Funny girl

On this cold January morning, patches of steam rise from the ground that separates the homes of Charlotte Parkhurst and Mike Rhoads, two Pleasant Grove neighbors who are in the most unfortunate predicament of being stuck with each other.

Their homes sit atop the second-highest point in Dallas, a hill six miles east of downtown that rises 493 feet above sea level. On a clear day, you can see forever from the hill. Miles upon miles of treetops, White Rock bluffs, and only the occasional rooftop create the illusion of being isolated from the ninth-largest city in the nation.

Their acre lots are wedded by a property line that runs between their homes and trails back across the top of the hill before plunging several stories down its backside. They surround a cul-de-sac whose center holds a garden filled with blue, yellow, and purple pansies.

When Rhoads moved into his home on the 7200 block of Eccles Drive in 1994, he was thrilled at the privacy and silence the hill offered. And, in no time, he befriended Parkhurst.

Early on, the relationship between Parkhurst and Rhoads was a splendid affair. The two neighbors, with their friends and families, would gather around Parkhurst's player piano or take dips in Rhoads' bean-shaped pool. There were nights on the town, joint shopping trips to the market, the exchange of recipes, even a Tupperware party.

But last summer, their 1970s-sitcom-like lives were shattered, and the once-peaceful hilltop has turned into a battleground. All because of a pile of mulch.

The steam rising between their yards is an eerie indication of the anger now raging between the two neighbors and a warning of the real danger cooking on Eccles Drive. The gray, ghost-like patches are the result of near-freezing rain hitting a pile of dead tree limbs, chipped wood, leaves, dirt, and rock that Parkhurst has been dumping on her property by the truckload since last May.

To Rhoads' amazement, Parkhurst also has been dumping the discarded earthly crap on his property, ruining his fence and destroying a row of cedar trees that once acted as a natural barrier between the two homes.

Rhoads has tried everything he can think of to stop Parkhurst, including standing in the road to block mulch deliveries, but the more he pushes, the more Parkhurst grows convinced that he and his allies are part of a conspiracy. A homosexual conspiracy, to be precise.

From atop her hill in East Dallas, Parkhurst sees a pansy division of homeowners and city employees closing in on her, intent to take her mulch, kick her out of her house, and turn the entire neighborhood into a gated, gay complex.

In the meantime, the mulch pile continues to compost--a natural decaying process that generates heat--and Dallas fire inspectors fear that it could soon combust. Or, possibly worse, city code inspectors believe a heavy rain could wash the pile over the hill and send it crashing down on the houses below.

Whatever the danger to the property, the decaying pile has already ignited a scorching battle between the two once-friendly neighbors. In the process, they have ensnared the city's police, fire, and code enforcement employees in a vicious little spat that isn't likely to be resolved anytime soon.

The bad news is, situations like this are all too common in Dallas--a city where a lone, stubborn individual can tie the entire code enforcement department in knots. No matter what regulations the city passes to police its residents, the convoluted bureaucracy is unfit to deal with the Charlotte Parkhursts of the world.

Since August, dozens of city employees have been dispatched to Eccles Drive, conducting inspections of the mulch pile and writing citations for violations of city ordinances. Parkhurst's pile, they say, is an illegal dump that constitutes a fire hazard.

But no matter how many citations they issue, they have been unable to curb Parkhurst's dumping or take any concrete action to remove the pile. Instead, their sometimes daily visits to her property are only making matters worse. Because the pile is on Rhoads' property too, city inspectors have had no choice but to issue him tickets for illegal dumping.

The infuriating situation has increased tension between Rhoads and Parkhurst, who together have dialed 911 at least a dozen times since May. The corresponding police visits have spawned accusations of theft, assault, and disorderly conduct--the last of which prompted police to toss Parkhurst's behind in the slammer for a night.

To document their mutual cases, which the neighbors expect to argue before a municipal judge, the pair have resorted to taking photos of the seething mulch pile and of each other--at all hours of the day and night. The showdown has produced mirror-like snapshots of Parkhurst aiming her camera at Rhoads and more pictures of Rhoads and his friends aiming their cameras at Parkhurst.