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The wild west

“Half the harm that is done in this world
  Is due to people who want to feel important.
  They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them.
  Or they do not see it, or they justify it
  Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle
  To think well of themselves.”
    ~ T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party (1949)

1

The city attorney was feeling okay.
Though a reclusive man, he was dapper and gay.
His fixer had views of the Monterey Bay.
Its foreclosure price had been too good to stay
on the market, though now he went out of his way
up a steep mountain road at the end of each day
to his hilltop retreat far above and away
from all neighbors and noise, come what may
to his bargain clifftop getaway.

The neighborhood’s grandma was proper and creeded.
Her house on the hillside was more than she needed
since widowhood left her much land to be weeded;
she hired surveyors before she retreated
to flatter environs; their findings were heeded
by our fine attorney who found he’d been cheated
of land right beneath his own house: and he greeted
this news by arranging his well to be deeded
from unbuildable land between him and his creeded
neighbor, who forthwith sold her home and speeded
away from her view of the bay
from her house and her family who pray.

The survey that showed the encroachments was buried
The buyer of grandma’s house never once worried
(since as a psych prof he’d learned to not be worried)
about the whole survey map; although he carried
a piece of it that he used when he was harried
by the unbuilt land’s new owner who often tarried,
stole water he needed, and when he got married,
left illegal structures to vagrants who scurried
to live in his hill hideaway
in his shack overlooking the bay
from the ridge ‘neath the home where did stay
the attorney; oh yes. that odd vagrant’s chalet
was uphill from the psych prof a way.

The city attorney had nothing to dread
with the maps never filed, except in his head.
He acted soon after the survey’r was dead.
Had bought the unbuildable land, and now said
to the county officials: these vagrants please shed!
As he owned the land right underneath his own bed
up the serpentine road all the way
where he could feel secure for the day.

The winter winds blew, full of fury and shrieking
The pumps were worn out and the windows were leaking,
The roof lost its shingles, the steps were all creaking,
The cupboards scratched up and the fixtures antiquing,
The yard was strewn full of dog piles all reeking,
The carpet was moldy, the housemate was geeking,
The city attorney soon found himself seeking
A milder place than than the hill up away
in the clouds floating in from the bay.

Thought the city attorney: it’s hard to maintain
this old house on this hilltop, but I can’t complain;
I’ll just find me some buyers. No need to explain
how the road’s blocked by mudslides each time a hard rain
hits this mountain, or how power blackouts sustain
many days at a time till the tap water’s drained
to a trickle. My window leaks I will contain
by a lot of neat caulk round the trim, but the main
thing to hide is the property line — what a pain —
thought he sadly as he looked away
from his rotting deck high o’er the bay.

To best fatten his wallet the crafty ol’ miser
knew unbuildable land would from feckless enterprisers
earn the most. Thus he’d profit and who’d be the wiser
if the property lines turned into a surpriser
by that time he’d be far away...
He made his plan on that fine day:
two buyers he’d find for his lands, hey hey,
for his separate views of the bay.

A young couple came from the forest below.
For a long time they’d sought both fresh air and the glow
of the sunshine. They thought that the hill would bestow
peace and quiet. And they’d recently come to know
that the fire chief let no one build, or said so,
off the road to the hilltop. The county also
had given the young couple’s plans a no go
for similar spots insufficient to show
buildability, many times over. And so
the young couple had gone right along with the flow
and remodeled old fixers; and thus did they grow
enough savings to purchase this way
a house that had sun the whole day
in a peaceful location away
from the crowds who hang out ’round the bay.

The couple said to the attorney up front:
“Hey, where is that land that you’re selling? We want
  to know what it’s like.” The attorney was blunt —
this couple knew too well the county; he’d shunt
their attention back to his old fixer and hunt
for himself a land buy’r — what he said, with a grunt,
was to go way down past the psych prof and then jaunt
down a gravel road into a meadow, a haunt
far from this house he’d sure like to sell straightaway,
a meadow that’s out of sight, out of the way
of this fine house that’s sunny all day
Say, come check out this view of the bay.

