We never needed Jack Ludwig to remind us that the Leland Estate was a dream of a neighborhood. We could have got on quite well too without Ludwig serving as our de facto overseer. Then again, it wasn’t as though the typical Lelandite, as we call ourselves, wanted that badly to be the countervailing force to Ludwig since for most of us the Leland Estate was a place to live, not a place to defend.
First, though, the Leland Estate and why, Jack Ludwig aside, we consider ourselves fortunate to own homes here. We are the heirs, in a manner of speaking, of Nathaniel Leland, himself an heir to a Boston banking fortune but a man who cared more about living the life of a country squire than the family business. Consequently, in the early nineteenth century he bought a large tract of land in the town of Brookline, just over the border from Boston, where he built his estate. He then laid out a system of roadways and small parks for the nascent village/family compound that he hoped would someday be populated by his sons and then their sons. He even went so far as to build, adjacent to his own home, a free–standing chapel that would some day serve as the Leland family church.
Nathaniel’s plan never came to fruition because his four sons, unlike their father, were possessed with the acquisitive nature that helped create the Leland family fortune in the first place. Acquisitive the sons may have been, but competent they were not. A series of business ventures they entered into, both in Boston and New York, failed miserably. The next generation of Lelands fared no better, which made it necessary for the family to sell off the land they owned in Brookline as house lots.
We Lelandites owe a particular debt to Nathaniel Leland not only for the parks and tree lined streets that were his legacy, but also for his bequest to the town of a nature preserve, some six acres in size that surrounds the Leland Estate on three sides. Lucinda’s Haven, as the nature preserve is called, was Nathaniel’s memorial to his daughter who died at age l4 of rheumatic fever, and while it has a walking trail that is open to the public, a pond and the swampy area adjacent to it serve as a buffer zone that separates us from the rest of the town of Brookline.
Nathaniel’s heirs by frittering away the family fortune played a part in creating yet another buffer zone for us. In l920, the Leland family sold Nathaniel’s mansion, unlived in at the time, plus the family chapel, to a school for the blind. Shortly after that, when more house lots had been sold, the Leland family deeded over to the town the roadways and parks within the estate. The town then put in place a bewildering system of one way streets to keep through traffic away from the school for the blind.
Since only a few people, aside from residents, can decode the sequence of left-right-left turns it takes to find their way into, or through, the Leland Estate is as quiet and tranquil as a tiny hamlet in the Berkshires. Yet, downtown Boston is only twenty minutes away, via a street car line that skirts the southern edge of Lucinda’s Haven, and we are otherwise so close to the city that on summer nights we can hear the roar of the crowd at Fenway Park if the Red Sox are staging a late inning rally.
With these locational advantages, houses in the Leland Estate are much sought after, but not often available since families living here tend to stay put. We are accustomed then, when a new family arrives, to hear them exult over their good fortune. We, in turn, welcome them warmly, pass on such hints as might be helpful and advise them, in particular, to be precise in giving directions to their new homes if they don’t want guests or repair persons showing up a bit late and somewhat frazzled from trying to find their way along one way streets that seem to double back on themselves.
We are, in short, hospitable without being intrusive, except, of course, for Ludwig. Oh, as far as his personal life went, Ludwig was a model citizen and an exemplary father and husband, but something in him—either his misplaced sympathy for the Leland family, or perhaps a yearning to be taken for a Leland—led him to act as though he was a descendant, by proxy, of Nathaniel Leland himself. Some of us trace Ludwig’s malady back to the day in l969, when he and his wife, Geraldine, purchased their home, a rundown but stately Victorian, from the last Leland to have lived in the Leland Estate, a great great grandson of Nathaniel Leland. Leave it to Ludwig to think of himself as a walking, talking historic landmark because he, alone among Lelandites, had shaken the hand of a descendant of Nathaniel Leland. Leave it to Ludwig, too, to treat that handshake as the quasi-official act by which the Leland family designated him to watch over and protect from harm their ancestral home.
Ludwig claim to be our tribal chieftain was never more blatant than when he called for the first time on new neighbors. Both my wife, Marjorie, and I were initially impressed by Ludwig. He was in his mid-fifties back then, tall and broad shouldered and fit and with a voice so deep and mellow that it made everything he said sound avuncular. His village elder look was accentuated by his neatly combed gray hair, which had a part in it so straight and so wide it seemed as though a pink stripe had been painted the length of his scalp. It was a Saturday so Ludwig was dressed more casually than usual, but even then the khaki trousers he wore held a sharp crease, his tweed sport jacket was obviously of high quality, and his brogues were as highly polished as any soldier ready for a full-dress inspection. We were not surprised to learn, given Ludwig’s overall appearance (and his mellifluous voice), that he held a position of some importance in the fund raising office at Harvard University. In fact, Ludwig looked and sounded very much like the kind of person who, at the behest of someone like Ludwig, was likely to donate a sizeable sum of money to Harvard.
