How things work, or don’t


I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how things work or don’t, whether it be machinery or systems.

At a complicated, five-way intersection nearby, I know that at one crossing, the Walk sign won’t light up unless one presses the Walk button. But the subsequent crossing changes automatically at the appropriate time.

ITEM: Sometime in November, there was a package on our porch. I picked it up and noticed it wasn’t for us but for a neighbor across the street and down a couple of houses. I carried it over there and discovered in that entryway a package for my wife.

About two weeks later, I received an email notification of delivery. I went downstairs, snapped up the envelope, cut the package opened and discovered content that wasn’t anything I ordered. Then I looked at the package; it wasn’t for me but for another neighbor. Yep, my package was on that other porch. I slipped the neighbor’s package behind the screen door.

Now if I had bothered to LOOK at the photo that came with the email, I would have noticed, “That’s not my porch!” The two packages, in this case, were the same size, unlike my wife’s actual product from earlier, which was much larger than the one we exchanged.

The boom boxes

ITEM: I still play compact discs. One boom box that I had purchased in June 2020 started skipping; I knew it wasn’t the CDs. So I got a different player in December 2020. Nine months later, it too began to skip. I bought the exact same machine, which started skipping only two months later. So I switched back to machine #2, and it plays fine. Maybe it just needed a rest?

ITEM: Some folks complained about one of our local absentee landlord’s hedges, clearly a hazard. A few of them contacted the city’s SeeClickFix site. Now the hedges are severely cut back; they’re hideous, so they were probably cut by the landlord. But at least they are not an obstruction.

Oddly, I noticed the change well before my wife and daughter, both of whom are more visually focused than I. Maybe it was that I was looking through the prism of the glass door we have and saw light through the bushes where none had existed before.

ITEM: I won’t even get into the blow-by-blow of hooking up my new printer. Back in the old days, I ould just plug it in and it took 10 minutes, including taking it out of the box. This one, which operates on WiFi, and ended up requiring software to be loaded both on my phone and my laptop, took an hour and a half.

SeeClickFix the neighborhood

Sidewalk obstruction

worst neighborsI haven’t complained about some of my neighbors lately. So I was actually thrilled that someone else took on the challenge.

Like many other locales, the city of Albany uses the SeeClickFix system. The site claims it “is the best 311 request service for increasing citizen engagement, ensuring that every voice is heard and nothing gets lost or overlooked.”

It takes complaints about sidewalk repairs, signs missing, overgrown trees, noise complaints, and the like, and they get reported in Albany to the Office of General Services. I reported a WALK sign that somehow was skewed 90 degrees from the way it should have been, and it was eventually fixed.

Someone, not me, reported one of my immediate neighbors –  this one. Under the category Property Maintenance (Overgrowth/Grass and Weed Mowing), the notice: “Hedges consuming half the sidewalk forcing Parents/Elementary students onto the grass.” Very true. I’ll note that this has been a problem for most of the past decade. I’ve been tempted to take my clippers and cut them myself.

A few days, ANOTHER complaint of that same neighbor; Illegal Trash, specifically “Broken glass piles on sidewalk and grass.” Yup.

Incidentally, the residents had a party there recently, which was fine. But then they threw a bunch of trash, but also tree branches, and returnable soda cans into OUR garbage can. I had to sort through the rubbish.


Then there’s the across-the-street neighbor – this one. She was screaming at a man of her acquaintance. She said she wasn’t mad at him for making another woman pregnant, because she blamed the other woman. But she was so loud that two of our neighbors, from their respective houses on both sides of the street, told her to shut up. Her response in each case was obscenity.

The man goes into the house, then gets into a car and leaves. Shortly thereafter, the police show up. She talks with them, very calmly for her. And she files a report that the man has stolen her car.

Understand that I can hear and observe this across the street and two houses down, sitting on my front porch. It’s almost like watching theater, but the script really needs work.

The wide, the wide river

His usual minimalist approach

wide riverMy daughter was up early, for her, in the late summer (September 4) around 9 a.m. She went out with a friend but immediately doubled back into the house. What is that sludge that is covering our sidewalk?

Someone at our next-door neighbor’s house has poked PVC tubing through a basement window. A slurry is running down the walkway between our houses. The wide river reaches the sidewalks and goes mostly left, in front of our house. This is because the sidewalk when it was reinstalled by the city, was poorly designed. Every time we get a good rain, it puddles there.

I called the absentee landlord of the property, who I’ll refer to as Tick, and left messages on two phones. Then our contractor, John, calls. He’s going to haul out the defunct water heater from the basement. I suggest maybe he ought not right now. But he and his adult daughter are in the neighborhood, so they come over.

John believes the effluvium is sewage. I call the city of Albany. After two transfers, I get a guy from the water department. “Is there sewage there right now?” I said yes. “I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” He arrived in eight.

Do you get the Fugs reference?

By this time, Tick and his wife have arrived. Mike from the city takes pictures and tells Tick that 1) he will be fined and 2) he needs to clean up the mess. Tick askes me if he could borrow my water hose. “NO!” Mike inserts himself. “You have to clean it up. No spraying it out onto the street. You ought to hire someone.” He suggests a local septic company. But Mike, who has seen Tick for maybe 15 minutes, KNOWS Tick won’t spend the money to do the right thing.

This leaves Tick and his wife to literally shoveling…manure. He hauls it to the farthest point in his backyard, where he digs a shallow hole and pours the waste. This is heavy and tedious work. Shoveling wastewater with a shovel is quite inefficient. Mike leaves.

Tick sprays ammonia on the walkway and sidewalk. Then he asks me if it’s clean enough for my satisfaction. I dodge the question: “It’s not to my satisfaction, it’s to the city’s.” But no, it was his usual minimalist approach, which is almost always inadequate.

Wisely, my daughter posted signs from both directions keeping pedestrians away for several hours until the slop largely evaporated.

My doctor, who I had already scheduled to see, recommended 1 part Clorox and 9 parts water to really clean it. But then I mentioned the ammonia. After the rain, we went with that cleaning formula. It was NOT how I had planned to spend my morning.

It’s not unusual

In the decade or so Tick has owned the property, this is not the first time he’s tried to take the shortcut, only the most egregious. Well, maybe his inadequate lead abatement was worse. Any of his former tenants that we’ve gotten to know always have stories to share, often the usual gambit of taking months to return the security deposit, and occasionally something more problematic.

Bernie and Mary Ellenbogen

master gardener

Mary EllenbogenMary Ellenbogen was an elegant lady of 85. She lived five doors down from us. Mary was a master gardener and the front of her house was meticulous.

She was spry, walking all over the neighborhood. Her husband Bernard, a well-regarded retired lawyer over a decade her senior was less robust. They’d both head for the street corner. She’d get there then go back and walk the rest of the way with him. She was very vital and extremely devoted to her spouse.

Our daughter was just a baby, but Mary would talk with her when we met on the street. Mrs. E. was very interested in our daughter’s well-being.

I met her before my wife did. When introducing our neighbor to my wife, I said, “This is Mrs. Ellenbogen.” My wife heard, “This is Mrs. Ellen Bogen,” which is understandable. When I went door-to-door carrying petitions for local political candidates, she’d usually invite me into her home, and we’d chat a bit.

The Ellenbogans wintered in Florida for about half the year. On March 12, 2005, Mr. Ellenbogan fell into their pool down in the Sunshine State. She jumped in after him, and they both drowned. Her death was a particular shock to us and to the neighborhood.

The house was sold but it quickly fell into serious disrepair. It went through a couple people’s hands. We recently noticed that the current owner has brought the house back. It’s nowhere near Mary Ellenbogen standards, mind you, but better than it had been.

Dual obit

When I was looking for my father’s death certificate in late January, so I could get his birth certificate, I also came across the obituary for Bernard and Mary Ellenbogen.

Bernard went to Albany High, NYS Teachers College (the precursor to SUNY Albany), and Albany Law. He was the oldest practicing attorney in the area, and also had some years worth of experience as a brain injury lawyer. Mary, nee Hershkowitz, was a founder of Women’s Interfaith in Albany. She volunteered at the Cooperative Extension and engaged in other horticultural endeavors.

They were both founding and active members of Congregation Ohav Shalom. The couple was married 66 years.

Coincidentally., March 12 was my parents’ anniversary, though dad had passed away back in 2000. My folks were married only 50 years.

The great neighborly outdoors

ownership of the tree depends

Tree next to fenceAs I’ve noted, being a homeowner was new to me when we bought this house 19 years ago. Ever since, it’s been a series of neighborly negotiations with various sets of folks.

A couple months ago, a panel of the fence separating us from the the neighbor to the south fell down. The neighbor was irritated with us. He surmised that someone came into our backyard and cut the fixtures holding the fence in place. It DID look cut, but what would be the purpose?

He believed we should have fastened our gate more securely. While it is true that our gate swings open now and then with a stiff breeze, it’s not for lack of trying to correct it. We have had at least three people come and “fix” it, but it remained unfixed.

In fact, one Saturday morning, the latch was somehow positioned so that I could not even leave my own yard. I wonder how it happened? I had to use a large rock to liberate myself from my own property.

The neighborly fellow to the north pointed out that a large branch – about four meters long – that has its roots on our property but overhangs onto his, came crashing down. It may well have been that tree, though he has a similar one on his property.

He claims that the branch nearly came down on his shed, which would have cost US $10,000 to replace. I seriously doubt it’s worth 20% of that, but no matter.

This got me to wondering: who IS responsible for those branches? This article from a Rochester (NY)N newspaper notes:

“In New York, a property owner is responsible for any trees on their property — more specifically, the trees whose trunks are on their property. Ownership of the tree depends on where the trunk of the tree is located, regardless of where the branches are located.

“If a tree trunk is located on a boundary line — sometimes referred to as a ‘boundary tree’ — that tree could be owned by both homeowners, based on the percentage of the tree that is located on each property. Insurance companies will sometimes use those percentages to determine who is liable if a tree comes down and causes property damage.

“A property owner can take down branches that hang over their property — up to the property line, even without permission from the tree owner. However, the law also states that if a homeowner trims branches on a tree and that causes damage to the overall health of the tree, that person could be liable, and might have to pay to replace it.”

In fact there are a lot of articles on the topic. I imagine we’ll get the whole tree trimmed this summer as a precaution, though we may ask he neighbor to kick in on the cost.

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