They stood on the creaking deck in the spring breeze.
From there they looked south across miles of trees
and asked, “Where’s the line between your properties?”
The city attorney said, “Follow me please.”
He walked them around the house and down the street
toward the north for some distance until his retreat
was well hidden from view, then through each curve they’d meet
he walked on downhill without missing a beat
’til, stopping alongside a certain old tree,
he said, “This is the place where you will find the bound’ry
  of the land that comes with your house, though you can’t see
  the house from this spot on the road where stand we,
  here out of sight of the bay,
  here in the shady roadway.”

The attorney said that his raw land was a buffer.
The couple said, “Sir, we’ll soon make you an offer
  to buy it, but first you realize we must suffer
  through months of remodeling work till our coffer
  is empty, but then we’ll just sell our old place,
  and get settled in — would you have the good grace
  to wait through this process; we’re not going to race
  fast to pay for unbuildable land in the face
  of the work that will be underway,
  but we’ll give you some money one day
  for this land of yours, we’ll surely pay.”

The house deal was closed and the contractors hired
to fix up the place to a level inspired
by natural surroundings serene and admired,
by this couple, more than the forest or seaside
locations that they had once fixed up and tried
to call home. But too bad certain contractors lied
about prices and timings; they blamed other crews
for their failings, lost parts, broken tools, missing screws,
while the accidents their drivers caused were the news
of the neighborhood far and away
up the hill overlooking the bay.

One evening sometime ’round the first of September
the couple drove up with a load of oak lumber
and came to their house, where they found the grandmother
admiring the sunset. She said, “I remember
  when this house was built by my family members.”
The cross at her chest was aglow with the amber
of twilight as she went away.
She never returned past that day.

The summer and fall saw much moving and shaking;
the couple and crewmen worked side by side, taking
their time to get everything right. Though forsaking
their budget plans, they hoped to find themselves making
the finishing touches real soon. But then breaking
rainstorms took the power out: there was no faking
the need for tapwater and refrigerating
for days at a time; time to start generating
the power required to stay
at the house when the storms had their play
with the power mains day after day.

The generator went on a concrete block.
With quality workmanship none could dare knock,
the house was a beauty from bottom to top;
the tired young couple then went for a walk
down the steep winding road, where they met with a shock
an Australian fam’ly with small kids and a truck
that was parked in a spot that was partially block-
ing the road. “Hello, where’s the lot line?” with pluck
the Aussie man said while his family struck
a path up, to the ridge, where his wife smugly stuck
her upturn-ed nose to the bay,
to the view of the sun on the bay.

The Aussies demanded a survey be done
for this land, and the city attorney got one
right away. Soon the survey crew climbed the steep land
with an unfiled map they’d got from a dead man
(the survey’r who’d been on that rugged land last
was the crew’s competition when he’d lived, months past).
The survey crew’s stakes to the east and the west
of the young couple’s home caused a lot of unrest
to the dwellers therein and their in-laws as well;
they walked down the road to find one more revel-
ation: namely, their repaired water well
also was not on their land. Truth to tell,
the water line’s whereabouts were unknown, too.
The lot line was shown to go straightaway through
the tree pointed out at the final walkthrough
by the city attorney who now said, “No clue
  did I have of these problems, and look, just like you,
  when I bought this foreclosure place I didn’t do
  a survey; but I sure feel bad for you two.”
The Aussies said, “Hire a lawyer if you
  want to help yourselves; we’ve hired one too;
  we’ve hired her lately, today,
  she’s the wife of a county judge too, by the way,
  and she’ll protect our right to stay
  on this land ’round your house, yes we’ll stay.”

The Aussies staked paths on the young couple’s land
They stole the scarce well water and said, “We’ve planned
  to place our new house on the ridge; it’ll stand
  along here by the one you’ve remodeled so grand
  but ours will be cheaper; we’ll be in your view;
  we’ll access our house by a new driveway through
  some land by your water tank we’ll take from you
  in exchange for the land ’neath your house; this we’ll do.”
The young couple knew they were in some real trouble
when driving downhill round a curve, on the double,
they stopped for an infant who sat in the middle
of the road, right there on the damp asphalt and rubble.
The mom from Australia was not too quick getting
her seven-month-old from the path of the sitting
Dodge van that was stopped on its way
downhill on the driveway that day.

To understand what sort of people made bold
to buy the land out from beneath their abode,
the couple made calls to Australia, their cold
calls were answered by people who said, “Well behold,
  you’re dealing with sociopaths whom we’ve told
  every reason why their plans don’t work; but they’d fold
  not a bit, they’d just stick to their plans. They’d withhold
  all coworkers approaching their office. They sold
  out all friendships and burned every bridge. Oh no scold
  or reproach will save you from their sway,
  and we’re also quite sorry to say
  that they showcase Australia this way.
  in your neighborhood there by the bay.”

The title co. had this advice: not to sue it,
“This land is in contract, and surely you knew it
  by now; as for privacy, looks like you blew it.
  You’ve bought a house with a lot line passing through it,
  and if you won’t work with us, you’ll really screw it
  all up. Why, instead, we’re the ones to recruit!
  We can make this whole mess go away
  by just moving the lot line let’s say,
  a few feet ’round your house, what the hey,
  you’ll get most of your yard, sounds okay?”

The county officials were even less helpful.
They said, “In your neighborhood every last parcel
  was created illegally by all those prayerful
  people who lived there before you; their careful
  surveyor got north wrong all those years ago
  when these houses were built — and was that not just so
  convenient for placing the houses in useful
  locations. Now let’s see: we have here on file
  this map of your parcel, you’ve seen it awhile
  back; yes it’s the same one you got in that pile
  of docs from your seller the city attorney;
  it shows fifty feet from your deck to your bound’ry.
  It’s thirty years old”, said the man, looking glum
The young couple then asked him: “Well, what can be done?”
“Oh utterly nothing”, was the slow reply
from the official of Santa Cruz County.

The couple called lawyers of ev’ry persuasion.
A few of them said, “Too bad there’s no evasion
  from this sort of problem”, while other ones told them
“You can move the lot line to where it appeared when
  you bought your home.” Yet others said, “That’s not all,
  why not move the line where you’d like; for a small-
  ish fee we’ll arrange it.” “Not so”, said the county
official, “both lots are too small for comportment
  with regulations of our Planning Department.”
Some lawyers in skyscrapers mused and suggested
an easement: “The lot line need not be adjusted.”
The young couple said, “Perhaps our best decision
  is just to return the house.” “That’s called rescission”,
the lawyers said, “but there remains a tough question:
  how much will you get if you take that direction?
  You hope the defendant will have enough money
  to pay the amount that you’ll win, but the funny
  thing is that your overall worry
  will be to prove your work necessary.
  Maybe he won’t have to pay
  so much as you did, okay?
  He’ll get a nice discount that way.”

Back up at the house was the friendliest meeting.
The city attorney’s attorney came greeting
the surveyors’ boss and the wife of the judge
(she was also the Aussies’ attorney). A budge
to the title co. was enough for them to send up
a fellow who told the young couple to end up
the case in a hurry: “Just take what is granted”,
said he, “It’s a few feet of buffer; you’ve ranted
  enough with too much of your crying
  that you didn’t get what you thought you were buying.”
The young folks then wielded the map they’d been given
at the time of purchase, and said: “We’d have driven
  away from this place had we known we would be in
  this mess that we’re in.” “Well, from what I am seein’”,
the wife of the judge said, “Your map’s not official.”
The young folks replied, “We’ll check out the judicial
  response to this easement we found for our well,
  when we looked in the records to find what they’d tell
  based on a vague reference we saw in our deed;
  this mentions a survey that made clear the need
  for water rights granted, by grandma who prayed,
  to the city attorney who for his own aid
  filed this easement that names the map for which she paid,
  the same map you followed when you resurveyed.”
The surveyor boss said: “This easement’s homemade.”
Said the judge’s wife, “We’d like to preserve the right
  to walk past your windows by day or by night
  so that we will have access to the white rock
  that stands over there. But I see that’s a shock,
  so I’ll run this thought past you, my darling young friends,
  we’ll take your house now if you’d like to rescind;
  my client would like to ask: what is the price,
  and won’t you arrange to get legal advice?”
There wasn’t a thing left to say
so everyone called it a day.

As soon as the young folks a law firm retained,
the land deal was closed, and the Aussies then deigned
to act as though over the whole hill they reigned.
The judge’s wife sent out some notes that demanded
a share of the prayerful folks’ well. Reprimanded
the psych prof was, also, for having his shed
one foot over the lot line; he moved it instead
a foot into the prayerful folks’ land. The young couple
contacted the grandma and said: “With your scruples,
  you’ll report the whole story about the well easement,
  and tell of the city attorney’s amazement
  to learn of the survey that you never filed
  that put your old land ‘neath the house we’ve restyled.”
But she said, “This argument’s bad for my heart.”
And then from the couple did she soon depart:
she took a vacation away
from the mess that she’d left by the bay
for she sought to have nothing to say.

Her son, on the other hand, said: “I’m respected
  by everyone living ’round here, well, excepted
  you Aussies: your attitude’s poorly reflected.
  The horses you’ve stuck on this land unprotected
  should go somewhere else because, look, I’ve rejected
  your wish to use my gravel road for your access.
  To get to the meadow you’ll have to go practice
  the fine art of building your own road through steepness
  and rugged terrain. Your five horses raise dust
  in big clouds, and you realize that it must
  be unsanitary to make them stay
  uphill from these water wells; they
  also don’t have room to play.”

The troubled young couple no longer went walking.
The Aussies’ dog charged at them, and they’d tried talking
there on the steep roadway. “You’re both simply liars”,
the Aussie man said, “and to suit your desires
  you’ve inflated all your remodeling costs.
  This land is buildable, and you pretend to be shopping
  for your next house. But in fact, you’re the ones stopping
  the county from vetting my plans. Now I’m telling
  you, quit doing things ’hind my back. Are you selling?”
Up at the house the near view was now diff’rent.
The nearest tree now held something strange not by acc’dent:
an angled weasel climbing apparatus.
and toward the nice new generator a playhouse
now served as a long-term cat jail thereabouts.
Someone saw that fine machine and unlatched it.
Someone placed stones in its oil and trashed it.
Someone found a fixed up bench and then smashed it.
Someone put sticks in the heat pump’s exhaust vent
causing its fan blades to make quite a racket,
and someone’s truck still was obstructing the road
each weekend, when down from their sunny abode
the young couple went for the day,
at which time someone tore the groundcover away
from the cliff face below where did lay
their house all the mudsliding way
up the hill overlooking the bay.

This tale’s too bizarre to be invented fiction.
The Aussie guy’s in fact a mathematician.
The couple, of course, has no way to prevent
the mathematics of building, but what they resent
is that their home isn’t near worth what they’ve spent
because of the nuisance these neighbors present.
The city attorney is still feeling fine.
He’s sold both this parcels though they intertwine.
A court case shall he face, but he can delay
its effects, one might guess, forever and a day.
The moral is this: if you’re buying a house
then try to imagine it’s sold by a louse.
Look up ev’ry document shown in your deed
and find ev’ry survey map that you can read.
In real estate, without some big-time preventing
there may be no cure, so you’re better off renting
or you might end up someday
with no peaceful place to stay.

Unless you do something about it
While you yet may.


2

“How did he think he could get away with this?”

“Because he’s a snake
  He knew what he was doing
  And still knows”

“Why would the court let all these people take advantage of us?”