Quite soon, though, Ludwig’s aura of authority gave way to a prickly sort of officiousness. He sounded as if he was an aggrieved Leland heir in his criticism of the Leland sons for having run through the family’s money and seemed as out of sorts in complaining about how present day Lelandites didn’t appreciate enough what Nathaniel Leland had done for us by donating Lucinda’s Haven to the town. Could we imagine, he asked, anyone today giving away, out of the goodness of his heart such a valuable piece of land?
He must have assumed a no answer because he leapfrogged from the beneficence of Nathaniel Leland to a homily on the need for everyone who lived in the Leland Estate to work together if we wanted our neighborhood to remain the special place it had always been. Ludwig didn’t spell out just then what our "work" might entail, but it was obvious that he was prepared to issue guidelines and directives, as needed. For the moment, however, he let it be known that we were expected, as he put it, to keep our property up to snuff.
Ludwig then moved on to what seemed like the real purpose of his visit, a quick on-the-spot investigation of our lineage and social standing. He went at it with me first, asking where I came from and then dismissing my answer when I told him our previous address. No, no, he said, somewhat impatiently, where had I been born, where had I grown up?
I had barely supplied those answers when he wanted to know where I went to school, what my father’s occupation had been and where my mother had grown up. A moment later, never indicating whether he was satisfied with what I told him, he began asking about my career. He hadn’t said anything when I told him I was a painter, but now in rapid fire order he inquired as to whether I was represented by a gallery in New York, when I had had my last show and whether any of my paintings were in museums. Then as an afterthought, he posed one more question: What private collectors, if any, owned my paintings?
Ludwig remained noncommittal about what I had told him, but I sensed that he was hoping for a better set of answers when he abruptly turned towards Marjorie and began posing a set of similar questions. I noticed then some softening in his tone, indicative, I think, of his relief that Marjorie was an attorney. He seemed quite unimpressed, however, when he learned that her practice consisted primarily of representing groups that built low-income housing. Only Marjorie could have managed a courteous, but informative answer when Ludwig mused out loud about whether any lawyer could survive by serving such a narrow clientele.
Ludwig left us feeling that he was a neighbor it would be best to avoid. This was a sentiment, we soon learned, from others of our neighbors, people who told us of being sternly reprimanded by Ludwig for having put trash out too early or improperly packaged. Other people we came to know didn’t appreciate Ludwig’s practice of distributing flyers each fall, reminding everyone that the town would levy fines against homeowners who failed to clear ice and snow away from their sidewalks. The flyers, everyone seemed to think, were Ludwig’s way of warning us that he was prepared to provide the town with names of homeowners who were in violation of the snow removal ordinance.
Yet, within a few months, Marjorie and I counted Ludwig and his wife, Geraldine, among our circle of friends. That was entirely Geraldine’s fault. She was tall, graceful, always cheerful and had this remarkable gift for reining Ludwig in whenever he was about to turn from a concerned neighbor into a neighborhood scold. At times like that—its onset was usually signaled with a rising pitch in Ludwig’s voice—Geraldine would calm Ludwig by reaching out with her hand and tapping him, ever so lightly, on his forearm. She did this so effortlessly that it seemed also a gesture of affection.
We accommodated ourselves to Ludwig for entirely selfish reasons also. First, his two high school age daughters were superb babysitters for our children. Second, we found it difficult to feel sustained antipathy towards a next door neighbor who volunteered to look in on our house, and even to pick up mail and water our plants whenever we were out of town.
Still, I would have preferred it if Ludwig hadn’t acted so much like an old-time ward boss when he dropped in on us at election time to "suggest" which candidates we should vote for in town elections. Just as annoying was Ludwig’s oft-repeated boast that his ability to deliver a bloc of votes from the Leland Estate accounted for the prompt arrival of town snow plows to clear our streets and the police patrols that kept undesirable elements out of Lucinda’s Haven.
The public acceptance that Ludwig so obviously craved finally came to him, but at a dreadful price. He had recently retired when Geraldine suddenly died of a cerebral hemorrhage. By then, both of Ludwig’s daughters were married and living in the midwest, leaving Ludwig alone and bereft and mired in grief. Ludwig, wounded and in pain, needed more than ever the consolation he derived from spotting a stretch of sidewalk in need of repair or a waste receptacle in Lucinda’s Haven that was overflowing with trash. Then, instantly revived, he would phone in a complaint to town hall and follow up with additional calls until the matter was resolved. More often than not, Ludwig also ended up sending a letter to the board of selectmen (with a copy addressed to the editor of the local paper), complete with a neatly drawn sketch that helped pinpoint where and what needed to be set right.
