ARLINGTON, TX—Following a brief meeting Saturday, members of the Ridgeway Circle Homeowners Association confronted alcoholic child-abuser Gene Oberst about his continued failure to uphold basic standards of lawn care.
"It's never easy to stick your nose in someone else's business, but in this case, we felt we had no choice but to step in and do something," association president Trudy Hinsdale said of the 33-year-old unemployed electrician and abusive parent. "That lawn is a major eyesore, and it reflects badly on the whole rest of the block. Mr. Oberst has no idea what kind of terrible damage he's doing to property values."
Fellow Homeowners Association member Nina Desoto agreed.
"I believe people have a responsibility to intervene when there is a problem in their community," Desoto said. "If we were to sit idly by while that grass continued to grow out of control and weeds sprung up everywhere, silently pretending that everything was fine over at the Oberst household, we would be no better than him."
Last Saturday, deciding the problem could be ignored no longer, Desoto called a Homeowners Association meeting at her home to determine how to best deal with their unmedicated, manic-depressive neighbor.
"We know this is a very touchy subject, and approaching it the wrong way could actually do damage instead of help the situation," said Alexander Croland, one of three association members chosen to confront Oberst. "But when he refuses to fertilize and continues to allow those huge patches of dead grass to spread, we can't just act like it isn't happening right in front of us."
Several hours later, Croland, accompanied by Hinsdale and fellow neighbor Ed Auburn, whose son frequently played with Oberst's daughter before she broke six ribs and became housebound, approached Oberst in his car as he was returning from a beer run.
"We made it very clear that we weren't there to attack him," Croland said. "Rather, we just wanted him to realize that there is definitely a problem—especially with those Mountain Ash trees with half the branches turning brown and falling off."
In addition to more frequent mowing and better shrub and tree maintenance, the Old Kentucky Whiskey drinker was urged to pay more attention to litter collection and weed removal.
"We didn't want to be too condemning and put Gene on the defensive. We were trying to offer help," said next-door neighbor Auburn, whose backyard patio is less than 10 feet from the window through which Oberst recently threw his son. "I told him that before my next picnic, I'd be glad to bring over my Weed Whacker and chop down those plants in the window wells myself—if only he'd let me."
Realizing that Oberst might be embarrassed to accept offers of aid from his neighbors, the Homeowners Association representatives gave him the contact numbers of professionals in the area whose job it is to offer help in just such cases. These included Green Thumb Lawncare, H&G Landscaping and Weber's, an Arlington-area nursery and greenery.
"If Gene's wife needs some advice on how to spruce up a flowerbox with tulips and daffodils, I want her to know she can come to me and I won't pass judgment," Hinsdale said. "My door is always open in situations such as this."
"The saddest part of all," Hinsdale said, "is what that man is doing to those poor azalea bushes. He's absolutely brutalizing them, and they may never recover. Why, oh, God, why won't he water them?"
Having confronted their neighbor, the homeowners are now waiting and hoping that Oberst, who recently hit his daughter with a lamp for forgetting to do the dishes, will heed their pleas for him to change his ways. If he does not, they said they will turn to the authorities.
"The truth is, if Gene doesn't accept our help, we'll have no choice but to contact the police," Auburn said. "There's a city ordinance prohibiting him from leaning that clearly inoperable motorcycle against his house for more than 14 days. I take my duty as a citizen very seriously."