Ruffled feathers

Birds chirping, neighbors squabbling--ah, Earth Day in University Park

It was a lovely spring day in lovely University Park, and the sun was shining, the breezes were blowing, and the birds were chirping.

Which was a problem.
It wasn't a problem for the birds, of course. They were quite carefree--screaming their silly songs, mauling the mulberry trees, doing that rites-of-spring thing all over this beautiful bedroom community.

No, it was a problem for the people of 4112 Glenwick--a tidy, modest apartment building filled with tidy, modest apartments and upstanding young graduate students and twentysomething professionals. All of them had moved to this short, densely populated street filled with reasonably priced apartments so they could work furiously all day and sleep peacefully all night.

Lately, though, the sleeping part had been a problem--at least for the woman in apartment No. 6. At about 4:30 each morning, the woman awoke to the cacophonous sound of chirping birds outside her second-story window. In her mind, this was no coincidence. She knew that while she worked furiously all day, the tenant just below her in apartment No.9 did not; she stayed home all day, watching the soaps and dispensing bird feed to as many feathery things as she could cajole onto her patio.

One morning two weeks ago, the woman in apartment No.6 decided she couldn't take it any more and tearfully complained to the apartment's managers.

This little triangle of tension would probably have continued unnoticed, mind you--these Park Cities people don't like to air their dirty laundry, whether scandals or socks--except that last week, the whole Tippi Hedren thing came to its inevitable, awful climax.

On Earth Day no less.
That was the day the landlord decided to get rid of the birds. That was the day Dinah Vande Lune, the lady who feeds the birds, left apartment No.9 for a dentist's appointment and returned home to find a woman from the management company on her patio in the process of absconding with three industrial-sized bird feeders. That's the day neighbor relations on Glenwick frayed so dramatically that they now seem destined to make Cinemark vs. Dallas look like simple miscommunication between mature adults.

"There are no villians in this story--they're all very nice," said one neighbor, peering furtively out a curtain and declining to give a name for fear of getting caught in the catfight. "But it's a trashy little fight. And everyone loves a trashy little fight."

There is nothing quite as venemous as a fight between neighbors.
Five years ago, I wrote a column about a thirtysomething, upwardly mobile couple who moved onto a reputable North Dallas street filled with spacious homes on large lots. But the couple built a really big home on the big lot--so big that by the time they got the driveway laid out, the newcomers had managed to pinch a nice slice of their neighbor's property, and had even pulled out a row of the neighbors' bushes to do it, all while he was conveniently away from his abode.

The neighbor was not happy. And he was a bit eccentric. So when the thing played out, reaching that unmistakable crescendo of territorial madness, the eccentric neighbor came charging out of his house with a shotgun, which he fired at the neighbor wife, who was eight months' pregnant and allegedly out in the yard doing something predatory and irritating at the time.

There are no heroes in these matters. Things get too emotional too fast for anyone to keep their hands clean--no matter who started the problem. Even when it's all over, no one ever sees his or her role in the fiasco clearly. I learned this firsthand when, several years after I'd written the driveway column--which distributed the blame rather equally, as I recall--I ran into the wife in a tony North Dallas restaurant, where she proceeded to lock me in her sights and address me in extremely loud terms, across a very crowded entryway, as "you lying bitch."

I thought of this woman almost wistfully last Friday morning during a visit with Judy Lisenby, manager of Lantower Property Management Inc., landlord for 4112 Glenwick, and a key player in the bird triangle.

"You'll never guess what I want to talk to you about," I said, reaching out to shake the hand of what for the moment was a smiling, happy woman.

"Bird feeders."
Suffice it to say there's nothing quite like having your hand in the grip of a bright, good-looking Texas woman wearing a $500 alligator belt and the glare of a hungry tiger--it's as close as you'll ever get, I suppose, to a sneak preview of the fiery depths of hell.

"I'm not going to discuss that," Lisenby told me, her eyes narrowed, her fine, straight teeth clenched into an agonizingly tight expression of serious unhappiness with my presence. "I don't see that there's anything newsworthy. I guess I wonder what your motivation is."

There was no motivation--just a phone call from Dinah Vande Lune who, apparently believing media attention was good ammunition for the Confederate side, wanted me to know that these people had come for her bird feeders. On Earth Day, of all things. Which, at first blush, seemed like a pretty classic, extremely uptight Park Cities thing to do.

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