“Because it’s corrupt
  Like any clique it protects its own
  Its bar association
  And its friends”

“I realize that in this country
  Hardly anything is ever what it seems
  But the court’s at least somewhat on the hook
  Because of the public eye”

“The court and its apologists will make the public think whatever it wants”

“Not if we show there’s corruption”

“We won’t get anywhere”

“I’d like to know whether you’re right
  And since our home is literally on the line
  I’m going to find out
  You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to”


3

Santa Cruz County has failed us
As we asked its surveyor for maps
The most readable that came was the old one
Long since overturned with no mention
Till we were shown where to find the bugs in fine print
In technical terms
On one of the others

The neighbors have failed us
As we came here first knocking on doors
The tales we requested of troubles
Were of storms with downed trees
Till we’d overhauled the place top to bottom
Installed all natural materials
Then we heard tell of the other encroachments
The other shmucks sitting in other backyards
Doing other shmuckheaded things
Then we heard tell of the mudslides and weeks without power
And the voices of generators

The real estate experts have failed us
As we paid them for all of their steps
In closing the deal
The resurvey mentioned in the easement
For our water well
That placed it on another property
Never caught any interest
Till the lawyers got hold of it
Why should those experts care
Of such matters as constructive notice
That affect us rather than them
They did their jobs
Got paid
That’s what’s important

The seller has failed us
Got his adjacent land in contract with these Aussies
Who hired attorneys as soon as results
Of the free survey he provided came back
We thought as an attorney himself he’d know better
Than leave us stranded
Till we realized he and his own attorney may just know better
Than we

Our first attorney has failed us
He took our case and filed suit
Ahead of the shmuckheads’ closing date
Wrote needless letters — several a day — on our money
Till we complained and he promptly retired

The title company has failed us
Their lawyer agreed we bought what was shown
Agreed that we would show him
Ahead of a meeting of all the parties
Showed up late and when he did
Agreed with them instead
Their surveyor came with two young ladies
Who climbed in dressy clothes on these slopes
Round our yard with no discussion
But amongst themselves
Till their survey map arrived
Offering up most of what we’d bought that matters
To end-of-the road privacy, peace, and quiet
We mentioned our suit could include them
At which point we heard again
The bark of their lawyer:
On behalf of the title company, woof woof!
The policy doesn’t cover a good water well
An erosion-prone slope just off a deck
Or privacy
And we’re too busy to honor your subpoena
To testify at trial
We have no liability at all
Unless you take this twenty-foot minimum setback
(Later shown to be insufficient to comply with county code)

Our second attorney has failed us
Though we searched months for such a one
As would gladly prosecute our case as we wanted
He took our case and pressed for rescission
At which point the shmucks compelled arbitration
Before a judge of their choice
Over our hero’s weak arguments
Over time no discovery occurred
No briefs were filed
Till two years into litigation
Past two expensive pointless rounds of mediation
And a yet steeper payment for arbitration
For which our champion didn’t prepare
Till we complained and he promptly exclaimed
Whatever made you think that when
A shmuckhead takes your house back
And you have a piece of paper in your hand
Saying he owes you something for it
He’ll pay accordingly
He’s telling me you’ll have no money and no house
What, that’s not good enough for you?
I should’ve dumped you a long time ago
A hopelessly knotted phone cord and a toe
Broken on self-made furniture at the end
Of relationship a testament
For self-representation

The token hippy activists have failed us
Since right under their noses
The wife of the senior judge is telling us
“The judge will only give you twenty feet —
  That’s the minimum setback”
But we’d bought over fifty from the house
And extending down past the water well
A difference of an acre
A collusion of a seller a land buyer and attorneys
Can use to leverage down property values
Which we allege
Before Judge B
The senior judge whispers something in his ear right
Before he slaps down our motion
The court of appeal’s our next stop
We allege all of the above
Including the prophecy of what the judge will decide
They don’t give us back our conspiracy cause
But next time we’re back in court
The senior judge has retired
His wife’s left the firm
Two of them have started a new one
For once this town knows not just talk
But activism

