Ruining the neighborhood


One of the men on my staff tells me Iím getting too greedy.

As a building inspector for the city, I grant construction permits.

If a contractor gives me enough money on the side, I let them build whatever they like in whatever neighborhood they want, regardless of whether it belongs there or not.

All inspectors do it.

We see it as a fringe benefit.

But some people complain Iíve done it so much under my watch as the city inspector, whole neighborhoods are changing.

Not that I care what happens to the poor fools in those neighborhoods, whether there are enough parking spaces or not, whether they rent to families with tons of kids that will cost the taxpayers more to educate.

Iíve made enough off this racket to live high brow.

Hell, I have a better house than the mayor does.

What I fear most is the fact that someday someone will catch on and bust me for it.

Probably some do-gooder politicians milking the old neighborhood for votes.

Thatís when I get a call from a lady on Veranda Street telling me the four-story house I allowed constructed next to her one family house is illegal, and she wants it stopped.

I hate people telling me what to do, and really get annoyed when they rant on about how as tax payers they pay my salary, when we all know I get paid by the contractors, and use my city salary as a tax write off.

I decide to drive over and see the woman personally, a rare treat for her since I donít like dealing with peasants.

I donít see any profit in it.

And as I drive through the neighborhood and the new tall houses I helped get placed, I see that everybody has decided to get a piece of the action, and that even the four apartment structures I allowed have become five and six apparent structures as greedy landlords try to cash in.

Tons of kids spill out onto the street in a neighborhood where the park isnít big enough for them.

Cars are parked on the street and in the driveways so thick that each house could easily pass for a used car lot.

For moment, I panic, thinking how obvious this all looks.

But I realize that the more illegal houses I allow, the less obvious my crime is. Now instead of tall houses sticking out like sore thumbs, itís the single family houses that look out of place.

I take pleasure in the idea that with each new house my bank account gets bigger, and the only real sad part of the whole thing is that I might run out of single family homes for contractors to knock down.

Yet by then, I figure Iíd made enough money where I can retire to a neighborhood that isnít overcrowded like this one is, where my kids have a yard to play in, and I have a driveway so long that I could park half of Manhattan in it without bothering anybody.

By that time, I wonít care who sees what or rants and raves about how I ruined this part of the city.

Iíll be living like a king while they live like rats in cage too small to hold them all.

The old lady screams at me the moment she sees me at her door, saying Iím ruining everything she worked her whole life to build.

She points to where the contractors dug into her driveway causing sections of it to collapse. She also shows me where the frame of the new building casts its shadow over her yard and garden, and will block out sunlight and air.

She tells me if I donít do something about it, she will find someone who will.

I see visions of my future in a gated community going up in smoke, replaced by visions of a different type of gated community, one with barbed wire, armed guards and barred windows.

Someone I manage to keep my temper in check and assure the woman Iíll take care of everything.

Itís just a small mistake, I assure her.

As I walk away Iím thinking that maybe I can talk to the contractor and work out some kind of deal.

The last thing I need is the state to send someone into the neighborhood to start asking questions.

Then, Iím thinking maybe I can stall on some of the other projects, too, delay their start so that if there is an investigation, I wonít have bulldozers knocking down dozens of perfectly good single family houses while the inspectors are wandering around.

But when I get to the contractors office, he refuses to halt any of the projects, saying he has a lot of money tied up and people bugging him to get them done.

The market is about to go sour, he says, and if he doesnít push all his projects through now, he might not be able to sell the places for half as much as he can get now.

Iím in an awful panic, and begin to think that early retirement night not be a bad thing Ė although when I calculate my income to debt, I realize I canít afford to retire.

I still owe too much on the mansion I bought down state.

I caught in an awful bind. If I get fired, I lose everything, including my state pension Iíve worked so hard to get.

The contractor tells me heíll patch up the old ladyís driveway, but wonít lower his building one inch.

He paid me good money to allow that height and he needs it to fit all the apartments he has planned for it.

Now Iím really sweating and I make up my mind to see the contractorís boss Ė who runs the local real estate office where the real money is made.

This bastard makes a fortune off each of these buildings, renting illegal apartments for prices even I think of as highway robbery.

But a lot of these apartments go to illegal aliens who have no choice or to immigrant families so large that -- if the fire inspector wasnít so corrupt as to turn his eye the other way for a pocket full of cash Ė would be closed down in a heart beat.

I tell the real estate tycoon that we both know most of his building are so far from legal that he would lose his shirt if I was to report them and that unless he gets his contractor to back off a little, thatís what Iíll do.

The real estate guy is actually scared of me.

Heís stuck in this neighborhood and knows he canít afford to make an enemy out of me.

I start thinking that maybe I ought to crack down on a house or two, just to show the state that I am doing my job.

And maybe that will keep the old lady from yapping too much about everything.

Yet when I get back to my office in city hall, I find an irate massage from the old lady saying the illegal immigrant workers the contractor has hired on the construction site just rammed her building with a backhoe while trying to demolish the upper floors of the new construction.

She has already called the police and filed a report with the state.

Indeed, the mayor has also left a message saying that his office wasnít a complete record of all the projects in the neighborhood.

I know that the moment the mayor gets the records my job is history.

I decide to get out of town while I still can.

A few hours later after a few phone calls to friends around the county Iím already on my way to a new job in a farming community in Iowa.

While inspecting the construction of animal pens isnít as important or profitable as city inspecting was, I still get a few fringe benefits Ė although I insist the farmers kill the live stock before they give it to me.

Heck, itís not what I pictured I would be doing in my retirement years, but at least I donít have any old ladies screaming that Iím ruining the neighborhood.

If I allow an extra pig pen built, who cares?


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