So it was that Ludwig, the grieving widower, became even more possessive about the Leland Estate, but under the circumstances who among us would deny him the right to act as if he was, in fact if not in name, a direct descendant of Nathaniel Leland? Some of us would even send him thank you notes when we saw town workers pruning dead branches and cutting back overgrown shrubbery in our parks and in Lucinda’s Haven. We knew full well that this sort of work might have been put off, or maybe never even done at all, without Ludwig’s intervention. And often we would see Ludwig out there, chatting and joking with the town workers, fitted out, impeccably, of course, in work boots and his old Army field jacket (which still fit him by the way), and looking for all intents and purposes like a country squire taking time to oversee the workers tending to his estate. His face ruddy, his hair now white, he seemed, at such times, nothing less than the spirit of Nathaniel Leland made flesh.
I speak for my neighbors when I say we all shared the blame for allowing Leland to think he had ascended to a position where he could be the ultimate arbiter of who was deserving to live in the Leland Estate. But even with Ludwig’s overblown view of himself—and even with our complicity in that—it was not as though Ludwig’s new neighbors, the Weybridges, were completely blameless. It was they, after all, even before we met them, even before we knew their names, who had the house they purchased encircled with a fence that was ten feet high and made of rough hewn pine slats butted so closely together a ray of sunshine couldn’t peek through. The fence was not only out of scale and out of character, but with its unfinished wood, it was a raw and gaping wound in the gentle green world of the Leland Estate.
The fence builders, undoubtedly acting on orders from the Weybridges, even uprooted the hedge bordering the front of the Weybridges’ property so that the pine slats could be driven into the ground, flush against the edge of the sidewalk. The workers also ran the fence right across the walkway leading to the front door of the house. Surprisingly, the Weybridges, back then at least, left an opening in their fence for their driveway.
In a neighborhood where houses are set off from each other by neatly-trimmed hedges and stone walls and trees—and fences so modest as to be inconspicuous—the Weybridges’ fence was greeted with the kind of enthusiasm we might have shown for a blinking neon sign advertising a fast food outlet. To most of us, that fence was also an insult. Ours was a neighborhood, after all, where tall fences were not needed to keep us from peeking into each other’s windows. We didn’t feel there was any reason, either, for the Weybridges to put up a fence that made it seem as if our peaceful little enclave was in imminent danger of an attack from roving gangs of armed thugs.
As for Marjorie and me, the view from our rear window had always consisted of the shrubs and flowering plants and smooth green lawn so lovingly cared for by our former neighbors, Steve and Muriel Osborne. But now, when we looked out, staring back at us was this unsightly, ungodly fence.
Only a few of the pine slats were of the fence were in place when Ludwig issued his decree on the Weybridges. On the basis of the fence alone, Ludwig thought the Weybridges as unfit to live in the Leland Estate. He delivered this opinion with the solemnity and gravity of one who had no doubt as to his authority to render such a judgment. He was as serious when he said that nobody would have erected such a fence unless they were involved in some unsavory business, possibly drug dealing. Later, when it was obvious that the Weybridges were not associated with a criminal enterprise, Ludwig still clung to his suspicions about their reason for putting up the fence in the first place. Now, though, he wondered if there was something in the personal lives of the Weybridges, a messy divorce perhaps, along with threats of revenge, which made them feel as if they needed the protection of this formidable barrier.
The one slight bit of news that Ludwig found encouraging about his new neighbors came from information he gleaned from the real estate broker who had handled the sale of the Osborne house. Ludwig, relaying that information to us, said that Calvin Weybridge was a pharmaceutical company executive who was being sent to Boston to run a biotechnology startup recently acquired by his firm. His wife, Virginia, was an attorney who had joined a Boston law firm that specialized in patent law as it applied to the pharmaceutical business. Best of all, at least as Ludwig saw it, the Weybridges’ two children were beyond the age when they might prove to be a nuisance. A daughter, having recently finished law school, was an attorney in Los Angeles, and their son, about to turn 18, was attending a prep school in New Hampshire.
Alas, this slight warming of Ludwig towards the Weybridges did not survive his first meeting with the couple. All it took to reignite Ludwig’s hostility towards the Weybridges was hearing from them their plans for an ambitious makeover of the Osborne house.
"The fence is the least of it," Ludwig said, when he called to tell me of his initial encounter with the Weybridges. "First off, the lady of the house informed me that her husband, quote, owes me big time for wanting to buy this dump, unquote. Top to bottom, they’re taking the place apart and doing it over, plumbing, heating, wiring, central air conditioning, the works. Then comes the big stuff. A good chunk of Steve Osborne’s lovely backyard is about to be replaced with an extension to the house of a kitchen, slash, family room, slash, solarium. As for the husband—an oafish fellow from what I could judge—he seemed to think he was doing me a favor by shaking my hand. Other than that, he let his lady do the talking. She’s a tiny thing, with a cute, little girl face, but her hair, black as midnight, looks as if it’s been lacquered. By the way, she prefers to go by the name, Ginny, and she promised that they’re going to throw a party for everyone—un grand fete, she called it—once their house has been done over."