The law’s failed us
Written by lawyers
For the enrichment of lawyers
It allows for our life savings to indefinitely remain
On the line about as long as
Shmuckheads with lawyers care to run us around
Back and forth between court and arbitration
While we can’t sell it
Foreclosure means losing our shirts
And life’s buried in paperwork and nerves
As they tell us to take the twenty feet and mitigate
Your damages or the court will consider you
Unreasonable recalcitrant overly litigious
Names are totally familiar to me
Not so much to her
If we take the twenty feet and still ask for more we’ll also be
Unreasonable recalcitrant overly litigious
Is there any chance the court and its city slickers
Will understand the value of privacy in a retreat like this
The importance of stewardship of these steep slopes ‘round our home
What’s the value of solitude
The reasonability of a curvy commute
To the townsfolk who invented solutions by minimum setbacks
And the ability for resolution to be delayed
Over and over and over

Judge B has failed us
First on the occasion
When he sent us back to arbitration
Because the Aussies neglected to oppose
Our motion to join them
That we could get a lot line adjustment no arbitrator
Could arrange
As they weren’t parties to our contract
And as their own deal with the seller’s long closed
He failed us yet again
On the eve of trial when he granted a motion
For summary adjudication
Letting the city attorney get away with two counts of fraud
Letting us hardly get in a word
In response to arguments of counsel
Who’d submitted two page sevens
The second with an admission
There was no chance to point out
By trial
By which because we took the time to try
Settlement
The court had no jurisdiction
To reconsider

The settlement has failed us
In accepting the line from the title company’s map
Including less than all our remote yard
Just the twenty feet the judge was going to give us anyway
Till the planning department let us know
It was too close to home
To comply with code
We had to schedule trial
A second time

The witnesses have failed us
As there’s dirt on those without enough water
And an agent who sings in the choir
And who’d once led a client away
From this seller’s failure to point out lot lines
Despite a high offer price and lots of patience
Like the others
Changes her story for the jury
Blaming our agent
Till we show her to have been the lazier of the two
And her client merely the luckier

The system has failed us
We would’ve been way better off
Resolving it all with weapons
Swords slings guns catapults
Than dedicating years of our young adulthood
To a monotony of paperwork
To endless repetition of sleepless nights
To enrichment of vultures
To putting people on the stand
To hear their ever-changing stories
To end with a suicide attempt and
Quality time at the mental hospital
Where such end up as get shmucked
Can help themselves no more
Yet live to tell their stories
Should I live to find mine
Comes across with Dostoyevskian qualms
As though I’d crave one-track minded clarity
Of the kind that’s cheered the Enola Gay’s mission accomplished
I could get over any regret for killing a shmuckhead
Thereby ending the gravy train for some attorneys
Faster than I could that of getting shipped
Someplace like Iraq where I’d plug the locals

The law books have failed us
Miller & Starr Witkin Matthew Bender et seq
All explain that a judgment for a lot line adjustment requires
Intentional misrepresentation of a boundary
An existing agreement
Or a location reduced to practice
Otherwise judges don’t draw lines on maps
All overlooking the obvious fact
That in suits in equity like these boundary disputes
The court has broad powers
The judge indeed drew a line on a map
Not open to appeal
One guy’s opinion of what to do
Just balancing the hardships and equities

The trial judge has failed us
First turned his back on the courthouse
Till he told the jury
There’d be a lot line adjustment
That may never happen
As collection is the key
Though they wouldn’t have known
So deliberated all of a few complacent hours
And got out of the court’s hair
By going home
To where lot lines aren’t problems
At least not yet

Who’s us
Can anyone judge
How resignation to known quantity
However dismal sleepless hardening fretful crazed
Life next to these Aussies
Differs from resignation to known culture
However standard hardened corporate cold dead
Life in America
We’ve learned
About those pulling the strings
The cynics the corrupt the manipulative the spoiled the infantile
And in the process we’ve learned
How to tug a few ourselves
As we must just floating
Through life with awareness intact
Our own way

Thanks always returns

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