I’ve been a public nuisance before — you might say I’m a public nuisance once every two weeks in this very publication — but this is the first time I’ve been officially notified of it.
The Public Works Department sent me a letter Sept. 15 to inform me that vegetation overgrowth alongside our property was encroaching onto the public right-of-way, presenting a hazard to pedestrians and drivers, and that we had to trim it back by Oct. 21.
They sent a photo, which showed only that the tips of the branches on our curbside ficus tree — or ficus-type tree, I don’t know what it is — might or might not touch the side or roof of a bus going by our house in the right-hand lane of Alta Laguna Boulevard.
Much as Groucho worked himself into a rage over being called an upstart in “Duck Soup,” I got indignant over the implication that my tree and I were a public nuisance.
I walked up and down the driveway, stared from the letter to the tree, and held an imaginary conversation with the absent Public Works Department.
“Public nuisance, am I? If you ask me, YOU’RE the public nuisance. I haven’t gotten any complaints from the public. I’M the public. YOU’RE the nuisance.” Good stuff.
I finally called Thomas Toman of Public Works to ask why I was being persecuted in this way. He said he’d gotten calls from the street sweepers about obstructions from the trees on Alta Laguna Boulevard, so he’d gone up there and taken a look and then sent notices to several of the residents, telling them to cut their foliage back to the curb, up to a height of 10 feet.
Result being, if you were driving in the Top of the World neighborhood last weekend you may have seen me up on a ladder, hacking away at my ficus or ficus-type tree.
I’ve never bought a power saw because I always suspected I might lose my grip on it and cut off my leg, so I just took my Ace Hardware handsaw out to the street, climbed my ladder and played the hearty woodsman.
And as I sawed away, I thought, this is what I’ve come to. My generation protested, rioted and held muddy, drug-saturated rock concerts for days. I once enraged my neighbors by playing the same song on the piano for hours after midnight. I behaved irresponsibly indoors and out, well into my 30s.
And now here I am, complying with a letter from the Public Works Department, a month before the deadline. What a sad, pathetic excuse for a nuisance I’ve become.
SHERWOOD KIRALY is a Laguna Beach resident. He has written four novels, three of which were critically acclaimed.