Ludwig didn’t much appreciate it when I said his description of the Weybridges made me think we might yet come to appreciate the fence that separated them from the rest of us. I was proven partly correct, however, two weeks later, when the Weybridges’ renovation project began and the fence protected us somewhat from the dust created by workers dumping debris into the huge dumpster outside the Weybridges’ rear door.
Ludwig also benefited from the fence since it shielded him, at ground level anyway, from a full-frontal view of an attractive, two-story brick colonial being dismembered. Not that Ludwig had any intention of ignoring what was going on behind the Weybridges’ fence. Every afternoon, after the contractor and his crew left for the day, Ludwig would cross the street to check on the status of the Weybridges’ renovation project.
"You have no idea what they’re doing to that house," Ludwig said, when I ran into him one day just after he had completed an inspection tour. "It’s as if a bunch of vandals have been given license to do as much damage as they want."
To prove his point, Ludwig insisted that I take a look at what the demolition crew had already done. Following behind him, I peered through windows caked with plaster dust at walls and ceilings that had gaping holes in them. Instructions, spray painted on the walls in fluorescent orange—TAKE DOWN, BREAK THROUGH FOR DOOR, AC VENT HERE—told of more demolition to come.
As we left, I saw that hunks of Steve Osborne’s lawn were clinging to the metal tracks of a mini-bulldozer parked at an angle to the dumpster. Planks laid this way and that helped keep workers (and freelance building inspectors) from sinking into the sea of mud the backyard had become. Not only had the demolition crew cleared the Osborne backyard of its considerable shrubbery, thus making way for the dumpster, but they had taken down two medium-sized linden trees that shaded a deck (also now torn up) extending out from the Osbornes’ living room. The two trees, their roots pointing towards the sky, were piled on top of the hedges and shrubs that had earlier been uprooted.
"Right over there," Ludwig said, pointing towards the pile of trees of and shrubs, "you know what that reminds me of? My Army service in Korea right after the truce. I kid you not, there were hillsides, farmlands and wooded areas, bombed out and chewed up and here and there, you’d see dead trees left in piles, larger than that one to be sure, but similar in so many ways."
A few weeks later, appearing before the town zoning commission to register his opposition to the Weybridges’ addition, Ludwig again drew a parallel between what the Weybridges were doing to the Osborne house and the devastation caused by combat operations on the Korean peninsula. The zoning commission members—I saw smiles exchanged between two of them while Ludwig was speaking—were apparently unmoved by Ludwig’s argument because they ignored his plea, as well as several less fervent letters of opposition, when they granted the Weybridges the permit they were seeking. The zoning commission was apparently swayed by the Weybridges’ architect, who showed them a drawing in which the new addition was all but concealed by extensive landscaping.
Ludwig was not as upset as I expected him to be about his defeat at the zoning commission. He even tried, in a letter to the local paper, to make it seem as if his opposition to the Weybridges’ project was only his attempt to save Brookline itself from similar projects.
"Fellow citizens, I warn you. Unless we take action, drastic action, we may soon find our town overwhelmed by unwarranted and unwanted growth stealing into this community under the guise of "renovations."
"Beware, I say, ‘the dumpster people,’ that is, those individuals, well meaning though they may be, who buy solid but unspectacular houses and then proceed to ‘gut’ them and dump the innards of their houses into huge dumpsters. The end result can mean houses so much "improved" that they change irrevocably—and not for the better—the character of our older, well–established neighborhoods.
"Indeed, I write as one who fears that a renovation project taking place in my own neighborhood is of a type (and magnitude) likely to be replicated elsewhere in town. And if that happens, we may all awaken one morning to find that renovation by renovation, our Brookline has become something other than the town it has always been.
"I am only half-joking when I urge the following amendment to the zoning code: Employees of the town’s planning department are hereby granted the power to arrest and detain any architect who submits building plans containing design elements which appear to be whimsical and trendy but will turn out, when built, to be klutzy and quite ugly."
Leland Estate resident, 37 years
The last line of Ludwig’s letter was remarkably prophetic since it was such an apt description of the Weybridges’ addition. Once built, their new kitchen, plus family room and solarium, turned out to be an outsized glass box, one so bulky and graceless that it seemed as if a tumor–like growth had affixed itself to one side of the Weybridges’ house. Almost as bad as the addition itself was the landscaping, a paltry mix of azalea bushes and rhododendrons that would take decades to reach the lushness depicted in the architect’s drawing.
By now Ludwig was no longer interested in tinkering with the town’s zoning code. Walking the streets of the Leland Estate, inveighing non stop about the Weybridges, Ludwig sounded like he was trying to recruit a mob that would exercise vigilante justice. His anguished cries—his voice seemed to have a different pitch—were more public, but no less heartfelt than I had heard from Ludwig soon after Geraldine died. Oh, that Geraldine had been there still to reach over and calm him.
