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A few hours later, I was bringing back a pan to the elderly couple that lived next to me. They were both in their late 80’s. Great neighbors. The kind of people who bring you baked goods once a month.
Bill was tall, lean, and grey, and Janet was short with a short grey perm. Bill had been a pastor most of his life, and Janet had been a stay-at-home mom of 6 kids.
I asked them the same question I asked, Jim, “How well do you know that guy across the street.”
“Matthew?” Janet said.
She invited me in, and I sat on their green sofa, looked at their many clocks, and large TV.
Across from me, in a recliner and slippers, was Bill.
Janet told me what she knew about Matthew. She said he was a nice boy at first.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well,” Janet said. “When he first moved in, he was with this girl who I assumed was his wife. But then she moved out, and I found out it was is girlfriend.” She exhaled, raised her eyebrows, hand on her knees, “they were living together.”
She paused, and Bill gave me a straight-faced look, one that said, “You should be outraged.”
“Yeah,” I thought. “That happens.”
Bill sat up a little in his chair and said in his deep husky voice, “It’s just the way the world’s going.”
He must have said that same phrase half a dozen times while I was there. I thought about how outraged they were over Matthew living with his girlfriend, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I lived with a former girlfriend for a few years before I met Mel. I’m Mormon now, and I suppose my neighbors living in sin should outrage me, but that really was the least of my concerns. Not to say that I endorse it, but in the moment, I was much more worried about him growing marijuana.
Suddenly, I wondered if me getting all worked up about my neighbor was as old-fashioned as Bill and Janet getting worked up about Matthew living with his girlfriend.
Bill and Janet went on, telling me all about the neighborhood. How they’d watched Matthew bring in this or that. They described his friends, talked about where he worked, and what hours of the day he was coming and going. They mentioned the time that Matthew helped pick up my son, and ask if he was okay.
“You guys really know what’s going on in the neighborhood,” I said.
Janet rubbed her legs. I think she was a little embarrassed.
“We just like to look out the windows. Not much else to do when you’re retired,” Bill said.
I told them about the license I found, and Janet’s eyes got wide. Then she looked over at Bill and said, “You should go across the street talk to him. Tell him to quit this business. ”
Bill looked at his wife, shook his head, and said, “I’m doing no such thing.”
They asked if I was planning to give the license back, and I said, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet.”
We chatted for a moment more. As I left their home, Bill jokingly said, “If you’re willing to climb over his fence, I’d be willing to give you a bottle of Round-Up.”
Over the next two days, Janet came over to our house several times to tell me about this or that she’d found online that might be an argument to shut down Matthew’s grow site. The last time she stopped by, she mentioned how close we lived to a school, and that we should be in a drug free zone.
“Bill paced it off. His house is less than 1,000 feet from the school,” she said with raised eyebrows. Her face seemed to say, “We got him!”
She asked if I’d taken back his license, and I told her I hadn’t. I had to assume that he’d be able to get another, so it wasn’t much good keeping a hold of it. I knew that. More than anything, I was simply procrastinating. I didn’t really want to approach him about the subject, because I still didn’t know how to feel about it.
Finally I told Janet that I would call the number on the license, tell them about the school zone thing, and get back with her.
The next day I chatted with a few coworkers about my neighbor growing pot across from my house. I work at a university, and I assumed that most of the people I worked with would tell me I was being uptight. But I actually had a range of reactions. One coworker mentioned that she had grow houses on both sides of her. One was very discreet, and the other openly smoked pot on their front porch. But both didn’t bother her much. One said that she would be angry, and that I should try to shut it down. Another told me that I shouldn’t worry so much about it, give him his license back, and use it as an opportunity to engage in conversation about the subject.
Around 10:00 AM that day, I called the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. However, they didn’t open until 11AM, and I couldn’t help but think to myself… typical.
I called back during my lunch break. I told the woman at the Oregon Medical Marijuana program what I’d found, how my wife was worried about it attracting dangerous people into my neighborhood, and about how close we lived to a school. Then I said, “I suppose I just want you to help me feel better about all this.”
“Sir,” She said. “I cannot discuss any of this with you because it is confidential.”
“Fine,” I said. “Then just answer my questions generally. Can a person have a grow license when they live in a drug free zone.”
“We don’t enforce that,” She said. “We just issue the license”
“Who does enforce it, then?” I asked.
“Then what’s the point of issuing licences?” I said.
“Because it’s the law,” she said.
This all seemed crazy to me.
The whole time she spoke with an aggressive tone, like she had a chip on her shoulder about me asking questions. This surprised me. I wanted her to help me understand more about the situation, so I could feel better about it. I told her that I wasn’t for or against this, I just wanted to make sure that my kids were safe.
She didn’t respond to that. Instead she said, “If you have further concerns, I suggest calling your local police department.”
“Ok,” I said. Then I hung up.
I came home from work, told Mel about my phone call, and said, “I’m just going to walk over there and give it back to him.” I told her about what one of my co-workers said about turning this into an opportunity to invite discussion. “It’s probably a good idea.”
“Did you hear about what happened in Waldo?” Mel said. Waldo was a small city about 10 min from our home. She showed me a new report online. It read that two days earlier up to five ski-masked men wearing bulletproof vests and brandishing firearms robbed a medical marijuana grow house. No suspects had been arrested. The suspects broke into two residences and used zip-ties to bind two victims. The article went on to list more than a dozen similar armed robberies at grow houses. All of them in the past few months. “Obviously, we’re seeing a bit more violence related to the narcotics trade,” a local decective was quoted saying.
“This really makes me scared,” Mel said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Me too.”
We chatted about it for a minute more. Then we decided I should call the local police and see what they had to say.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley