Sunday, November 1, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor (sixth increment)


Ah, and it's back to the neighbors: Dean wasn’t as bothered by all of the grievances. He was mostly disturbed by the noise pollution and, though he has loved motorcycles his whole life, he came to hate the sound of them—at least for a few minutes. But what stuck in his craw the stickiest was the weekend noise generated by the substance abusers. After working all week and only getting to enjoy his greenery on the weekend, he expected some peace and quiet. Didn’t get it, though. Our house is located downwind from the rehab town homes a.k.a the ugly houses, so with a canyon effect, the sounds traveled efficiently right to our door. And these people had a fondness for ear-shattering decibels of rap music, not to mention very colorful language. And so one day while I was in Westport, Connecticut, happily shopping for new bedding at Eddie Bauer, my cell phone chimed.

“Hello?” I answered quickly.

“It’s me,” Dean responded. “I may have gone too far but we have to do something about that damn place in back of us."

"Did you . . . kill anyone?" I asked, for "going too far" implied something serious in my dictionary.

"No. They were screaming and blasting their music so I told them to shut up and they just got louder. I put the kids in the car and drove over there . . . I lost my temper. (Pregnant pause.) Maybe you should come home.”

Dean's "going too far" was actually quite pathetic. I was expecting blood and lots of it. “Well, there's nothing I can really do to help at this point. And Eddie Bauer Home is having a close-out sale, Dean. Close out, as in the store is permanently closing? Your tantrum is really inconvenient." Long sigh. "I'll be home as soon as I can. Don't worry, we’ll get a lawyer and we'll make it right. See you soon.”

So we called a lawyer and made an appointment to go in for a consultation—but not before I got my new luxury mattress pad and 400-thread bed linens. We had chosen one of the better-known local attorneys, though we had never met him. He walked into his tacky, leather-covered office and we explained our problem to him. He nodded his head knowingly and began to tell us all about the rehab center. Finally, here was someone who knew about the center, knew they actually existed and what they did, because the health department claimed, indeed insisted, that they didn’t even know they were there and the police knew nothing—or so they claimed—and we were beginning to think we were hallucinating the whole freaking thing.

I should explain that in Putnam County, New York, the term “conflict of interest” is entirely devoid of meaning. Here's a case in point: a group of us were trying to stop one of the lake communities from slaughtering Canada geese whose droppings were despoiling their pretty green lawns, apparently (they really should be much more worried about their hideous houses that sit on those lawns). Across the region there were about five of these communities that were planning a wholesale kill, downy goslings and all. The judge who was hearing one of the related cases happened to live on the shores of one of the lakes planning the slaughter but not the precise one we were suing to try to prevent the killing. His lake was a mile or two away. This judge saw no conflict of interest and refused to recuse himself. Of course, the geese lost the case and were duly rounded up and slaughtered in the most horrific way. The judge never saw a problem with his behavior, and, unfortunately, managed to defy the mandatory retirement age. He continues to wreak havoc to this day.

So, what constitutes conflict of interest anywhere else is business as usual here: this attorney graciously accepted our money and agreed to help us despite having the owner/director of the rehab facility’s telephone number on his speed dial. To Dean and I that was a shout-out that there may be a slight . . . ahem . . . conflict, to represent us against a friend, an individual he knows so well that his number's on his speed dial? Our response was just to say okay, whatever, just make them stop. The two hundred dollar price tag was well worth the peace and quiet it would hopefully bring. He quickly arranged an appointment for us to meet directly with the people behind this facility, so to speak. He further informed us, in a gossipy tone, that the rehab's clients—the patients—were very wealthy and some were even famous, and they all paid enormous sums to be rehabilitated. He personally knew the director and he assured us that he would be reasonable once he learned of our problems with the site.

Economic discrimination pisses me off more than many other injustices. These people, both the rehab clinic as well as the families of the "clients," want them to live among a community—but not their community. It's NIMBYism at it's worst. Let's plop them in a neighborhood where the people have no clout to get them out. And that inclination infuriates me above all.

On thing we learned, a lesson driven home again and again when you live in a small town, is that corruption is not reserved for the big players only. It is alive and well, and thriving in small-town America.

Smarmy is the word that best describes the creepy man we met with, one of the honchos of the rehab facility. He was grotesque, and I couldn't believe any parent would consign his or her child to this man's care. But they did, and in droves. (I guess a drugged out kid can really impinge on the lives of the rich and famous.) He was very patronizing in his approach and expressed how happy he was to hear that his patients were so rowdy for that meant they were actually getting better. Say what? Well, can we move the facility into his backyard so he could celebrate firsthand?

The only concession he made to us was to provide us with a direct contact number to the on-site director so that if the noise became unbearable, we could complain. He refused to consider putting up a fence or anything that might reduce the noise, ergo cost him money. And that settled that. In subsequent years, the OSH has been trying to shut down this sad excuse for a rehab facility but with no success thus far. It (OSH) revoked the center's license to practice and fined it heavily but guess who reinstated the license and repealed the fines? Did you guess the corrupt judge who killed the geese? Bingo. Still, there are former patients who won't go away quietly. It seems that some of them did not appreciate the physical and emotional abuse they were subjected to and have had the temerity to complain. Here's hoping that it eventually goes their way.

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