At other times Ludwig’s outrage was tempered by regret verging on despair, particularly when he talked of how we—thus apportioning blame evenly among all Lelandites—had been remiss right at the start by not demanding that the Weybridges remove, or at least modify their fence. That fence, he maintained—or that grotesquerie, as he sometimes called it—should have warned us of even worse changes to come. All that was missing from Ludwig’s lament were the Biblical begats as he drew a direct line of progression from the fence through the kitchen expansion to the hideous green carpeting—puke green, he called it—now covering the beautiful parquet floor in the front hall of the Osborne house. The final outrage—Ludwig’s word—was the hardtop the Weybridges had put down on either side of their garage, thereby creating two additional parking spaces and destroying, in the process, still another portion of what had been the Osborne’s well-kept backyard.
But if Ludwig’s anger subsided now and then, it would flare up just as quickly whenever he learned of depredations elsewhere in Brookline that were similar to what had happened to the Osborne house. Once, he stopped me—planting himself in such a way so that I couldn’t possibly escape him if I tried—while he recounted how a wealthy couple in south Brookline had bought two Victorian houses on adjoining lots and then demolished one to make room for a tennis court. Even worse, the other house, once done over, might as well have been demolished, said Ludwig, since there was practically nothing left of its original design.
Ludwig was even more intent on making sure I understood what kind of people would do such a thing. The husband in this couple, he informed me, was a wealthy liquor distributor who had divorced his wife to marry a woman twenty years younger. This same liquor distributor had also built a home on Martha’s Vineyard that was so outlandish in design and size that it took a team of high-priced lawyers two years to gain approvals for the project. It seemed germane to Ludwig that the liquor distributor was known to wear a pinkie ring with a diamond in it,
As for the new wife, Ludwig thought it relevant that her father had built Boston’s largest and ugliest office tower. Not only that, but prior to taking up with the liquor distributor, the woman was reported to have been the mistress of a United States senator. Ludwig presented that last bit of information like a prosecutor revealing the vital bit of evidence that guaranteed a guilty verdict.
I could tell that Ludwig was disappointed at me for not being nearly as upset as he was by what he had just told me.
The Weybridges seemed to arrive under cover of darkness. Work on their house was finished in March, and while some furniture was delivered then, it wasn’t until a night in June that I saw lights on in their house and in their driveway, a small SUV, the Jaguar and the Ford Explorer. Their presence, however, was more fully announced at noon the next day when suddenly a blast of rock music emanated from the Weybridges’ house. I use the word, blast, advisedly since I literally felt in the throbbing bass, in the assault on my ear drums, as if the music was shaking the walls of my studio. It’s a mistake, though, to use the word music because the clanging, raucous, brain-rattling sounds I was being subjected to made me think several pile drivers, all working in different rhythms, were going full tilt right outside my window.
For a moment, I assumed that someone had inadvertently turned up a sound system and would soon correct it. But when the noise seemed to grow louder, I quickly headed towards the Weybridges’ house where I saw that all windows in the upper level were wide open. Ludwig arrived just as I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled up at the windows from which the music was coming.
"Ahoy up there," I yelled. Then, to make sure that I was heard, I repeated myself three times.
I received no response, which prompted Ludwig to say that he was going off to call the police. But at that very moment, the front door of the Weybridges’ house opened, and standing there was a young man of l8 or so dressed in bright red Bermuda shorts and a gray T-shirt that said, Holderness School. The young man, who was barefooted, had broad shoulders, a thick neck and a barrel chest, and as he stood there, staring at Ludwig and me, he crossed his arms, which made his shoulders look even wider than they were. Even without the cacophonous music he was playing, I would have disliked this young man because his porcine features made him look as if he expected me to explain why I was bothering him.
"Don’t you think the music is a bit loud?" I yelled.
The young man said nothing, nor did he give any indication that he cared at all about what I had said so I stepped forward until I was about five feet away from him. Then, once again cupping my hands around my mouth, I shouted, "The music, it’s too fucking loud."
"Yes," said Ludwig, approaching the spot where I was standing. Ludwig then said something about not disturbing others, but I couldn’t quite make out his exact words.
The young man’s face remained a blank, but when I began to move closer—fully prepared to yell directly into his ear if that’s what it took to get his attention—he abruptly turned and went back into the house, slamming the door behind himself. A few seconds later, the music stopped.
"Courteous little prick, isn’t he?" I said to Ludwig.
"That’s a young man who deserves a good thrashing," Ludwig said, adding that he certainly was going to let the young man’s parents know what had happened.
"Don’t waste your time," I said. "Judging from junior’s behavior I doubt that his parents care a helluva lot what a couple of old farts like us think."
My assessment proved to be more exact than I thought, as I found out the next day, a Saturday, when I was moving the sprinkler on my front lawn. A black Ford Explorer, with a woman at the wheel, was driving past just then, and assuming it was Ginny Weybridge I waved. She brought her car to a sudden stop so I began walking towards her, expecting that I would introduce myself and welcome her to our neighborhood. Ginny, however, was in no mood for social niceties.
