also thinks that in his mind the son is closer to John than to his mother because he is 30 years old and has listened to her talking about training the Ivy long enough.

Merlin thinks John needs to get his neighbors on his podcast! Imagine how many mouth sounds he would make into his mic! ”Well, actually…”

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