"I didn’t particularly appreciate the way you treated Jeffrey yesterday," she said, half leaning out her car window.
"What’s that?" I said, moving closer to her car.
"Jeffrey was playing his music a bit loud," she said. "So do a lot of other kids his age. What’s the harm in that?"
"Nothing," I said, "provided he’s not bothering others. But since he was, I would have thought he’d apologize for causing such a disturbance."
"You’re making much too big a deal of this," she replied.
Ginny, I noticed, was just as Ludwig described her, somewhat doll-like. Even her teeth, bleached white, seemed less than adult sized, as did her thin lips, which were covered with lipstick that was flaming red. It seemed, too, as if her hair had indeed been lacquered into place.
"Let me tell you something," I told her. "My wife and I raised two children so I know something about young people and their music. The rule we had for them was very simple: Play any kind of music you like, whenever you like, but just make sure it doesn’t disturb anyone else. You’d do your son a favor if you taught him the same thing."
"Good God, I don’t need advice on raising my son from you or that busybody who lives across the street from us. Do you know what he did? He left a nasty note in our mail box, along with a copy of the town’s noise ordinance."
With that, Ginny gunned her engine and drove off. When I told Marjorie what had happened, she whooped with laughter and said I had probably been taken off the invitation list for the Weybridges’ grand fete. Marjorie was not as amused, on Monday morning, when she looked out our kitchen window and saw graffiti covering the full span of the Weybridges’ fence, some eighty feet in length, which faced the rear of our house. Some yew bushes I had planted along the back edge of my property had not filled out enough to obscure the reddish-brown letters, about six feet in height, which spelled out the word, tomato.
Marjorie called to me and both of us went out immediately to take a closer look at the fence. The significance of "tomato" was a mystery to us.. The paint was sprayed on so thickly that in several places it had dribbled down in uneven streaks.
The first thing I did after inspecting the fence was to call the Weybridges. I wanted them to know that one side of their fence—the one facing our windows, unfortunately—had been vandalized, but since there was nobody at home, I left a message on their answering machine. I then phoned Ludwig. His response came in the form of a series of commands. I must call the police, now, immediately. Didn’t I know about graffiti? Let it stand and the little bastards would strike again. There was someone on the police force, Captain Redfern, who kept up with this stuff. He could tell right away if this was the work of kids who regularly do this stuff or if it was something else.
"Something else?" I said, even though I had some idea what Ludwig was driving at.
"Don’t be so naive," Ludwig said. "We’ve never had graffiti around here, but a new family moves in, and all of a sudden, bang, there it is. And right after you and the kid in the family exchanged words. You think that’s a coincidence?"
Two hours later, when Captain Redfern arrived, he needed little more than a glance to determine that the word, tomato, was a "tag" with which he was unfamiliar. Ludwig, who had seen the police car arrive, came over to let Captain Redfern know that Jeffrey Weybridge was undoubtedly the person guilty of defacing the fence.
Captain Redfern wasn’t so sure. "Let’s wait and see if anything like this pops up elsewhere in town," he said. "That might give us a better idea of what we’re dealing with."
That evening, I received a phone call from Ginny Weybridge, who was in a more conciliatory mood than the last time we had talked. She thanked me for having left a message about the graffiti, and like Ludwig, she thought it important to deal with the problem as soon as possible.
"The best thing may be to paint that portion of our fence a neutral color," she said. "I’m thinking gray. And guess what? Jeffrey, at my suggestion, has already volunteered to do the painting."
It took Jeffrey two days and two coats of paint to cover over the graffiti. Ordinarily, I might have taken the time to chat with him, but I wasn’t about to make any overture towards someone who may have been responsible for defacing the fence in the first place. Ludwig felt even more strongly than I did about Jeffrey.
"I hope his parents don’t think this is over and done with just because they got little Jeffrey to make restitution," he said.
"Oh, Jeffrey’s proven his point," I said. "And having done so, I doubt that he’ll strike again."
I obviously didn’t understand the mind of someone who would use graffiti to settle a grudge. I discovered that a week later, when Marjorie and I returned from spending the weekend with her sister in Maine. I walked into my studio to get something, and there, scrawled across a six foot by six foot canvas I had recently primed, was the word, tomato. These letters were also reddish brown and in the same large, loopy style of those sprayed on the Weybridges’ fence.
This time Marjorie and I joined Ludwig in suggesting to Captain Redfern that he at least question Jeffrey. Captain Redfern fended us off by pointing out how difficult it would have been for any teen-ager to have entered my studio without leaving any clues behind. In fact, the detective working with Captain Redfern concluded that whoever entered my studio could have done so only by climbing in through a small window at the rear of my garage. That left unexplained how anyone could have fit through a window that is less than three feet square and some l5 feet off the ground.
The next day Ludwig called to pass on what Ginny had said when he ran into her and told her about the latest graffiti attack.
"Get this," he said. "She told me that she and Calvin have always wondered whether this was a safe neighborhood. So now they’re putting in a state-of-the-art alarm system and having a gate built across their driveway."
A week later, the Weybridges’ house, with its new gate, looked more than ever like a beleaguered settlement in the midst of hostile territory. The roughhewn pine slats of the gate matched those of the fence, but far worse than the appearance of the gate was the noise it made when it opened and closed, particularly in the early morning, which was when the Weybridges always left their house. First, there was the whirring of the electric motor that slid the gate open, along with the rumbling sound the gate made while moving along its metal tracks. Then, after the Weybridges drove off, the gate trundled back to its closed position, followed by a click, a rather loud click, as its latch fell into place.
Of all these sounds, the one that bothered us most was the click from that latch. The construction of the gate itself, with those wooden slats bolted to a metal frame, seemed to amplify the click, making it sound as if someone had slammed shut the bolt action of a hunting rifle. Marjorie contended that worse than the click was the wait, never less than thirty seconds, sometimes an entire minute, from the time the gate slid shut to that moment the latch—a cylindrical metal object, with a hook on the end of it—fell into place.
The gate gave Ludwig one more reason to dislike the Weybridges. The only time he had ever seen that type of gate, he said, was in movies, when someone was entering or leaving a maximum security prison. How, in a few short months, he asked, had something like this turned up in the Leland Estate?
Ludwig was pleased, however, when I volunteered to call the Weybridges with some suggestions on how they might reduce the noises made by the gate. I figured that some lubricant on the gate’s tracks might prove invaluable, not to mention a dab of grease on the latch to help mute that bothersome click.
Ginny answered my call, but I was in the middle of my theorizing about how wooden slats probably amplified the sounds made by the gate when she handed the phone to Calvin. Until then, I had never spoken to him.
"What’s the problem?" he said, sounding rather impatient.
The gate, I replied. I then explained to him the sounds that were so bothersome and proposed, right down to the dab of grease on the latch, how the noises might be muted.
"I still have no idea what the hell you’re griping about," he said.
"My gripe is this," I said, raising my voice slightly. "Early in the morning, or late at night, the sounds made by your gate carry well beyond your property line."
"Oh, isn’t that too bad," he replied, making himself sound like an adult trying to shush a whining baby.
A few seconds later, more emphatically, he said, "Do you think I give a rat’s ass if my gate disturbs your beauty sleep?" With that, he abruptly hung up on me.
Until then, our contacts with the Weybridges had been non-existent since they invariably left for work early, returned late and went off, according to Ludwig, to New Jersey each weekend to visit Ginny’s father, who was quite ill. We didn’t see any more of them after my phone call, but they made their presence known by their carefully timed departures each morning. Ginny was the first to leave, and then, exactly three minutes later, Calvin would back out of the driveway. That three-minute interval was just long enough to ensure that we were subjected to two open and close cycles of their gate. Not only that, but both of them, after backing out of their driveway, gunned the engines of their vehicles more than they had to when they drove off. Calvin, in particular, produced a cacaphony of sounds by shifting gears, speeding up and then quickly slowing down in the short distance between his driveway and the corner he took at the end of the street.
Jeffrey, too, must have been as disturbed as his father was about my phone call because five days after I had spoken to his father there was another tit-for-tat graffiti incident. Only this time the target was Ludwig. Ludwig claimed that shortly after midnight, he had been awakened by a noise in his backyard. When he went downstairs and turned on the porch light, someone--a young male, he swore—ran off, scrambling over the chest-high privet hedge that bordered his backyard. The intruder left behind, on one wall of Ludwig’s garage, a large reddish-brown TO and three quarters of an M, in that same round-lettered style that was by now quite familiar to us.
The latest graffiti attack, like the two others, occurred on a weekend, when Calvin and Ginny were out of town and Jeffrey, employed in a local ice cream parlor, was home alone. Both Ludwig and I thought the timing of the graffiti attacks and the Weybridges’ travel schedule was of monumental importance, but Captain Redfern, reminded us that the circumstantial evidence we cited didn’t make for an airtight case against Jeffrey.
Captain Redfern may have had a point, but why then did the graffiti attacks come to a halt during the two weeks Jeffrey was in Los Angeles visiting his sister? We likewise seemed to be living once again in a graffiti-free neighborhood when Jeffrey, soon after his return from Los Angeles, left to begin his freshman year at Rutgers. But while Jeffrey’s departure may have freed us of one menace, it did nothing to rid us of the aggravation caused by that damned gate.
Perhaps by winter, with windows closed, the noises made by the gate would be less bothersome, but until then there were times, like the unseasonably warm night in early October, when our windows were open and the Weybridges—who had yet to hold their grand fete incidentally—were hosting a dinner party. Five cars arrived, meaning the gate opened and closed five times, and then just before midnight, when I heard the Weybridges’ guests starting to leave, I looked out to see Calvin, a bulkier version of his son, standing by his gate, acting like a traffic cop. Calvin, with some brio, I might add, regulated the flow of traffic so that the gate to his driveway opened and closed for each departing car. Calvin’s guests, as if coached, also revved the engines of their cars as they drove off.
No doubt Ludwig witnessed the same thing I did, and that, I gather, was what prompted him to launch his assault on the Fortress Weybridge. Sometime after 2 o’clock that morning, Ludwig placed an aluminum ladder against the Weybridges’ fence. He carried with him another aluminum ladder, which he used to descend onto the Weybridges’ property. When Ludwig did this, he was dressed in black trousers, a black turtleneck jersey and wore a black watch cap pulled over his head. He also wore black gloves. Ludwig may have taken all the proper steps to conceal himself, but he was undone by a low-tech alarm system, namely, a patch of dead leaves that surrounded the area where he stepped off the ladder. The rustling of the leaves awakened Ginny, and when she looked out her bedroom window, she saw an intruder—half-bent over as if to conceal himself—in her backyard.
Ginny immediately woke Calvin and within seconds he put on his slippers and went downstairs. There, he took a shotgun from the rack above the desk in his study and went out to confront the intruder. At that point, Ludwig, with his back to Calvin, was almost finished with applying lubricant to the rails on which the gate slid back and forth. When Calvin yelled, "Freeze," Ludwig apparently did as he was told, but a few seconds later he made the mistake of rising up from his crouch and turning towards Calvin. That’s when Calvin, unable to see that the object in Ludwig’s hand was a grease gun, fired his own gun, taking care to aim at Ludwig’s legs.
Calvin may have thought he was only defending himself against an armed intruder and that he might also be given credit for wounding rather than killing Ludwig. But newspaper headlines—"In Toney Brookline, A Fence Feud Leads To Violence"—generated the kind of public attention that no district attorney could ignore. A charge of aggravated assault was brought against Calvin, but the district attorney’s office was no match for Calvin’s lawyer. The lawyer used a professor from MIT who relied on a detailed scale model of the Weybridges’ backyard, along with shadow studies, to show why Calvin fired at what he rightly perceived to be a gun-wielding stranger.
Calvin was also an effective witness in testifying on his own behalf. He was particularly convincing when he told of how worried he and his wife had been about the safety of the Leland Estate. The neighborhood’s isolation, Calvin said, prompted him to erect a sturdy fence and gate and to install, in addition, an alarm system. It would have been irresponsible not to have taken these steps, he said, just as it would have been foolhardy not to use any means at his disposal to ward off an intruder who appeared to be carrying a weapon.
Calvin’s attorney summoned me as a witness who verified (as if I could do otherwise) Ludwig’s persistent animosity towards the Weybridges. The attorney could have obtained the same testimony from any number of Leland Estate residents who had heard Ludwig talk numerous times of his desire to rid our neighborhood of the Weybridges.
Calvin’s defense got an additional boost when Captain Redfern managed somehow to wring from Ludwig a confession that he was, in fact, the perpetrator of the graffiti attacks. In return for his admission of guilt, and in view of his age, the police agreed to drop all charges against Ludwig for malicious damage.
Poor Ludwig. He had convinced himself that Lelandites, alarmed at these acts of vandalism, would join him in a campaign to drive from our midst, the Weybridges. After all, didn’t the vandalism begin only after the Weybridges had arrived? It was no wonder, then, that the jury in Calvin’s trial took all of 20 minutes to acquit him.
Marjorie and I never did see Ludwig again. He was in a hospital briefly in Boston—no visitors allowed—-before his daughters had him transferred to a rehabilitation center in Bloomington, Indiana, which was where his oldest daughter lived. A brief conversation I had with his oldest daughter ended on an unpleasant note when she implied that I was in large part responsible for what had happened to her father. Ludwig, according to what he told his daughter, was only carrying out a suggestion I had made.
From time to time, Ludwig writes to us from his new home in a retirement community near Bloomington. He brings us up to date on how he’s feeling—fine, I gather, except for having to walk with a cane—and inquires about certain of our neighbors. Never once has he asked about the Weybridges. We, too, have avoided any mention of the Weybridges in our replies to him. That’s too bad since I’m sure Ludwig would appreciate hearing that a shakeup in the management of Calvin’s firm caused him to be transferred back to New Jersey only a few months after the shooting incident.
Ludwig never knew, therefore, about the new owners of the Weybridges’ house, a young couple, both of them doctors. They have not removed the fence, but they keep open the gate across their driveway and have taken down the segment of the fence that blocked off the walkway leading to the front door. In the summer our new neighbors hang flowering plants at intervals along the length of the fence. The flowering plants, along with natural weathering of the pine slats, have helped lessen somewhat the impact of the Weybridges’ fence. By now, however, their fence fits in rather well with the fences that have become so commonplace throughout the Leland Estate ever since the Weybridges moved into our neighborhood.